Unacceptable Quality of Service: why industry self regulation is not working

The poor Quality of Service experienced by almost 200,000 consumers using Australian telecommunications services over the past year was starkly highlighted shortly before this November 2011 edition of TJA was ‘put to press’.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s 2011 Annual Report, released on 7 November, revealed that the TIO had received 197,662 new customer complaints in 2010-11 – an astonishing 18% more than in the previous, equally shocking, year.

The TIO Report ‘attributes the rise to mobile phone service faults and increased smart phones use. […] More than half the new complaints received by the TIO (over 112,000) were about mobile phone services, an increase of 51 per cent from the previous year. […] The most common mobile phone complaint issue was about service faults, with 56,475 new complaints made to the TIO, a 180 per cent increase. Consumers were most concerned about poor mobile coverage and service drop-outs.’

Looking back, in response to the horror statistics in the TIO’s previous Annual Report (2010), Teresa Corbin of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) had called on the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to impose penalties on telecommunications companies with poor customer service. That was in February 2011.

In response to the 2010 TIO Report, the industry’s supply-side peak body, the Communications Alliance, worked for 12 months and on 25 October 2011 released a draft Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code that the industry organisation says ‘will reduce bill shock and provide better information to consumers’. This code aims to avoid in future the more generic abuses of pricing, billing and advertising highlighted in the TIO’s 2010 Report, but does not address the network service faults that have grown significantly during the same period.

On 8 September ACMA released its ‘Reconnecting the Customer’ report, the result of an 18 month inquiry into ways of dealing with telecommunications customer complaints. It concentrates on ‘five substantive changes to make buying and using a mobile phone or Internet service much simpler’, and its strategy was to formally invite ‘the industry’ to incorporate the following changes to its Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code by February 2012:

  1. Clearer pricing information in advertisements, allowing consumers to more easily compare services
  2. Improved and more consistent pre-sale information about plans
  3. Developing meaningful performance metrics which allow consumers to compare providers
  4. Tools for consumers to monitor usage and expenditure
  5. Better complaints-handling by providers

It is noteworthy that none of these recommendations deal explicitly with poor network quality of service (QoS) issues, i.e. the service faults that feature heavily in the 2011 TIO Report.

The big stick in the ACMA Report is its threat to mandate changes through regulation if ‘the industry’ does not rewrite the TCP code adequately by February 2012 to address ACMA’s concerns. However ACMA’s concerns do not relate explicitly to the network QoS issues identified in the TIO reports.

The fundamental structural weakness with ACMA’S approach

Read more here.

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