ACMA releases new telco complaints-handling rules for public comment

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is putting in place new complaints-handling rules to improve the experience of consumers moving to the National Broadband Network.

The fast, wholesale local access broadband network is being developed by NBN co limited (nbn), a Government Business Enterprise wholly owned by the Commonwealth of Australia. Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield said that around 30,000 homes and businesses are migrating to the network every week, and 3.6 million are already connected.

“While the overwhelming majority of users have a smooth migration onto the NBN, we want to ensure the ACMA is a strong cop-on-the-beat, armed to protect consumers from the handballing of complaints,” Minister Fifield explained.

The changes include new consumer protections, greater transparency and lower wholesale prices.

The new rules aim to stop the handballing of complaints between telcos and the nbn, giving the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman better tools to help resolve complaints. The ACMA is also going to issue new requirements for retailers to publicly release complaints statistics to help consumers differentiate between retailers based on the quality of their customer service.

The ACMA is seeking feedback on the draft new rules. The deadline for submissions is 5 pm, 16 April 2018. Following consultation, the ACMA intends these rules to be in place by June.

The new ACMA rules follow the announcement of a new monthly customer experience progress report  to track service and quality improvements on the network. The first monthly customer experience progress report showed 89 percent of NBN installs are done ‘right first time’, 92 percent of installations are completed on time, and 85 percent of faults are repaired on time.

The report also reveals that NBN’s new pricing has led to a jump in users enjoying speeds of 50 Mbps and faster; and a dramatic reduction in network congestion – meaning more reliable high-speed broadband, even during peak hours.

In December 2017, ACMA published the results of an industry information-gathering exercise. They found that for the three months to 30 June 2017, 55.7 per cent of all network-related complaints were about service quality (faults and speed). A further 44.3 per cent of network-related complaints were about connection issues. On average, complaints about faults took up to 19 calendar days to resolve, whereas complaints about connection issues took up to 28 calendar days to resolve. it took up to 45 calendar days for customers to have their old voice and data services moved across to the network.

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said that telco customers deserve to have their complaints dealt with quickly and effectively. As industry co-regulation is proving ineffective in this area, rules are being put in place so that the ACMA can act more quickly to deal with non-compliance.

Ms O’Loughlin said, “As we announced in December, the ACMA is putting in place stronger rules to improve consumers’ experience in migrating to the new Network. Today we are releasing the first of these new rules for public comment. These cover telco complaints-handling processes and monitoring.”

Unlike co-regulatory industry codes, the new rules will be immediately and directly enforceable by the ACMA. In the event of a breach of an industry standard by a telco, the ACMA can commence court proceedings seeking remedies such as injunctions and civil penalties of up to A$250,000. For breaching a service provider rule, the maximum civil penalty a court can impose is A$10 million. There are no pecuniary penalties for breaching an industry code.

The ACMA will release additional consumer protection and conduct public consultation on them in the coming weeks. The new rules will:

  • specify the minimum information that telcos must provide about their network services before they sign consumers up 
  • specify minimum standards for telcos’ complaints-handling processes and a requirement for telcos to report their complaint numbers to the ACMA so that changes can be monitored
  • require telcos to ‘line test’ new services on the network to ensure that lines are working and that faults are identified early require consumers to be reconnected to legacy network services, if that fall-back is needed until their new network service is successfully connected.

“Together, this package will help consumers migrate seamlessly to the new Network—from understanding their choices before they sign up, through to connection and getting help when they need it,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

The ACMA will also undertake further research into modem quality, potentially leading to the introduction of technical standards, or a modem performance rating scheme.

Featured image: Bidgee/ CC BY-SA 3.0 AU

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