BVivid coughs up A$25K over NBN cold-call tactics

Telecommunications provider BVivid has been hit by more than A$25,000 in penalties for making telemarketing calls that “likely misled” consumers transitioning to the National Broadband Network (NBN).

BVivid provides a number of telecommunications services to Australian businesses and individual consumers, including fixed phone, ADSL and NBN services.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), BVivid cold-called consumers from October 2017 to at least May 2018 and told them that their internet services would be disconnected or that they would lose their telephone number if they did not move to the NBN immediately.

The ACCC said that the company, through a wholly-owned subsidiary in India, employed staff in India to promote its services by unsolicited telephone marketing to prospective consumers in Australia.

In some cases, the representations made by the telemarketers prompted customers to transfer from their current telecommunications services provider to BVivid without understanding the full nature of the NBN migration process or the services they were signing up to.

“BVivid’s calls likely misled consumers and gave them a false sense of urgency and need,” said ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court. “Consumers generally have 18 months from when the NBN becomes available in their area to switch before being at risk of disconnection.”

After being issued with two infringement notices by the ACCC over the cold-calling conduct, the company has paid A$25,200 in penalties and has admitted to likely breached the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

BVivid has also admitted that it likely breached the unsolicited consumer agreement protections in the ACL after providing services within the cooling-off period while failing to give customers a form they could use to terminate the contract.

“We are of the view that BVivid did not meet all their obligations to consumers who were subjected to their unsolicited marketing practices,” Court said.

“Consumers who find themselves signed up to a contract as a result of unsolicited marketing can cancel their contract without penalty within 10 business days of signing without needing to provide a reason,” she said.

According to the ACCC, the court enforceable undertaking it has accepted from BVivid in response to the action will also see the telco provide redress for customers affected by its conduct by allowing them to terminate their contract without penalty.

The undertaking will also see BVivid commission an independent review of all of its policies, practices and procedures relating to its sales and transfer methodology to ensure compliance with the ACL, among other measures.

Aussie telcos ordered to keep blocking sites hosting Christchurch terror footage

The federal government has ordered Australia’s largest internet service providers (ISPs) to keep blocking eight websites hosting footage of the terrorist attacks last March in Christchurch, New Zealand along with the manifesto of the alleged gunman.

The direction, issued by the office of the government’s eSafety Commissioner on 9 September, compels ISPs to implement a six month block, during which time the eSafety Commissioner will review and remove sites from the list if and when the offending content is taken down.

The action comes several months after the country’s major telcos, including Optus, Telstra and Vodafone, independently moved to block more than 40 websites that were hosting video of the attacks or the manifesto of the alleged perpetrator in the days immediately following the Christchurch attacks.

The ISPs, as members of a task force subsequently set up by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and tasked with looking into terror and violent online content, pressed the Government to provide some direction, given that the ISPs did not have a clear legal footing for the action they had taken independently.

As such, the new direction, the first of its kind exercised by the eSafety Commissioner, is expected to offer ISPs certainty to continue their blocking activities, while also clearing the way for ISPs to remove the blocks they had voluntarily placed on other websites that have since taken down the material.

“Australian internet service providers acted quickly and responsibly in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Christchurch in March this year to block websites that were hosting this harmful material,” said Paul Fletcher, Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts.

“ISPs called on the Government to provide them with certainty and clarity in taking the action they did, and today, we are providing that certainty,” he said.

The eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, meanwhile, has consulted with both ISPs and website administrators, giving the websites in question “ample opportunity” to remove the content.

“Those hosting this material do so in the full knowledge that Australia will take action to halt its continued proliferation,” Inman Grant said. “The remaining rogue websites need only to remove the illegal content to have the block against them lifted.”

According to John Stanton, CEO of telecommunications industry body Communications Alliance, the direction has been welcomed by the country’s ISPs.

“Industry recognised that this was the right thing to do, without explicit Government direction, and we are pleased to see the framework that is now in place as a result of constructive collaboration between industry, government and its agencies,” he said.

The eSafety Commissioner is continuing to work with industry to develop an additional protocol to govern the rapid removal of terrorist and extreme violent material in a crisis event which, according to Inman, is expected to be undertaken infrequently.

“The decision to block websites will be taken only under extraordinary circumstances and will need to meet an extremely high threshold,” said Inman Grant.

Verizon strikes NBN Enterprise Ethernet reseller deal

The local arm of US telco giant Verizon has signed a reseller deal with NBN Co to supply the National Broadband Network (NBN) builder’s Enterprise Ethernet offering to its local customer base. 

