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Comms Alliance lays down the law

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Australian carriers, voice services and ISPs will be forced to take their obligations to the rights of consumers seriously under a new revised consumer code from industry group, the Communications Alliance.

The new Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code has been submitted to the Australian Communications and Media Authority for approval.

Changes to the voluntary code include unit pricing for calls, SMS messages, and data to make it easier to compare plans, tighter deadlines for operators to resolve complaints, stronger restrictions on advertising content, better pre-sales information, spend management tools, a new independent body - Communications Compliance - to monitor the performance of service providers in complying with the Code rules, stronger protection for customers concerning credit and debt management, and new obligations on suppliers in relation to vulnerable customers and meeting customers' needs.

Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton acknowledged that new requirements such as customer spending notifications may prove too onerous for fledgling providers.

“There will be some players in the industry who might decide to sell their business rather than invest in putting this into place. That’s also why we provided a period of 24 months for the industry to put that into place: it’s no trivial undertaking, if you are a small ISP in a country town, to realize that you have to make these investments,” he said.

The original draft proposal had only applied customer spend notifications to data; this proposal extends it to voice and SMS.

Another key part of the revision includes improved product information provided to customers in pre-sale – called the “Plan Essentials” which is a summary that will help consumers understand products.

“Many complaints that come to providers or the TIO happen because consumers don’t understand all aspects of the product they’ve purchased,” Stanton said.

In other moves, while the ACMA had asked for one-minute calls to be the standard unit. The Communications Alliance has stuck with two minute calls because they believe these are more representative of "real" call duration. The process of revising the Code included strong and collaborative involvement of key stakeholders, including consumer groups such as the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), industry representatives, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) and the ACMA itself. ®

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