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Telco industry questions ACCAN's role

The Communications Alliance has asked the Australian government to review the telco-funded consumer lobby organisation ACCAN as part of its red tape reduction review.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Telecommunications association the Communications Alliance has asked the Department of Communications whether the industry-funded Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) is effectively representing all Australian telecommunications consumers.

ACCAN is funded by a levy on carrier licence holders for AU$2 million per year to "empower consumers to make good choices about products and services". In response (PDF) to the Department of Communications' review of deregulation in the communications portfolio, the Communications Alliance — which represents telcos including Telstra, Optus, iiNet, Vodafone, NBN Co, and AAPT — said that the department should assess ACCAN's ability to represent all consumers.

"The approximately AU$2 million annual operating cost of ACCAN is funded by the industry, but ultimately borne by consumers. Concerns have been raised that while ACCAN strongly advocates on behalf of the specific interest groups within its membership, such as the disabled, vulnerable, and indigenous, it is not necessarily well placed to represent the concerns of the vast majority of Australian telecommunications consumers," the Communications Alliance said.

The alliance recommended that the government review how ACCAN's mission could be achieved more cost effectively, and could possibly be absorbed into a broader consumer-rights organisation.

ACCAN declined to comment.

In its own submission (PDF), ACCAN said any deregulation also needs to ensure the changes are in the interest of end users.

The Communications Alliance also said that it is unclear why the former Labor government set up the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Authority (TUSMA) as part of the structural separation of Telstra when it is only administering over a small number of contracts.

It also called into question the need for the customer service guarantee that requires telcos compensate consumers for failing to provide a connection or a service in a set time frame. iiNet recently said that it is reluctant to sign onto NBN Co's wholesale broadband agreement because all the customer service guarantee obligations are on iiNet, when NBN Co would ultimately be responsible for connecting the service.

The Communications Alliance said that the guarantee is "a complex and intrusive piece of legislation that drives high administrative costs" and should be replaced with an obligation for retail service providers to offer a certain level of service in their contracts with consumers.

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