Usage alert compliance a priority as TCP code enforcement heads into year three

'People are still complaining in increasing numbers about unexpected high bills,' says ACMA official

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) hopes to cut bill shock with a renewed emphasis in the coming year on enforcing data usage alerts under the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code, according to an ACMA official.

The TCP code is two years old and all of its requirements are now in place following a phasing-in process that began 1 September 2012, ACMA consumer interest section manager Alan Chalmers said at Communications Alliance event on Friday.

“For year three, we have a bit more discretion about how we do our compliance work,” he said.

Bill shock, in which customers receive unexpectedly high bills, “is one of the areas swimming against the tide of the general reduction of [Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO)] complaints,” he said.

“People are still complaining in increasing numbers about unexpected high bills.”

In response, the ACMA plans to take a closer look at telco compliance with the data usage notification requirements of the TCP code, he said.

“We found some early teething problems with many of the carriers’ systems” when the requirements came into effect, “but they did seem to be quickly rectified,” he said.

“We’re fairly confident that the usage alerts are going out, however we’ll have to keep our eye on that fairly closely.”

Second, the ACMA will be doing more work to ensure telcos actually take actions in response to complaints, Chalmers said. The ACMA has so far focused this enforcement on the top three telcos – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone – but this year will be looking more closely at smaller providers.

The top three telcos had high compliance ratings between 99 and 100 per cent in this area, he noted.

A third priority will be tackling unauthorised customers transfers, said the ACMA official. This type of complaint represents the largest source of referrals to the ACMA from the TIO, he said.

“This is a behaviour of a small number of industry participants, but it is ... a consistent misbehaviour by those small participants.”

These small entities, including Sure Telecom and SoleNet, have shifting identities but are often run by the same directors, he said.

“It’s a small number of firms, but it does threaten to tarnish … the otherwise very good work being done by the industry in reducing TIO complaints and increasing overall compliance.”

Finally, the ACMA is looking to crack down on prepaid mobile identity compliance. The regulator has a draft amendment to the prepaid identity requirements currently out for public comment.

The government has more strict rules for prepaid services in part due to law enforcement and national security concerns that a criminal or terrorist could anonymously buy and use a prepaid phone.

Accurate information in prepaid services also assists emergency responders answer triple-zero emergency calls.

“That’s an intriguing example of a regulator very intricately thread the needle which has a deregulatory agenda on one side and law enforcement and emergency services’ concerns about criminal and national security issues on the other side,” said Chalmers.

Chalmers noted that the new TCP code and the establishment of industry compliance body Communications Compliance has helped the ACMA separate companies that openly flout the rules from the ones that simply didn’t know their obligations.

In 2014, 12 telcos failed to lodge annually required documents to Communications Compliance. However, that was down from 39 providers in the previous year.

“We’re now fairly confident that we have a vast majority of the industry doing the right thing,” said Chalmers.

“The industry knows their obligations. They know the TCP code much, much better than they used to, and this gives us confidence that the consistent offenders are ... rogues and scallywags.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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