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Telcos warned by ACMA on code compliance

The Australian telecommunications industry regulator has formally warned 24 telcos for breaching the Telecommunications Protection Code.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has taken action against more than 20 telecommunications providers, giving them formal warnings for contravening the Telecommunications Protection (TCP) Code by failing to lodge a statement of code compliance this year.

The formal warnings [PDF], issued under subsection 122(2) of the Telecommunications Act 1997, were sent out to 24 telcos, including Amnet, Tele-Talk, Novatel, Infiniti, Blue Telecom, Wire Networks, Supercheap Telco, Telco4u, ReddeNet, and Call Central Communications.

"While this number of warnings may seem high, it actually reflects a trend of increasing compliance within the telecommunications industry, with the number of CommCom warnings down from 39 in 2014 and 95 in 2013," ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said on Thursday.

The TCP Code, which came into effect in July 2012, requires all telcos operating within Australia to lodge a Customer Information Compliance Statement to independent body Communications Compliance every year by April 1.

The ACMA added that this year, 391 telcos did lodge the documents on time; in 2014, 331 lodged documentation, and in 2013, only 225 telcos lodged.

"Each year, the number of telcos doing the right thing is rising, so the message is getting through. However, the ACMA will continue to work with industry to improve TCP Code compliance, and we'll remain vigilant about targeting those companies that persist in not complying," Chapman added.

The ACMA issues formal warnings to those companies that are first-time offenders, with the regulator presently debating further action to be taken against those already under investigation for other breaches.

Since coming into effect, 177 formal warnings, 28 directions to comply, and one infringement notice have been sent out by the ACMA under the TCP Code.

The primary purposes of the TCP Code are to require telcos to provide consumers with clear information about what their mobile phone plans offer, including a two-page summary of every plan; notify customers about how much voice and data they have used under their plan; and suggest spend-management tools to prevent future overuse. Customer complaints handling was also made more effective and timely under the code.

In April, a new piracy code was also submitted to the ACMA, which had been written in collaboration by internet service providers (ISPs), rights holders, and the Communications Alliance in accordance with the deadline given by Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

This code will focus on the protection of rights holders rather than consumers; under the draft code [PDF], rights holders will send reports to ISPs identifying IP addresses that have allegedly infringed on copyright, with the ISPs to then match IP addresses with account holders and send the associated customers infringement notices. Customers can be warned three times over a 12-month period in escalating education notices, warning notices, and final notices, after which the ISP involved must make a user's details obtainable through a Federal Court order.

Once final notices are sent out and a consumer's details are obtained through the Federal Court, punitive measures will be sought.

A copyright information panel (CIP), made up of two ISP representatives, two rights holder representatives, and two consumer organisation representatives, will adjudicate and maintain the system, but has yet to be appointed.

The regime was originally set to be implemented from September 1, but had to be pushed back due to stalling negotiations over the costs imposed by instituting this scheme, and whether the 70 ISPs involved will receive any compensation for being required to enforce copyright on behalf of rights holders.

The ACMA is also currently involved in talks with the government over regulating spectrum usage, with the ACMA having published a list of recommendations in its Spectrum Review Report [PDF].

In that report, the Department of Communications and the ACMA had called for a move away from the outdated 23-year-old governing legislation, the Radio Communications Act, to a modern system enabling more market-based activity to allow telcos to share and trade spectrum being used for mobile services.

The government last month confirmed that it will be implementing the ACMA's suggestions, saying that the minister for communications will have direction and oversight in forming policy while consulting with the ACMA. Day-to-day management responsibility of the new regulations would fall to the ACMA, with the industry body to make annual reports on the process.

The core parameters that are expected to be covered by the new regulations include the spectrum's frequency, geographic location, duration, whether a licence can be renewed, conditions where the ACMA would not renew a licence, terms for changing and revoking licences, payment mechanisms, and amounts to be charged.

"This is a win for industry and consumers," deputy ACMA chairman Richard Bean said in August.

"It provides a more responsive regulatory regime -- rather than black-letter law -- that will take away unnecessary barriers; reducing delays and costs of getting new technologies to the market."

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