1 September 2012: The registration of the new Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, with new regulations governing the Australian telecommunications industry, commenced on 1 September. The new code replaces the 2007 TCP code following a review that commenced in 2010. The new code is enforceable by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (‘ACMA’). The new code is an attempt to address a number of consumer issues, both new and old, that were not adequately dealt with by the old code. It also seeks to achieve an alignment with provisions of the Australian Consumer Law (‘ACL’) which came into effect in 2011. Finally it seeks to establish an effective enforcement and compliance scheme to replace the inneffectual Code Administration and Compliance Scheme established by the 2007 Code, which has now been withdrawn by the Communications Alliance.
The Code is laid out in chapters corresponding to different areas of regulations. The most important new and changed regulations for Telecommunications providers are outlined under relevant headings below.
Text-based advertising for ‘included value’ post-paid mobile plans must now prominently display ‘standard pricing’ elements. These elements are: the cost of a 2-minute standard mobile call, the cost of a standard sms and the cost of 1 megabyte of data. These regulations do not include TV or radio advertisements. Further, the use of the phrase ‘cap’ in advertising is banned unless the mobile plan contains a ‘hard cap’, which means a maximum amount applied to a Customer’s use of Telecommunications Services, which cannot be exceeded. Imprecise use of phrases such as free’, ‘unlimited’, ‘no exceptions’, ‘no exclusions’ and ‘no catches’ is also banned.
Product disclosure regulations
Providers are now obliged to offer a ‘Critical Information Summary’ (‘CIS’) to customers prior to the sale of post-paid services. This summary must include such information as required ‘bundling arrangements’ and mandatory goods that must be taken as part of the offer, information about minimum and maximum charges under the plan, standard pricing (see above), charges upon termination, all inclusions and exclusions, warnings about roaming costs on the plan, and information about customer dispute resolution procedures and customer service contact details. For those customers who opt-out of receiving the statement prior to sale, it must be provided to them post-sale.
Spend management regulations
The code’s new regulations around ‘spend management’ tools is intended to prevent the problem of customer ‘bill shock’ resulting from excess charges as a result of things like data roaming or usage outside the customers cap. Providers must now publish management tools in an easily accessible place on their website and provide information in the CIS (see above) about the tools. For post-paid plans, providers must also provide:
- for voice or data usage in Australia: usage or expenditure notifications at 50%, 85% and 100% of allowance; and
- at the same time of 100% notice, detail of charges that apply post-100% and that info may be up to 48 hours old.
Bills for an included value plan must include historic information regarding the amount of the customers last two bills, including the amount that spend limits or value thresholds were exceeded.
The code establishes tighter deadlines for complaint resolution and completion of undertakings to consumers. Providers now have 10 working days to implement outcomes, 15 working days to finalise complaints, and 5 working days to finalise urgent complaints. Acknowledgement of over the phone complaints must occur immediately, and other complaints must be acknowledged within 2 days. There are also significant record keeping and document management requirements.
Providers must also document and display prominently their complaint process on their website. They are also required to explicitly promote Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) services and advise consumers in plain language the outcomes of their complaints.
Consumer Sales, Service and Contracts
The code sets out what suppliers must do for consumers in relation to retail sales and service, including regarding the provision of information, advertising, selling practices, contracting, dealing with consumers with different needs and customer service.
Consumer contracts must now be compliant with the Code and must not contain unfair terms, including in relation to the following:
- suspension of service;
- penalties for breach;
- extension of contract period; or
- unilateral variation by the supplier.
The code establishes a new independent compliance body called ‘Communications Compliance’ (‘CC’). This body includes representation for consumers as well as providers and regulators, and is responsible for monitoring compliance with the code. The CC is required to develop and publish metrics for reporting against within 6 months of September 1st.
The ACMA’s roles in education, enforcement and penalising non-compliance remains the same as under the 2007 Code, as does the TIO. As mentioned above, the Communications Alliance Code Adminstration and Compliance Scheme has been withdrawn, replaced by the CC.
A full copy and other information relating to the code can be found at http://www.commsalliance.com.au/Documents/all/codes/c628