Slack telcos warned to lift standards

Regulator says carriers ignored problems for profit

TIO Deirdre O'Donnell

TIO Deirdre O'Donnell

Telcos have been told to lift their standards and fix proliferating problems or face action by the industry regulator.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has warned the Australian telecommunications industry to better deal with consumers and eradicate misleading advertising, unfair contracts and deceptive mobile phone competitions, or face the wrath of the Trade Practices Act.

ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said consumers should be able to trust their telecommunications providers.

“It is no longer acceptable for carriers to wash their hands of responsibility as operators use their networks to entrap phone company customers," Samuel said in a statement.

Consumer protection issues in telecommunications currently ranks as the number one complaint, according to the regulator.

The ACCC Infocentre alone was hit with more than 4000 complaints a year.

Last year, Computerworld reported that the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman (TIO) office received a record 102,463 complaints in 2007, up from 55,515 in 2003, and would set another record by the end of 2008.

TIO Deirdre O'Donnell previously said about 80 percent of break-downs between consumers and telcos happen because of poor communication.

“I am the busiest ombudsman in Australia. There were about 200,000 complaints registered between 19 ombudsmen from industries like energy, insurance and banking, and I alone had 75 percent of that in 2007," O'Donnell said.

ACCC has voiced concerns to local mobile carriers regarding the provision of premium mobile services.

Along with premium mobile services, the regulator will target phone cards, broadband advertising, and inclusions in bundled packages.

Last month the ACCC reprimanded telco TPG for falsely advertising a high capacity mobile phone plan as unlimited. The regulator said the telco flouted sections 52 and 53 of the Trade Practices Act by advertising the offending $60 plan as an unlimited cap, despite the fact it excluded premium voice and text services.

The regulator also express concerns with telco advertising practices, consumers not understanding contracts including inadvertently signing up to a subscription service, difficulties with unsubscribing and complaints handling processes.

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