Telco Consumer Code to be Rejected

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) looks set to reject the Communications Alliance’s Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code.

There has been no official word from the regulator, but they have given the clearest indication yet that the TCP submitted by the industry’s peak body – Communications Alliance – has failed to address the core issues stipulated by ACMA following its extensive Reconnecting the Customer inquiry last year. Speaking at the CommsDay conference in Sydney, ACMA chairman Chris Chapman remarked that while the TCP represented an improvement on previous efforts, it still fell short on three of the five stipulated core areas:

  1. Clearer pricing information in advertisements allowing consumers to more easily compare services
  2. Improved and more consistent pre-sale information about plans
  3. Developing meaningful performance metrics which allow consumers to compare providers
  4. Tools for consumers to monitor usage and expenditure
  5. Better complaints-handling by providers

No decision has been reached, although Mr Chapman conceded that the revised TCP ‘did not meet expectations’.

The aim of TCP, viewed generously, is for greater simplicity in plan pricing, more transparency in pricing comparison (including unit pricing), and more powerful tools for monitoring and controlling spend. There is the hope, fervently held in some quarters, that empowering consumers in this way would see a drastic reduction in incidences of Bill Shock, which has become so nefarious that it cannot be mentioned except in upper case.

The cynical aim is that the industry’s appalling reputation within the broader community can be somewhat repaired. The political aim is that it will get the regulator of their backs. By those lights, it appears to have failed. To be cynical ourselves for a moment, it was difficult to see how an industry desire for self-regulation would see them do anything but the bare minimum, although, by the reckoning of many, they have fallen well short of that.

ACMA’s original statement was that if the industry could not address the five core areas, then it would be faced with direct regulation, which would be far more costly for the telcos. The Australian Communications Consumer Action Group (ACCAN) was part of the committee that originally created the TCP. Yet they announced in February that were voting against the code, arguing that it fell short in all five areas. It appears ACMA has reached a similar conclusion.

However, of all the Communications Alliance’s oversights, this is arguably not the worst. More egregious is their decision to settle for a two-word name, thereby debarring themself from a fancy acronym. While there are rare exceptions – such as British Petroleum – acroynms based on fewer than three words just never stick. ACCAN, ACMA, ASIO, and CSIRO have all refused to comment.