Telcos, consumer bodies tussle on self-regulation

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Telcos, consumer bodies tussle on self-regulation

For industry interests or public?

Communications Alliance has defended a proposal to establish a new oversight body for industry regulation amid claims it would favour industry over public interests.

The body, to be called Communications Compliance, is one of several measures contained in the latest revision to the Telecommunication Consumer Protection code.

The code has been lodged for approval with the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA). A decision is expected by February next year.

The code oversees the implementation of new ground rules for advertising and marketing practices, as well as complaint handling and expenditure management.

Many of the new features found in the code need to be implemented by telcos within six months of the code coming into force.

However, consumer representative body the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) raised concerns the new oversight body would service the industry over consumer rights.

"We're not convinced that this is best practice and will be making further comment about that," ACCAN chief executive Theresa Corbin said on Tuesday in response to a draft of the code issued publicly for consultation by the Communications Alliance.

"With a self-regulatory code governing an industry as vital as telecommunications, the biggest issue is making sure that providers abide by the rules."

ACCAN is expected to flesh out its concerns in a submission to the Communications Alliance on the draft code. A spokeswoman said it would reserve the details of its complaints until then.

However, it is believed ACCAN has begun contacting its members, urging they also make submissions to the Communications Alliance on the issue.

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Maintaining independence

Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton used an industry briefing on the draft code today to quell concerns around the establishment of Communications Compliance.

"We've created the means for this organisation in good faith - nobody else is stepping up with the dollars to fund this," he said.

Though details of the body remain unclear, it is likely to be partially funded by the Communications Alliance while receiving administrative assistance in efforts to establish the body in time for the TCP code's registration next year.

"If we were to take this outside of Communications Alliance's sphere - set up a new, independent statutory body - that would be big delays and enormous blowouts in expense involved... it would actually be a retrograde step," he said.

However, once it is established, Stanton said the compliance body will be completely independent of the Communications Alliance and have equal representation from industry and the public.

Constitutional papers drawing up its independence are expected for release before public consultation on the TCP code is closed.

He said the oversight body will "not be subject to direction from the Communications Alliance board".

Though most major telcos have already begun taking steps toward complying with the code, the Communications Alliance has begun preparing training programs for the smaller telcos who Stanton believed will be less likely to know of the code or immediately comply with its measures.

The compliance body will ultimately audit telcos against a set of metrics, with power to refer those who failed the process to the ACMA for further investigation.

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