Govt revives mothballed review of telco industry

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Govt revives mothballed review of telco industry

Is the answer new rules or telco-specific shaming?

The government is set to revive a long-delayed review of consumer safeguards in the telecommunications sector amid a backdrop of soaring complaints.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said in a statement that a three-part review “of the telecommunications consumer protections framework for a post-2020 environment” would now take place.

The review will consider complaints handling and redress, network reliability, and how customers are treated by telco providers.

It came as the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman revealed it received 84,914 complaints in the last six months of 2017, a 28.7 percent increase on the same period in 2016.

“The complaints figures are simply too high – the current model for protecting consumers needs reform,” Fifield said.

The Communications Alliance - which represents telcos - said the review was “overdue”, having been “originally flagged to commence in 2016”.

“Industry is keen to engage closely with relevant stakeholders on all parts of the review to produce an efficient and fit-for-purpose framework for consumer safeguards – including through the use of updated industry codes,” Communications Alliance director of program management Christiane Gillespie-Jones said in a statement.

“Of course, we are not satisfied with the high numbers of complaints that we are currently seeing, and industry recognises that more needs to be done to improve the overall customer experience.”

However, Macquarie Telecom group executive Luke Clifton suggested in a statement that bad operators needed to be singled out in the first instance.

He warned against “collective punishment through sweeping rule and regulation changes”, arguing that it “is not the answer now” and that “it has never worked in other industries.”

“It’s time to put the responsibility back to individual businesses and demand to know what specific actions they will take to lower consumer complaints, and then hold them to those commitments,” Clifton said.

“Forcing those who are the worst offenders to fix their own problems, and then holding their feet to the fire, is the only short-term solution, and potentially the beginning of solving the deep issues of the [telecommunications] industry before it faces its own Royal Commission.”

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