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ACCAN proposes automatic payments to users for missed appointments and repairs

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The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has put forward a recommendation that consumers should receive automatic compensation when a telecommunications provider misses an appointment or is unable to resolve an outage within a determined timeframe.

“Payments for connections and repairs outside the maximum timeframes should be automatic by both the network provider and retail service provider”, ACCAN wrote in a submission to Part B of the Consumer Safeguard Review conducted by the Department of Communications.

“If a wholesale network provider has connected a customer after the maximum timeframe it should automatically trigger a payment to be made against the retail service provider’s account. Likewise, the retail service provider should automatically make a payment to the customer.

“Automatic compensation requires systems and processes for payments and will not rely on customers knowing their rights or being informed by a provider with no incentive to do so.”

The department said it is conducting the review as current reliability regulations only apply to fixed voice services, and not to broadband networks. Any action from the review is expected to commence after the National Broadband Network is completed in 2020.

Among the proposals put forward in the review are: Mandatory rules to cover how consumers and small business are connected to fixed networks, including appointments; providers needing to focus on keeping consumers connected if timeframes cannot be met; the publishing of network reliability metrics by infrastructure providers whose services are onsold to consumers; and, the collection and publication of data from wholesalers and retailers by the Australian Communications and Media Authority relating to fixed connections, repairs, and appointments.

ACCAN agreed with a department proposal to have consumers be paid AU$100 for a missed appointment, but said that this should only be the starting point.

“We believe that the frequency of missed appointments should be monitored and the regulator should have the flexibility to recalibrate the compensation (penalties) in response to circumstances,” the submission said.

“The Department’s proposal for mandatory timeframes with significant penalties for non-compliance is absolutely necessary.”

Consumers should be able to exit contracts if they suffer from recurrent faults, ACCAN said, however it did concede that if the problem is with a wholesaler, changing retailers may not fix the issue.

On the topic of usable data, ACCAN put forward the idea for telcos to measure network reliability on a suburb-like level, and for that information to be accessible online.

Making public its submission yesterday, the Communications Alliance struck out at one of the department’s proposals, that consumer safegaurds are best delivered through direct regulation.

“Consumer safeguards are best delivered through competition, and regulation should only be used where competition is not delivering,” the Comms Alliance said in an all-bold statement.

Part A of the Consumer Safeguards Review, which focused on complaints handling, saw the Australian government decide against abolishing the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, following consultation that showed strong support for the external dispute resolution (EDR) scheme.

“[There was] near universal support from both consumers, industry, and other industry Ombudsman schemes for EDR in the telecommunications sector to continue being provided by the TIO, but acknowledgement that improvements could be made to the TIO Scheme,” the review said.

“The review suggests that it would be appropriate to implement reforms to the current TIO scheme rather than establish a new EDR body at this time. This approach would see the existing EDR arrangements maintained, but further reformed and enhanced.”

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