The rules, to take effect from 1 July, can potentially result in the imposition of civil penalties of up to $250,000.for telcos breaching the standards.
The new standards and record-keeping rules were announced on Thursday by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), with the Authority chair Nerida O’Loughlin acknowledging that consumers deserve to have better complaints-handling procedures.
“Both our industry information-gathering exercise and our survey of residential households demonstrate that telco complaints-handling practices need to improve," she said.
This is the first tranche of new rules announced by the ACMA in December 2017 to improve consumers’ experience in migrating to the NBN following its industry information-gathering exercise and consumer research, a snapshot of which was published in March 2018.
And the new rules have been welcomed by industry lobby group, the Communications Alliance, which says the rules focus on stronger industry cooperation to help consumers.
But, CA also cautions that it is “virtually impossible” for telecommunications providers to put in place the required changes to ensure compliance with the new rules.
Under the new rules telcos will be obliged to:
- Have and follow a written complaints-handling process that meets minimum standards;
- Acknowledge all consumer complaints within two working days;
- Use their best efforts to resolve complaints on first contact; and
- Otherwise, resolve complaints within 15 working days.
The rules also oblige all entities in the NBN supply chain work to together to resolve consumer complaints in a timely and effective manner – with larger providers to provide complaints data to the ACMA to allow it to monitor industry complaints-handling performance and identify new trends driving complaints.
The new rules will be immediately and directly enforceable by the ACMA.
For example, if a telco breaches an industry standard, the ACMA can commence court proceedings seeking remedies such as injunctions and civil penalties of up to $250,000.
“As the NBN rollout reaches its peak, it is even more important for telcos to step up and resolve migration issues quickly and effectively, so consumers can fully benefit from the new network," O’Loughlin said.
The ACMA would be announcing additional measures to improve the customer migration experience in the coming weeks, she added.
CA said the new standard was heavily based on the existing arrangements put in place by industry in its consumer protections Code, but imposed some stronger timeframe requirements and an obligation on all players in the telco supply chain to work together to resolve customer complaints.
The lobby group noted that the ACMA also published a set of record-keeping rules that require service providers to furnish large volumes of additional data to the ACMA concerning complaints received by each company.
CA chief executive John Stanton said industry was grateful for the opportunity to consult productively with the ACMA in recent months on the development of the new instruments, “in a bid to ensure that the rules help improve customer experience and are informed by operational practicality and commercial reality”.
“We hope the net result of these and the other rules still under development by the ACMA will contribute to a better experience for customers migrating to NBN-based services – an outcome that will be welcomed right across Australia," he said.
“It needs to be recognised that for telecommunications providers to put in place new business processes, make changes to IT systems and train front-line staff in order to be able to comply with new rules — all in the space of three weeks — is virtually impossible.
“We hope that the regulator recognises this reality and will exercise some understanding while service providers are racing to become compliant.”