The Australian government has released the second tranche of its consumer safeguards review, following its first release a year prior.
In the Consumer Safeguards Review Part B report which is aimed at the Australian broadband market, once main construction on the National Broadband Network (NBN) is complete next year, the Department of Communications states fixed line infrastructure providers of last resort may not face consistent competition.
“Regulated wholesale timeframes for connections, fault repairs and appointment keeping matters are therefore appropriate,” it states.
As such, the report says mandatory rules for wholesale connection, fault repair, and appointment keeping should be introduced in 2020, and should be written to accommodate the high number of premises that will need to be switched to the NBN until 2022.
The rules would allow for “issues of geographic remoteness and provide for reasonable industry travel time”, as well as provide an exemption once a set of clearly defined criteria are met.
For retailers, the report called for them to inform customers, at a minimum, of timeframes for connections and fault repairs, as well as remedies, as part of efforts to increase transparency. Retailers would also have to “clearly state” what any remedies such as credit, rebates, contract exit arrangements, or backup services are.
The report did not call for backup services to be mandated however, after a number of telcos pointed out that retailers with mobile networks would be advantaged.
Both wholesalers and retailers were called on to keep records of how they tracked against service commitments, while the report recommended for Telstra to face less onerous reporting obligations as it noted the Network Reliability Framework applies to copper-based voice connections.
The exact details of the recommendations are up in the air, as the department said it would work with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Australian Communications and Media Authority to make sure there are no duplications of standing arrangements.
“The consumer safeguards we have in place today have been in place for more than 20 years and are highly prescriptive,” Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said.
“As Australia’s telecommunications environment continues to change, and with the National Broadband Network rollout finishing next year, now is the right time to modernise the consumer protection framework.”
In response to the report, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said further effort would be needed to protect consumers from unreliable telco services.
“Having a clear framework that makes it easy to understand when consumers can expect issues with their phone or internet service to be fixed is an important first step,” ACCAN director of policy Una Lawrence said.
“However, more needs to be done to recognise the impact of unreliable telco services on consumers. If you are waiting for a technician or tradesperson to come to your house to fix an issue and they miss the scheduled appointment, you should be automatically compensated for your time.”
The report eschewed from automated compensation, stating it worked well in cases of a single point and party of failure, but otherwise could introduce administrative complexity and blame-shifting.
“In the case of telecommunications faults where the source of an issue may not immediately have an easily identifiable root cause, mandatory compensation arrangements may actually compound consumer issues by encouraging ‘buck passing’ and internal industry debates around liability, rather than encouraging a focus on resolving the issue,” the report said.
Telco industry group, Communications Alliance, said the report struck the right balance.
“The move away from some elements of the initial Part B proposals removes some potentially anticompetitive outcomes, which had caused concern within industry and could have stifled innovation and created increased costs for consumers,” Comms Alliance CEO John Stanton said.
“We are reviewing and considering the detailed recommendations in the report, but support the approach, including that outdated regulation should be removed, implementation should actively avoid the risk of duplicative regulation, and competition will bring the most benefit to consumers.”
From February, the Department of Communications will find itself rehomed as part of the new Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, and Communications.