telcosRemember the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code? It was put in place in September last year after a swarm of consumer complaints about telcos in Australia and was devised by Industry Group the Communications Alliance as a last ditch attempt to avoid regulation of the telco industry. Almost a year on, the overseer of the Code, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) have released their report on how telcos are faring with its implementation, but it seems the results have divided interpretation. The ACMA has reported that telcos are handling complaints better – and Industry Group the Communications Alliance has released a statement congratulating its members on how well they are doing – but a consumer group has strongly disagreed with those claims. We look at the report, what the differing opinions are of how telcos are implementing the TCP Code, and also offer insight into credit listing disputes and the TCP Code.

By Graham Doessel, Founder and CEO of MyCRA Credit Rating Repair and

It was reported in ZD Net early this week in its article Australian telcos making progress on complaint handling: ACMA, that three investigations conducted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) have found that the big 3 – Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone have largely improved their customer complaints process since the introduction of the 2012 Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code.

The TCP Code placed new requirements on telcos to have clearer advertising, spend-management tools, and improved complaint handling. The code was introduced in phases, with the new compliant and advertising rules arriving on day one, standard summaries of pricing and product information arriving in March this year, and spend-management being required by September 2013.

Here is an excerpt from that article:

In February, the ACMA began investigations into Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone, with the telcos providing details of 200 customer complaints. Of these complaints, Telstra and Optus both had one complaint that the ACMA found to be in breach of the code — specifically, the clause that requires the resolution of an issue within 10 working days once the customer has agreed to the telco’s proposed action to resolve the complaint — while Vodafone made it through without any breaches.

Responding to the ACMA’s finding, Telstra said, “It would be almost impossible to improve its level of compliance with clause 8.2.1(a)(xiii) of the TCP Code, as 99 percent is such a high result, especially taking into account the potential for human error.”

In the cases of both Telstra and Optus, the ACMA said that a single instance is very low as a proportion of complaints provided. While the sample size is small, the authority accepts that Telstra and Optus have “appropriate policies and procedures in place to comply”, and that both telcos have “demonstrated a high level of compliance”.

“The ACMA is pleased that the investigations indicate that the top three providers are delivering agreed resolutions to customer complaints in the time frames required by the TCP Code,” said ACMA chairman Chris Chapman in a statement.

“It is also apparent that Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone have each taken steps to strengthen their complaints-handling procedures, since the new TCP Code was registered last September and has dedicated considerable resources to TCP Code compliance. However, the ACMA will continue to monitor compliance in this area.”

But consumer group the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) says more still needs to be done. The group told IT Wire the ACMA was being “a little bit misleading.”

Here is an excerpt from that article ACCAN cans ACMA’s view on telco complaint handling

“The ACMA investigation shows telcos are in breach of the TCP Code on a daily basis,” says ACCAN spokesman Asher Moses.

“We are encouraged to see ACMA investigating these breaches. But 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.”

Moses gives the example, from ACMA’s own documentation, of a Telstra customer who waited 48 working days to stop being charged for a T-Hub device they had already returned. In this case ACMA imposed no penalty.

“ACCAN believes ACMA should take tougher regulatory action for non-compliance with the code,:” says Moses. “A recent KPMG study found Australian telco customer service ranked 18th out of 25 countries, behind nations such as Indonesia and Nigeria.

“Judging from complaint statistics, telcos seem to be worse at customer service than Australian banks, who are historically the most hated service providers in Australia. ACMA’s inquiry into telco customer service followed record complaints from consumers. The inquiry finished about a year ago, but 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 1 September), and overhaul of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme.”

The ACMA has fought back from criticisms, saying 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’,” an ACMA spokesperson today told Computerworld.

“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.”

Telco listings in dispute

As the TCP Code was only implemented in September last year, we are probably yet to feel the positive ramifications of new requirements put on Telcos under the TCP Code.
At the time of the Code’s implementation, MyCRA had approximately 26% of its clientele with a disputable telco credit listing. These disputes ranged from alleged system errors, incorrect notices provided, through to data and plan confusion and hardship disputes.

At the present moment, that hasn’t changed a great deal.

However, we are currently handling a telco dispute where we believe a telco has breached its obligations to the consumer under the TCP Code. That case is currently mid-way through the dispute process.

On the whole, we welcome the increased obligations of Telcos to comply with what we consider basic and fair customer rights. Most importantly, the rights for telco customers to fully understand exactly what their phone plan entails to avoid “bill shock”. Issues like international roaming charges, excess data charges and customers going over plan allowances (especially when the plan had the terms “unlimited” within it) has in the past been a source of dispute amongst customers.

We also agree with the need for telcos under the TCP Code to provide ‘faster, better complaints-handling, with urgent complaints resolved within two days’. If this is consistently implemented amongst telcos, this sense of urgency will go a long way to minimising unfair defaults due to a more streamlined process of handling complaints. The grey area is what constitutes ‘urgent’.

Image: num_skyman/