Communications Authority launches new regulatory push

13 09 2011

Retail internet and voice service providers are about to see the next wave of regulation from the Australian Government. This time, it is the Australian Communications and Media Authority (‘ACMA’) that is driving the changes.

ACMA is demanding a series of major changes to advertising and sales practices, as well as billing and complaint handling.

It is allowing the industry a short time to adopt the changes ‘voluntarily’ via an updated Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code.  If that does not happen, it will enforce its requirements using its own powers.

Quoting ACMA:

The ACMA is giving industry five months in which to develop a revised code dealing with the matters that it considers must be changed. If those changes cannot be made within that time, the ACMA will intervene directly to implement its proposals by way of a standard.

Unless the industry adopts the ‘proposals’ in its Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code (‘TCP Code’) , ACMA will mandate them.  Chris Chapman has now been reported as saying:

“The industry [is] ‘formally on notice’ to reflect the proposed changes in the new TCP code.  If the industry doesn’t develop a code that addresses ACMA’s concerns, the ACMA will mandate changes through direct regulation.”

ACMA’s new ‘proposed’ rules

  1. Make telco advertising ‘clear, accurate and honest’
  2. Ban certain ‘confusing’ terms, eg ‘cap’ (where it in fact means ‘minimum spend’)
  3. Require that network coverage claims can be substantiated
  4. Require that broadband speed claims can be substantiated
  5. For post-paid plans with minimum monthly spend, all text-based advertising and bills to include ‘unit pricing’ (like supermarkets do)
  6. Give prospects a standard form ‘critical information summary’
  7. Require providers to report customer service performance using a new standard industry metric, for publication
  8. Require providers to report complaint handling performance using a new standard industry metric, for publication
  9. Optional:   Providers to adopt ‘Customer Service Charters’
  10. Unless service hard-capped or shaped, notify customer at certain usage points
  11. Until spend management tools in place, cap total cost at 150% of minimum spend
  12. All bills to show service usage (eg as graph) broken into components
  13. Providers to comply with AS ISO 10002-2006 re definition of ‘complaint’
  14. Providers to comply with AS ISO 10002-2006 re complaint-handling visibility, accessibility, responsiveness, objectivity, charging, confidentiality, being customer-focused, accountability and continuous improvement
  15. Providers to adopt benchmarks re timeliness in handling complaints; documenting procedures; and collecting, analysing and reporting complaints information


Initially, it will be up to the industry (through Communications Alliance) to redesign its TCP Code to satisfy ACMA.  If that fails, a mandatory new industry standard is inevitable.

What should service providers be doing now?

First, it is important to realise that the main points are all locked in – as far as ACMA is concerned.  Consultation on the changes is finished. There is room to refine the details, but the headline elements listed above are not negotiable for ACMA.

Second, you should consider whether you want to engage with Communications Alliance about any changes to the TCP Code.  These changes will affect you and your sales and delivery processes.  If you want to influence the TCP Code process, you’ll need to be prepared.  There are only five months left for Communications Alliance to produce a document that satisfies ACMA.

Third, you should start to think about how your business will comply with requirements along the lines of those outlined above.  What will your marketing / sales / delivery / complaints handling look like in 2012?  Will you be well positioned to prosper in the new environment?  How?

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