Telco consumers will now have better access to plan and pricing information, tools to manage spending and more effective remedies to address problems with the introduction of a new consumer protection code. The revised TCP code was developed by the telco providers and registered by ACMA, the federal government's industry regulator, which has been pushing providers to improve their practices.
More protection for consumers
Having completed a Reconnecting the Customer public inquiry, which looked at the root causes of the customer service and complaint handling complaints, ACMA mandated that consumer improvements were needed.
The resulting new code mandates:
- Unit pricing - standard pricing elements must be used in advertising such as the cost of a two-minute standard mobile call, the cost of a standard SMS and the cost of 1MB data.
- A cap that is a cap - the word “cap” can only be used if it is a true cap that cannot be exceeded.
- Automatic usage notifications must be given to customers when 50%, 85% and 100% of the allowance of the included value of a mobile or broadband internet plan has been used.
- Billing must show charges that exceed spend limits or included value thresholds and provide the cost of the previous two bills.
- Complaint handling - several new rules include using a reference number for customers to track their complaint and a likely time frame for resolution. Complaints lodged via email or online must be acknowledged within two days and resolved within 15 working days. Telcos must also give clear advice to consumers on external avenues of recourse, including making a complaint via the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).
- Stronger prohibitions to stop misleading terms in advertising and stronger controls on network coverage and speed claims.
Consumers must also be given critical information summaries (CIS) before they commit to a new phone plan to combat the 'confusopoly' of charges and caps that confront consumers.
Each CIS will outline:
- A description of the plan with the minimum terms, inclusions and exclusions
- Information about pricing – the minimum and maximum monthly charges, any early termination fees and the cost of a call, an SMS and a megabyte of data
- Information on where to check call and usage data
- Instructions on setting up usage alerts
- Fees for using your phone overseas
- Service provider contact details
- Details on how to make a complaint
Global roaming complaints
As part of the new code, the TIO will have strengthened powers to help more consumers with telecommunications complaints. Complaints about global roaming charges soared by almost 70% in 2011-2012, according to the TIO. There has been some improvement since then, with a small decrease in roaming complaints for the second-half of 2012, but the amounts disputed have been increasing, with a doubling of disputes on amounts over $5,000.
As a result, a global roaming standard is being developed by the ACMA to help curb bill shock. It will provide clearer information on the cost of making a mobile call, sending a text message and accessing the internet when overseas. Consumers may also be given better usage monitoring tools and an opt-out service for global roaming.
What CHOICE wants
While consumers have complained long and loud, CHOICE and the Australian Communications and Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) have pursued key issues such as bill shock, the confusopoly of plans and poor complaint handling.