Toothless tiger ACMA gets new fangs

Telcos that breach the Telecommunications Act will receive immediate retribution under proposed legalisation amendments set to hand the industry regulator new enforcement powers.

Under the changes the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will be able to bypass court delays and issue on-the-spot fines to telcos that breach requirements under the Act.

Communication Minister Stephen Conroy said the changes are part of a review to introduce broader reforms to clean up the complaint-ridden industry.

“The weight of dissatisfaction and the unacceptable time taken to develop codes in the Australian telecommunications industry is are clear sign that more needs to be done to assist consumers,” Conroy told a Sydney summit.

“Of particular worry is a substantial surge in complaints about ‘poor customer service’ and ‘complaint handling’ processes.”

“Infringement notices will enable ACMA to take strong and swift regulatory action without requiring the delays often associated with court action and will provide a most useful tool to assist consumers,” he said.

The review of part six of Act, due for competition by June this year, will examine the efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness of the development process for consumer codes under the co-regulatory regime.

Conroy said he “understood” that the current ACMA review of complaint handling for mobile premium services “does not go far enough”.

Complaints received by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman increased by almost half last year continuing a year-on-year rise in consumer disputes across the sector.

TIO Deirdre O'Donnell said most complaints are caused by breakdowns in communication between providers and customers.

The $700,000 Communications Consumer Action Network was setup last November to coordinate submissions from some 30 disparate consumer advocacy groups on telecommunications policy, guides and codes.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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