ISPs sceptical of ACMA customer service report

Exetel's chief dismisses Reconnecting the Customer report recommendations as “pious motherhood statements that ignore reality”

The nation’s internet service providers (ISPs) have responded with scepticism at recommendations for lifting customer service contained in the communication regulator’s draft Reconnecting the Customer report.

The draft report, released by the Australian Media and Communication Authority (ACMA) late last week argues for the “imposition of some regulatory buttressing of industry-initiated actions and the articulation of minimum expectations.”

Specific new recommendations include mandating improved advertising practices, improved product disclosure, transparent customer care reporting, and the provision of tools such as automated email or SMS alerts and fixed expenditure points.

Commenting on the report, Exetel chief, John Linton, said questioned the ability of the office of the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman (TIO) to full grasp the technical challenges faced by ISPs, and thus, the effectiveness of any new regulation scheme.

“The principal problem with the TIO, and any scheme that replaces it will face, is finding front line personnel that have even a glimmer of understanding of the nature of the services they are dealing with,” he said. “Beyond billing queries, which they could be expected to deal with via correct recruitment, everything else is technically beyond them — and always will be.”

iiNet head of regulator affairs, Steve Dalby, said it was difficult to agree with ACMA and its argument for another layer of consumer protection as a means of addressing the large number of customer complaints about telcos lodged with the TIO each year. . “We have more regulators in this space than you can poke a stick at,” Dalby said. “Every state has a consumer affairs body; we have national federal agencies in the ACCC and ACMA as well as the TIO.

“Additionally there are a raft of consumer advocates like ACCAN and Choice. The issues are not caused by lack of regulation or oversight.”

While ACMA argues that a root cause of customer complaints is the lack of market incentives for better service, Dalby argued that good service was in fact a competitive advantage for ISPs.

“Let the customer switch,” he said. “Let those providing poor service suffer the consequences. I don’t have to name names, but we know from recent experience that customers will vote with their feet.”

Dalby also questioned the viability of ACMA’s recommendations for lifting customer services as “more reporting, more regulation, more obligations on the provider, less responsibility for consumers.”

Exetel’s Linton also dismissed the new measures, describing them as “pious motherhood statements that ignore reality”.

“The first question is: Why is it a service provider’s responsibility to ‘manage’ their customer’s usage?” he said. “The second question is: As most/all of these things are already in place with most/all communications service providers (because they are a standard part of commercial risk management) why are these issues even being mentioned as something ‘new and improved’?”

Commenting on the extent of customer service issues within the industry, Linton suggested that the majority of customers in fact had no issues with their service and that this was due to their understanding what they had signed up for.

“Why do you think that an overwhelming majority of customers have no issues at all with the services they select? Because they know what they are doing and understand the limitations of the services they buy and use?” he said.

“Who is actually dissatisfied with the services they buy and use? Scammers looking for financial advantage, technical incompetents and people with nothing better to do with their time than complain about something that 95 per cent of the time is of their own causing and can only be remedied by their own actions.”

An Optus spokesperson said the company intended to formally respond to the ACMA report in coming weeks, but had been working for “many months” on a review of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection code which looked to address many of the issues raised in the report.

"[Optus] will continue to work with the broader industry, government and consumer representatives to finalise the code over the coming months,” the spokesperson said.

“Optus is committed to providing our customers with a better experience and has a number of initiatives already in train which will address some of the ACMA’s recommendations.”

In contrast to ISPs the ACMA’s draft has been welcomed by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network and Communication’s Alliance..

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @Tlohman

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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