Fine print in phone contracts fails ACCAN test

Second-tier and smaller suppliers not as compliant with TCP Code and ACL as the bigger telcos, according to ACCAN
Fine print in phone contracts fails ACCAN test

Many telecom contracts may violate Australian consumer law, according to a report released today by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).

ACCAN said it reviewed the fine print of 42 telecom product contracts last year. The full report is available here.

“Unfortunately, most of the contracts reviewed contained terms that did not comply with some aspects of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL),” ACCAN said.

“There were many terms found that tried to limit the provider's liability and failed to mention the rights guaranteed to consumers by the ACL. The guarantees are, for example, that products should be fit for purpose and that consumers have the right to refunds or repairs.”

Even so, most of the contracts under review did comply with the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code, a set of rules that was written by the telecom industry and is enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

In general, the top three telcos—Telstra, Optus and Vodafone Hutchison Australia—performed better than smaller providers, ACCAN said.

The review found those larger telcos “to be the most compliant, with the main problem areas being lack of clarity, poor wording and complex, difficult to navigate documents,” ACCAN wrote in the report.

“Some of the second-tier and smaller suppliers demonstrated substantial levels of non-compliance with both the TCP Code and the ACL, with some being consistently aggressive in their treatment of consumers’ rights.”

ACCAN said it has met with major telcos and found them receptive to modifying their contracts.

“While we didn't agree on everything, the major providers did see that some of their terms could be improved and as a result of our engagement some were indeed changed to be more fair and more accurate.”

However, the consumer group said it has had less luck with smaller providers.

“ACCAN is concerned that the contracts of some medium-sized and smaller providers continue to contain misleading or unfair terms and these providers have often been difficult or impossible to communicate with.”

As a result, ACCAN said it has written to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), seeking “to draw the regulator's attention to terms remaining in the contracts of Netspeed, Aldi, Dodo and TPG that lack the legally required mention of the ACL”.

A recent report by the Communications Alliance, an industry body representing telcos, found that one in five customers are unhappy with their service and less than half are satisfied with responses to their complaints.

“The good news for consumers is that the telco industry has move to comply with the new requirements of the TCP Code, as evidenced in the ACCAN findings," Comms Alliance CEO John Stanton said today.

"If there are any minor shortcomings by some providers against the requirements of the new Australian Consumer Law, there is clearly no shortage of scrutiny to ensure that is corrected."

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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More about: ACCC, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Dodo, Hutchison, indeed, Optus, Telstra, TPG, Vodafone
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Tags: phone bill, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Telco, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), telecom, contract, Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
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