TCP compliance could reduce telco market, the ACMA says

The ACMA has received new powers to enforce the Telecommunications Consumer Protection code.

Chris Chapman, CEO of the ACMA, has suggested the new Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code could reduce the number of players in the telco market.

Chapman today told journalists that there are currently 1100 service providers in the market.

“[What’s] going to be interesting to see [is] the impact on the number of players [in the market]. It’ll be interesting in three years' time, for example, to see whether there will be 1100 or potentially a smaller number as a result of the reality of complying [with the TCP],” he said.

The comments follow the announcement by Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy, that the ACMA has been given additional powers to reign in the telco industry, after the release of the TCP code in July this year.

However, concern about whether companies will readily comply with the new code has been voiced.

In a recent letter to Conroy, ACCAN's CEO, Teresa Corbin, wrote: “The big issue here is that the ACMA does not at present have strong enough powers to enforce the code.”

When asked by Computerworld Australia if telcos would only pay attention to the new code when companies break the law and the ramifications of non-compliance is seen, Chapman said he is an “optimistic person” and believes companies will comply.

He said some companies, particularly medium to large enterprises, are already paying attention to the rules. For example, Optus recently said it was planning to start sending SMS text alerts to customers about data usage one year before required under the TCP code, with Vodafone also planning to follow by the end of the year.

“I honestly think there’s been enough serious indications put out there by ourselves, the ACCC [and] the ministers … We’ve now got infringement notices powers [and] we’ve now got a new code that is not only much more specific, but it’s framed in a way that facilitates legal enforcement,” Chapman said.

The TCP code aims to protect customers from unexpected charges, sort out confusing mobile plans and improve the handling of customer complaints. It applies to all telecommunications providers, including ISPs and landline and mobile carriers, with some rules that went into effect 1 September this year.

The new powers now given to ACMA include being able to force companies to ensure pricing information is clear on advertising; improve information on plans; improve complaint handling; and increase transparency around billing and expenditure.

“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 measureable improvements to customer service,” Conroy said in a statement.

“These new powers allow the ACMA to act quickly if required, particularly for issues that may emerge in the future.”

Conroy also announced $2 million in funding to ACCAN per year until 2017, which will be funded by a levy on telecommunications companies.

Corbin told the ACCAN conference the association would be looking at cloud computing, copyright, IT pricing, the needs of small business, international calling cards and mobile coverage issues, particularly for regional consumers in the next 12 months.

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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