ACMA defends enforcement of TCP code

Australia’s telecom regulator has responded to criticisms that it is not tough on telcos who do not comply with the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), yesterday issued a statement criticising the Australian Communications Media Authority (ACMA) for not penalising telcos who breach the code. ACCAN voiced the criticism after ACMA released a report saying that the top three telcos are complying with the code.

“The ACMA investigation shows telcos are in breach of the TCP Code on a daily basis,” an ACCAN spokesman said. “We are encouraged to see the ACMA investigating these breaches.

However, the regulator’s unwillingness to hand down even the most basic available penalty for confirmed breaches has the potential to create a culture of poor compliance.”

“For instance in one of ACMA’s examples regarding a Telstra customer who waited 48 working days to stop being charged for a T-Hub device they had already returned, the regulator did not impose a penalty,” he said.

However, an ACMA spokesperson today responded that many of the ACCAN wishes for a tougher agency “are not technically possible.”

“We do not have the power to impose a penalty. We can issue a warning or a direction but not impose a ‘penalty’.”

For its investigation, ACMA looked at 200 complaints for each of the three providers, the agency spokesperson said. Only two problems were found, but they appeared to have resulted from human error rather than any process problem, she said.

“Code compliance remains a priority for the ACMA, and the ACMA will continue to closely monitor compliance across the industry,” the agency spokesperson said.

“However, in light of the number and nature of the contraventions found, and the steps which have been taken by the providers in question to improve and ensure compliance, the ACMA has decided not to take enforcement action in this particular case. In no way does this mean that non-compliance is condoned.”

In addition, ACCAN criticised ACMA for delays implementing proposals from an inquiry last year on telco customer service and complaint handling.

“Only half of the six reforms coming out of that inquiry have been fully implemented. Some of these overdue reforms include performance reporting and customer service charters, expenditure management tools (due to be implemented from September 1) and overhaul of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme.”

The ACMA spokesperson disagreed, saying that four of the six are finished and work is underway on the other two.

Proposals to improve advertising practices, enhance product disclosure, provide spending management tools and have internal complaints handling were implemented under the TCP code, she said.

A proposal to require performance reporting and customer service metrics is is the subject of discussions between the ACMA and industry, she said.

Finally, changes to the TIO Scheme have been “largely taken up by a review of the TIO Scheme and many of the ideas have come to fruition,” she said.

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