The Australian Communications and Media Authority is seeking powers to punish telcos found to be ‘ripping off’ its customers.
The proposal is one of several changes proposed to reform consumer protections within the telco industry, which are still based on the 1997 Telecommunications Act.
ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said, “We propose that clear and properly enforceable rules made by the regulator replace current co-regulatory arrangements to deliver essential safeguards for consumers.”
“We also propose that all telcos must be registered and that irresponsible telcos that rip off consumers can be deregistered by the ACMA.”
O’Loughlin added that the review presents an opportunity to recast the rules and replace “detailed, cumbersome, contested and often confusing” industry codes with a clear set of rules about what is essential for consumers.
“This will also deliver savings for industry, freeing up valuable resources to deliver better outcomes for consumers and drive innovation into the future,” she added.
ACMA cited research it conducted late last year showing telco consumers, particularly businesses, are still battling with service outages and complaints handling.
In the six months before the research was conducted, two-thirds of businesses had at least one issue or fault. Among those who reported outages, 42 percent of them had a major impact, while 21 percent took three weeks to resolve.
“It is hard to imagine how to be in business today without a reliable internet service, so these numbers are especially worrying,” O’Loughlin said.
The agency also published complaints data from telcos, showing 1.4 million complaints to telcos were received over the 2019–20 financial year – down by 17.5 percent from last year.
“It is good to see the drop in complaint numbers. But the total number of complaints is still too high, especially compared with other essential services. We also know that reporting of complaints may have been impacted by consumers having difficulty contacting their telco provider during the COVID pandemic,” O’Loughlin said.
“Given these ongoing, systemic and impactful consumer issues, the ACMA strongly supports the government’s reconsideration of the current telco consumer protection regime.”