Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Regulator to get tougher on phone companies

Telstra abuses a big factor behind the change

TELEPHONE, mobile and internet providers will face hefty fines for breaching tough new customer service standards that will replace cumbersome voluntary industry codes.

Amendments to the Telecommunications Act will give the Australian Communications and Media Authority power to write consumer protection regulations and issue penalties of up to $250,000 for corporations and $50,000 for individuals in breach of the standards.

At the moment ACMA can issue infringement notices to broadcasters, but only has power to issue a formal warning to telecommunications companies before pursuing matters through the courts.

The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said the changes would stem the flow of complaints made to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman; there had been a 118 per cent increase in customer service complaints last year.

The chairman of ACMA, Chris Chapman, said he would begin a formal inquiry into customer service in the telecommunications sector to "shine a strong light on complaints handling and the unresponsiveness of the industry to its customers".

He said codes developed by the industry took too long to develop and were cumbersome to change, leaving customers exposed to bad or deceptive service.

Telstra at work

An overzealous Telstra salesman nearly cost Sue Abbott, of Scone, $1400 after he convinced her to upgrade her mobile phone last year. But instead of the better deal she was promised, Ms Abbott promptly saw her bills double, including charges for a data plan she did not want or need.

Ms Abbott complained to Telstra, which caused her to run up even higher bills as she was "either left on hold or shipped around the world". "I would ring and try and explain my predicament and no-one listened. No one ever rang me back when I asked them to, or even offered to."

After a nine-month impasse, Telstra contacted Ms Abbott last week to say the charges would be erased from her account.

She said the inquiry was long overdue. "We're so in the dark about what the telcos can do," she said.


1 comment:

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