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New NBN rules to stop telco ‘handballing’

Australia’s communications regulator hopes new draft complaints-handling rules will improve the experience of consumers connecting to the government-owned national broadband network.

One of the new rules specifies how complaints must be managed, including time frames for response and resolution. The other requires providers to report complaints data to the Australian Communications and Media Authority on a quarterly basis, which the body says will allow it to monitor complaint levels and assess whole-of-industry and individual providers’ level of responsiveness to, and resolution of, complaints and service issues.
That data will then be published on the ACMA website on a quarterly basis, “helping consumers to make informed choices about providers, encouraging better complaints-handling by providers, and enabling the ACMA to more effectively monitor complaint trends and levels,” the regulator said.
“Telco customers deserve to have their complaints dealt with quickly and effectively,” ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said in a statement. “As industry co-regulation is proving ineffective in this area, we will put in place rules so that the ACMA can act more quickly to deal with non-compliance.”
O’Loughlin said the ACMA intended for the rules to be in place by June.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the new rules would “stop the handballing” of complaints between telcos and NBN, giving the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman better tools to help resolve complaints.
“While the overwhelming majority of users have a smooth migration onto the NBN, we want to ensure the ACMA is a strong cop-on-the-beat, armed to protect consumers from the handballing of complaints,” Fifield said in a statement. “The rules are designed to ensure broadband customers get the service they expect from their retail service provider as they transition to the NBN.”
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman welcomed the new rules, noting that in the last financial year Australian residential consumers and small businesses lodged 27,195 complaints with the Ombudsman about connection and fault issues relating to services delivered over the NBN.
“Everyone wants residential consumers and small businesses to have the best possible experience when migrating to the NBN. If a complaint does occur, the complaint process should support a productive outcome,” Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Judi Jones said. “The proposed rules changes are a positive step towards aligning the consumer experience with their expectations.”
Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton, meanwhile, also welcomed the rules but cautioned that some smaller service providers had “already expressed concern about the level of prescription within the draft Complaint Handling Standard, the significant documentation requirements and the impact of these on smaller operators.”
Stanton said that one “significant challenge” would be to produce a consistent and comparable data set of service-related complaints received by service providers.
“This is, in part, because service providers do not necessarily categorise the varying types of customer contacts – including technical queries, complaints or other information requests – in a uniform way,” Stanton said. “Separating, categorising and reporting on contacts from customers based on the specific NBN access technology that the customer is using might also present operational challenges.’
“Also, customers are increasingly using self-help tools such as chat-bots, online assistance and discussion forums to resolve issues, rather than contacting a call-centre as a first option,” he added.
The deadline for submissions to the ACMA’s new rules is April 16 at 5 pm. Further rules preempted in December and which go much further would be announced in “coming weeks,” the ACMA’s O’Loughlin said.
Those rules require NBN internet service providers to perform a line test to confirm a working connection at installation, and undertake a line speed test at any time if requested by a customer; re-activate a service on a legacy network within a certain timeframe if an erroneous disconnection has occurred and the NBN cannot be connected; and explain to consumers how different speed tiers can be applied in their home or business.
Under the extra rules, a “critical information summary” — a document that sets out a range of essential information about a product or service on offer from a telco provider — for NBN services must also be provided when signing consumers to a new contract.
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