The move gives Verizon Australia’s local customers, the bulk of which are government entities and private sector enterprises, the ability to combine NBN Co’s business-oriented broadband product with Verizon’s own services, such as Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Virtual Network Services (VNS).

“This agreement provides choice and competition that hasn’t existed on this scale before. Businesses, particularly those outside of the major cities, deserve access to the globally recognised, best in class services and capabilities that Verizon offers,” Robert Le Busque, Verizon’s regional managing director in Australia, said. 

“A robust network is the backbone of any business, and particularly today, where digital business is the norm, and organisations are increasingly looking for scalable, flexible network capacity to support global growth. 

“Verizon is pleased to be able to present a compelling alternative to Australian enterprise and government businesses,” he added. 

For Verizon, the deal marks a new milestone in its 20-plus year history in Australia, which has seen the company named among the panellists on the australian Federal Government’s Whole-of-Government Telecommunications Services Panel. 

The move sees Verizon join a handful of existing NBN resellers, including Telstra, Vocus and TPG, already offering the Enterprise Ethernet product, which is aimed squarely at the high-margin business market. 

NBN Co launched the wholesale enterprise product, which offers symmetrical speeds of up to 1Gbps and premium customer service, in October last year. At the time, the network builder said that its Enterprise Ethernet connections are designed to be built on request and feature a point-to-point fibre connection.

“This wholesale product has been developed with the specific needs of global enterprise and government organisations in mind. It is capable of delivering the service required by businesses that use data-intensive applications such enterprise network systems and cloud-based solutions,” NBN Co chief customer officer for business Paul Tyler said at the time. 

At launch, the product was touted as being packaged with a premium service-level agreement between NBN Co and retail service providers (RSPs) to provide faster resolution of faults as well as to encourage RSPs to offer an increased service experience for mission-critical applications. 

ACMA takes aim at 5G innovation with class licensing updates

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) hopes to support new innovative technologies and wireless data communications systems, including those underpinning 5G, with a range of fresh updates to the country’s class licensing arrangements.

The ACMA’s proposed variation to Australia’s Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence came into effect on 19 August, with the new licensing arrangements expected to support new technology applications and “bring Australia into line with international arrangements”.

Among the changes, which are contained in the Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence Variation 2019 (No. 1), are new arrangements for ‘all transmitters’ in the 57–64 GHz band aimed at supporting new interactive motion sensing technology that operates in this particular frequency range and can be used to enable touchless control of device functions or features.

Other changes include an expansion of frequency range for 60 GHz (57–66 GHz) data communication systems to now cover 57–71 GHz, for both indoor and outdoor usage, which the ACMA suggests will support wireless gigabit systems with applications such as backhaul for 5G and Wi-Fi.

The updates also saw the revision of arrangements for underground transmitters in certain bands, a move designed to support fixed and mobile services from 70–520 MHz to provide improved support for underground activities, such as mining.

Additionally, the new class licensing variation includes a revision of arrangements for radars in the 76–77 GHz frequency band in order to provide support for radar use in rail crossing and road safety applications.

There are also new arrangements for ground and wall penetration radar (30–12,400 MHz) to facilitate the usage of applications across a variety of industry sectors, such as agriculture, railways and underground pipe detection in the telecommunication industry.

Some of the new changes also work to align existing arrangements for ultra-wideband devices with United States and European arrangements for generic, indoor and outdoor devices operating in 3,100–3,400 MHz and 8,500–9,000 MHz ranges, along with aircraft applications (6,000–8,500 MHz), aimed at further supporting the use of such devices in Australia.

The ACMA first put the call out to industry for comment and feedback on its proposed updates to class licensing arrangements in December 2018. The updates were to be implemented by varying the Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence 2015 (LIPD Class Licence).

Now that the updates are in effect, the ACMA invites further suggestions from industry and individuals on devices and technologies for “possible future updates” to class licensing arrangements of the Low Interference Potential Devices Class Licence. 

US adds 46 Huawei affiliates to Entity List, extends export licence

The United States Department of Commerce has added a further 46 Huawei affiliates to its Entity List, a move the Chinese telecommunications technology manufacturer claims is politically motivated and has “nothing to do with national security”.

The US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) said on 19 August it had identified 46 additional Huawei Technologies affiliates that “require inclusion on the Entity List,” as part of a routine review of all Entity Listings. 

