The government is beefing up the communications regulator's powers so it can take quicker action against telcos that fail to provide better customer service.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy will announce today plans to give the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) the power to issue a "service provider direction". This will speed up the ACMA's response time if it finds the industry is not abiding by a new industry-drafted Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code.
If telcos ignore the direction, the ACMA can take companies to court for civil damages and fines of up to $250,000.
The new consumer protection code started on September 1 and will be phased in over three years. The ACMA's new powers will be introduced through amendments to the 2001 Telecommunications Regulations.
"These powers are not a replacement for the existing TCP code, but they are a clear signal to telecommunications companies that we expect to see measurable improvements to customer service," Senator Conroy said in a statement yesterday.
The new powers allow the ACMA to direct telcos to give consumers clearer price advertising, more information about service plans, more information about billing and to improve complaint handling procedures.
Chief executive of Communications Alliance, the industry body that drafted the TCP Code, John Stanton, said he hoped the ACMA's powers would never be used.
“Certainly we believe that regulatory determinations should not be made in circumstances where the same outcome could be achieved via the TCP Code.
We welcome the confirmation from the Minister and ACMA Chair, Chris Chapman, that the ACMA will consult with affected parties – which would include the telco industry – before making any determinations.”
Senator Conroy will also announce ongoing funding of $2 million each year for the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) at its national conference today.
A new survey by ACCAN has found Australians are reluctant to switch telco providers, with 46 per cent of respondents staying with the same provider for five or more years.
Chief executive Teresa Corbin urged consumers to shop around, saying "people are actively trying to save money on other utilities like energy, but for some reason when it comes to telecommunications services many people just stay with the same provider".
ACCAN's National Consumer Perceptions Survey of 800 people also found: 72 per cent feel their service is reliable; 67 per cent think their service is fast enough; and 61 per cent feel mobile broadband speeds are improving.