Telco deregulation: Price controls, phone sex on the table

Customer Service Guarantee would also be altered under proposed deregulation

These phones are totally out of control! Completely deregulated!

These phones are totally out of control! Completely deregulated!

The government has revealed the scope of a proposed second tranche of telco deregulation, with Telstra to benefit from many elements of a proposed Telecommunications Deregulation Bill No.1 2014.

The government intends to introduce the bill in September or October for the second "Parliamentary Repeal Day".

The Department of Communications has issued a discussion paper covering proposals in seven areas. Many of the proposed changes cover regulations that are considered to be less important because of the rise of mobile phone services and the decline of reliance on landlines.

For example, Part 17 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 requires telcos delivering standard (non-cellular) telephone services to allow customers to select different providers for long distance and international calls, and calls from fixed services to mobile phones.

"The deregulatory proposal is to limit this pre-selection obligation to services delivered over the legacy copper network, as it is no longer an essential requirement in a more competitive market," the paper states.

The paper also raises doing away with the Retail Price Controls for Telstra established by the Telecommunications Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999. Price controls are "no longer relevant," the paper states.

"The market has developed from the provision of a single telecommunications service, fixed line services, delivered by a single provider, Telecom, to a vibrant and competitive market. People are able to communicate through fixed line services, mobile communications services, naked DSL (voice services through VoIP) and VoIP services.

"As a result, there is an ongoing decline in fixed line services and an increase in the number of mobile and wireless services with both of these trends set to accelerate."

Other areas include privacy regulations that the paper says are rendered redundant by recent changes to the Privacy Act, changes to the Priority Assistance service operated by Telstra, reporting obligations for Telstra's local presence plan for regional areas — and the regulation of telephone sex services under part 9A of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act.

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"It is proposed to repeal Part 9A as most adult entertainment services are now provided online or via mobile devices and apps," the report states.

The final area of reform slated in the paper is the Customer Service Guarantee, which mandates telcos' repair of phone services and keeping of appointments in urban, rural and remote areas within certain timeframes.

Telstra earlier this year paid a $510,000 penalty for failing to meet one of its nine CSG benchmarks.

The paper divides CSG reform into three areas: Removing outdated provisions (publishing mass service disruption notices in a newspaper, for example); allowing telcos to negotiate compensation and timeframe provisions with customers while eliminating the ability to waive CSG rights; and repealing the CSG performance benchmarks.

"Some important consumer protections are being reviewed that have been in place for quite some time," said Teresa Corbin, the CEO of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network.

"Some may no longer be appropriate in the current environment. ACCAN will be carefully analysing the proposed reforms and consulting with our constituents to ensure the interests of consumers are taken into consideration.

"Consumers are encouraged to give feedback to the consultation paper, particularly on priority assistance and the customer service guarantee. Any changes impacting consumer protection must ensure that consumer confidence in a fair market is maintained, while delivering savings to industry."

The push for further telecommunications deregulation follows the government's 'red tape' repeal measures in March. Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull and parliamentary secretary to the minister, Paul Fletcher, said at the time that the communications sector would save some $45 million every year from the repeal of more than 1000 pages of regulations covered by the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill.

That bill received a positive response from industry, including the Communications Alliance and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association. At the time, the Comms Alliance indicated the organisation is interested in more complex deregulation reforms being included in the second repeal day.

In a statement released today, Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said that the measures outlined in the paper aligned with the recommendations his organisation had made to the government.

Stanton said that the Comms Alliance would work on outlining additional deregulatory measures.

"We are exploring, for example, whether the success of the first tranche of consumer information measures under the recently introduced international mobile roaming Standard might make the additional proposed requirements of that Standard unnecessary," the CEO said.

AMTA backed the Omnibus Bill and advocated a number of additional moves to deregulate the industry. Two short-term measures are the removal of identity checks when prepaid mobile services are purchased and premium SMS service reporting.

Over the longer term AMTA wants a review of the Radiocommunications Act 1992 to streamline the regulatory framework governing spectrum allocation and licensing.

"Industry is keen to push on with the next steps down a clear pathway to ensure that key legislation is fit for purpose," AMTA CEO Chris Althaus said at the recent CommsDay summit in Sydney.

"One of the landmark building-block policies is the RadComms Act. It should be reviewed to develop a spectrum policy roadmap outlining a clear policy approach to making spectrum available in a timely manner under a clear and simplified regulatory framework at a reasonable price that won’t deter investment."

"Complexities associated with spectrum allocation and spectrum licence reissue have caused inefficiencies and costly burdens on industry. AMTA supports a comprehensive review of the RadComms Act 1992 to ensure spectrum is available under a simplified regulatory framework that promotes certainty and investment."

Submissions on the proposed Telecommunications Deregulation Bill No.1 2014 can be made until 5 May via an online forum.

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Tags TelcoTelecommunicationsderegulation

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