Since May, the Department has added over one hundred individuals or organisations to the Entity List in connection to Huawei. The new restrictions on the freshly identified affiliates are effective from 19 August.

Huawei was added to the US Entity List, which identifies foreign parties prohibited from receiving certain items from US-based organisations, after the Department of Commerce decided the company was “engaged in activities that are contrary to US national security or foreign policy interests”. 

“We oppose the US Commerce Department’s decision to add another 46 Huawei affiliates to the Entity List,” Huawei hit back in a statement. “It’s clear that this decision, made at this particular time, is politically motivated and has nothing to do with national security. 

“These actions violate the basic principles of free market competition. They are in no one’s interests, including US companies. Attempts to suppress Huawei’s business won’t help the United States achieve technological leadership,” the Shenzhen-based firm added.

“We call on the US government to put an end to this unjust treatment and remove Huawei from the Entity List,” it said.

While adding 46 new Huawei affiliates to the Entity List, the US Department of Commerce also granted a 90-day extension to the Temporary General License (TGL), authorising limited transactions involving the export of items by US companies to Huawei and its non-U.S. affiliates that are subject to the Entity List. 

The Department said the decision to extend the TGL is intended to give US consumers  the necessary time to transition away from Huawei equipment. 

“As we continue to urge consumers to transition away from Huawei’s products, we recognise that more time is necessary to prevent any disruption,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said. “Simultaneously, we are constantly working at the Department to ensure that any exports to Huawei and its affiliates do not violate the terms of the Entity Listing or Temporary General License.”

Huawei claimed that neither the expanded Entity List, nor the 90-day export licence extension will markedly affect its business. 

“The extension of the Temporary General License does not change the fact that Huawei has been treated unjustly. Today’s decision won’t have a substantial impact on Huawei’s business either way. We will continue to focus on developing the best possible products and providing the best possible services to our customers around the world,” the company said. 

Indeed, Huawei Chairman Liang Hua noted, “neither production nor shipment has been interrupted, not for one single day”. 

Despite these claims, Huawei has taken significant action against the US Government over other moves to restrict its trade with US entities. Earlier this year, Huawei filed a complaint in a US federal court challenging the constitutionality of Section 889 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which bars US Government agencies from buying Huawei equipment and services.

Through this action, Huawei sought a declaratory judgment that US restrictions targeting Huawei are unconstitutional, and a permanent injunction against these restrictions.

“The US Congress has repeatedly failed to produce any evidence to support its restrictions on Huawei products. We are compelled to take this legal action as a proper and last resort,” explained Guo Ping, Huawei Rotating Chairman, at the time. 

“This ban not only is unlawful, but also restricts Huawei from engaging in fair competition, ultimately harming U.S. consumers. We look forward to the court’s verdict, and trust that it will benefit both Huawei and the American people.”

Telcos fined $88K for breaking NBN info rules

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has fined seven telcos a combined total of $88,200 for failing to comply with rules aimed at ensuring consumers receive adequate information about their National Broadband Network (NBN) services.

Telechoice, My Net Fone, Aussie Broadband, Activ8me, Flip TV, Mate Communicate and Hello Broadband have all received infringement notices from the ACMA for failing to comply with the Telecommunications (NBN Consumer Information) Industry Standard 2018.

The infringement notices are the first such notices to be issued under the new standard, which requires telcos to provide clear and meaningful information about their NBN plans in their advertising and in one-page key facts sheets, since it came into effect in September last year. 

The standard itself is part of a broader suite of rules drawn up by the ACMA in 2018 in an effort to improve Australian consumers’ experience migrating to the NBN. Among the rules introduced by the ACMA is a requirement of NBN resellers to give consumers the information they need to choose an NBN plan that works for them. 

Other rules introduced by the ACMA require telcos to test that their new NBN services are working, provide an interim service to consumers or reconnect an old service if there are delays in getting a new NBN service working and moving swiftly to resolve consumer complaints. 

The ACMA Authority Member Fiona Cameron said that telcos have had ample time to familiarise themselves and ensure they are in compliance with the ACMA’s NBN rules.

“Failure to comply in this late stage of the NBN rollout is not acceptable and warranted stronger action,” Cameron said.

‘Failing to give consumers clear and honest information about NBN plans is unacceptable and can lead to misleading conduct as recently highlighted by the recent Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s report.

“Telcos need to provide information that will assist consumers to choose an NBN plan that suits their needs and if they don’t they will be held to account,” she said. 

The fines come just days after a new report by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) lifted the lid on the practice of a “small number” of telemarketers misleading and pressuring Australian consumers to sell them NBN services they may not want or need.

In the report, the office of the TIO said that between January and December last year, it received 1,729 complaints about misleading conduct involving services delivered over the NBN.

Misleading telemarketing tactics for NBN services under scrutiny

A new report has lifted the lid on the practice of telemarketers misleading and pressuring Australian consumers to sell them National Broadband Network (NBN) services they may not want or need.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s (TIO) Misleading telemarketing of NBN services report, published on 1 August, highlights several telemarketing tactics employed by “a small number” of NBN retail service providers (RSPs), including suggesting consumers will lose their services and phone numbers if they don’t sign up immediately and being misleading about who they work for.

The report comes after an investigation by the TIO into the telemarketing sales practices of several NBN services retail providers, many of which came to the attention of the Ombudsman’s office because it had identified a cluster of similar complaints about misleading conduct by the same provider.

Between January and December last year, the TIO’s office received 1,729 complaints about misleading conduct involving services delivered over the NBN.

“Based on enquiries received by our office, a small number of retail service providers are increasing confusion by using misleading telemarketing practices to sell their NBN plans,” the report authors said. “Complaints of this kind have continued.”

The TIO said that consumers have reported feeling pressured into signing up for NBN services by telemarketers who suggested end users’ current providers won’t be able to supply services once the NBN arrives, and who have provided inaccurate or unclear information about NBN pricing and contract terms.

According to the TIO, consumers reported that misleading telemarketing practices have seen them end up locked into contracts that aren’t suitable, don’t meet their expectations or are more expensive than their previous plans.

Older customers in particular seem to feel the impact of the misleading telemarketing practices, a sentiment consistent with research conducted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which has found that there was lower understanding about connecting to the NBN among people who are 65 and over.

Australia’s Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Judi Jones said the telemarketing tactics under scrutiny was concerning behaviour from a “small group” of phone and internet providers, and that it should stop.

“In some cases we have shared information about this issue with the relevant regulators so they can consider further action,” Jones said. “Moving to the NBN is not automatic, and consumers need to know they can make a measured and informed decision about which NBN provider is right for them. If the consumer is feeling pressured by a telemarketer, it is fine to hang up.”

Jones also noted that telecommunications industry body, the Communications Alliance, is currently working with the telco regulator to address aspects of the telemarketing issues.

For its part, the Communications Alliance has condemned the behaviour of RSPs that have fallen afoul of the TIO over their sales tactics. The industry body’s CEO John Stanton said in a statement that providers such as those engaging in misleading sales tactics are “not welcome in our industry”.

NRL PANTHERS COWBOYS“It is very disappointing when a provider breaches consumer trust, and the rules it is required to observe,” Stanton said.

“We are working with Communications Compliance and the ACMA to provide education on supplier requirements across the sector, and will always work with industry members who are looking to improve. We were pleased to see that a provider highlighted in the TIO’s report had revised its practices.”

Stanton, however, suggested that in such a large marketplace – with some 1600 providers, according to the TIO’s 2018 figures – small players sometimes attempt to operate outside of the rules.

“Communications Alliance members are working with the ACMA to act against such behaviour and prevent those providers from continuing to operate,” he said.

The TIO’s report is released as the updated Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code comes into effect, with Stanton flagging “vigorous new rules on selling practices”, which are expected to help the ACMA enforce against the practices raised in the TIO’s report.

The revised Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code was written by Communications Alliance and its members, in collaboration with consumer representatives, regulators and government. The Code is mandatory for all telecommunications providers servicing residential and small business customers, and is enforced by the ACMA.

It is aimed at providing consumer safeguards in the areas of sales, service and contracts, billing, credit and debt management, financial hardship, and changing suppliers.

Under the new updated Code, when selling long-term, higher-cost services, suppliers will now need to perform an external credit check and obtain information as to how customers will be able to afford the contract.

In a move particularly relevant to telemarketers like those targeted by the TIO, the new Code also sees suppliers face stricter rules on selling practices, requiring them to ensure that sales representatives promote and sell in a fair, transparent, responsible and accurate manner, and that they clearly explain key terms and costs to customers.

“The upgraded protections touch on all customer interactions with their provider,” Stanton said. “This includes strengthened rules on selling practices, credit assessment, and financial hardship.

“These are priority areas for the ACMA and Communications Alliance has been working with them and the industry-created compliance body Communications Compliance to educate providers on their new obligations,” he said.