Phone porting clampdown wins thumbs up – but is it enough?

Proposed new identification measures, designed to reduce mobile number fraud are continuing to win favour in the industry – but there’s a caveat, with one vendor calling on Australia to go even further.

The new telco regulations, announced by the Federal Government earlier this week, are aimed at preventing the hijacking of mobile numbers which can then be used to access personal and financial information.

In announcing the plans, Paul Fletcher, Minister for Communications, said fraudulent number porting affects thousands of consumers each year with average losses of more than $10,000.

The new measures include the mandatory use of two-factor authentication before mobile numbers can be transfered between providers.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority, which has been directed to make the new rules mandating stronger identify verification processes, hailed the move earlier this week.

Now the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman too, has applauded the announcement, noting it has received complaints about consumers having their bank accounts drained and email inboxes accessed through mobile number theft.

Ombudsman Judi Jones says the announcement is a positive step toward safeguarding mobile consumers from fraudsters.

“A lot of work has been done over the past year by the telco industry to address the security risks associated with mobile phone number theft, and I welcome the industry’s continued work towards consistently robust identity verification procedures. It is important to ensure these procedures keep up with evolving technological risks.”

Also giving a thumbs up – albeit a guarded one – is Robert Schwarz, managing director of software vendor Nuance Communications which says the move is ‘a step in the right direction’ – but one which can be improved on.

Schwarz says Nuance research shows fraud is a ‘massive’ issue impacting nearly a quarter of Australian consumers every year to the tune of $3,300 per person.

“As an organisation operating in fraud prevention and security, we still see too many cases where traditional knowledge based security methods like password are the industry norm,” Schwarz says.

“Cracking passwords has really become a routine for hackers, and I’m not surprised to see an average of 250 data breaches reported every six months in the context of the notifiable data breach scheme.”

He’s calling for the regulations to be extended to all industries handling consumer or business data, rather than just niche scenarios like telco rules.

“Another concern is that MFA and 2FA are only going to be viable for a limited amount of time. Hackers are learning fast and already discovering ways to bypass them.

“Even though they are still very secure, it is a patchy approach that fraudsters will force us to revisit in just a few years.”

He notes that just a few weeks ago, the FBI released a notification stressing out the insecurities of MFA, and urging organisations to start planning beyond with biometrics security.

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. 

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.

New telco rules take aim at poor sales practices, financial overcommitment

The Australian telco industry regulator has signed off on the latest revision of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, with new rules aimed at protecting consumers from poor sales practices and over-committing financially.

The revised TCP Code, which was developed by industry body the Communications Alliance, compels telcos to assess customers’ ability to pay for the services they purchase and to clearly explain key terms and conditions, allowing customers to make more informed decisions.

Among the new rules is a requirement for telcos to obtain information from new customers on total contracts exceeding A$1,000 (roughly A$45 per month) about how they expect to be able to pay their bills.

Moreover, the new rules call for an external credit check from a credit reporting body, with these additional provisions also applying to pre-paid customers moving to post-paid accounts. The Code has also been expanded to provide protections to more small businesses.

According to ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin, the regulator has seen evidence of customers being encouraged to sign up to multiple plans which not only do not meet their needs, but are also excessive or beyond their financial capacity.

“The impact of this is serious, particularly for those in vulnerable circumstances, leading to financial hardship and denial of access to critical services,” O’Loughlin said.

“The new TCP Code puts the onus on telcos to ensure customers understand what they are buying. We will be subjecting telcos to close scrutiny as to how well their practices conform with the new Code,” she said.

The ACMA said it will monitor and investigate non-compliance and test the effectiveness of the new rules, which are enforceable by the regulator.

The Communications Alliance, which developed the revised Code with input from government, industry and consumers, hopes that the new rules will help to provide greater transparency about the comparative customer service performance of the major service providers in the local market.

According to the industry body, this will be achieved, at least in part, via an expanded ‘Complaints in Context’ index, which is published quarterly.

The ‘Complaints in Context’ report typically provides the number of new Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) complaints lodged against each participating service provider as a proportion of the telecommunications services that provider has in operation.

For Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton, the latest revision of the TCP Code comes at an important time for both the telco industry and consumers.

“As telecommunications become more central to everyday life and consumer expectations evolve, we are also seeing rapid change within the industry, with more providers joining the marketplace and evolution in product offerings and in the service delivery chain,” Stanton said.

“It is vital to… ensure consumer protections keep up with the pace of change, in pursuit of ongoing and positive improvements in consumer experience,” he said.

Suppliers will have one month from 1 July to become compliant with most of the changes in the new revised Code.

Telstra base station warning: “We didn’t get it right this time”

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has cautioned Telstra, after it was found to have failed to comply with rules governing the deployment of mobile phone base stations in Australia.

The formal warning, which effectively puts Telstra on notice to minimise the risk of future breaches and ensure regulatory compliance, comes after an investigation by the country’s communications industry regulator into the telco’s rollout of mobile network infrastructure at a site in Canberra, evidently without adequate community consultation.

The ACMA investigated the company after a resident made a complaint. The investigation revealed that Telstra had contravened sections of the Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment Code in at least three ways.

According to the ACMA, Telstra failed to fully comply with its consultation plan, which would have required it to contact residents in the immediate vicinity of the base station.

The investigation also found Telstra had contravened the rules by not sending a letter containing the information to all interested and affected parties, and not acknowledging a written complaint within ten business days of its receipt.

For its part, Telstra has already taken steps to avoid similar problems in the future, including reviewing its contractor complaints handling procedures and implementing regular training.

“Consulting with local communities on new mobile towers is an important step in expanding our coverage and we didn’t get that right this time. We’ve looked at where we fell short of what’s expected and we’ll make sure we get it right next time,” a Telstra spokesperson told Telecom Times.

According to the ACMA, the rules in the code are aimed at ensuring telecommunications infrastructure providers give local councils and local communities a chance to have their say before deploying mobile network infrastructure.

“There is public concern about the rollout of mobile infrastructure, including small cell base stations, in residential areas,’ ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said. “Telcos must keep affected communities in the loop and consider their feedback when establishing or upgrading mobile phone base stations.”

According to the ACMA, this is the second such action taken by the regulator in the past six months as part of its efforts to ensure mobile carriers comply with the country’s base station deployment rules.

Australians’ international roaming bill put at $1.4B

Australian mobile phone users have spent somewhere in the vicinity of $1.4 billion on international roaming fees, according to new estimates by market research agency YouGov Galaxy.

The study, commissioned by Vodafone Australia as a vehicle to tout the telco’s $5-per-day international roaming product, suggests that up to 5 million Australians have been subjected to international roaming fees.

Of these 5 million people — who represent about 41 percent of smartphone owners in Australia — the average international roaming fee per person comes to $290, the research suggests, equating to about $1.45 billion in total. It should be noted that this figure is not restricted to a particular period of time.

The study also suggests that around 250,000 Australians claim to have paid more than $1,000 in international roaming fees.

Interestingly, the research found that Australian Baby Boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — were far less likely to have been charged international roaming fees than younger Australians, with just 29 percent having paid roaming fees. This is compared to 45 percent and 51 percent for Millenials and Gen X, respectively.

Regardless of the billion-dollar estimated total amount paid for international roaming by Australians, Vodafone Australia’s chief commercial officer Ben McIntosh claims that just 3 percent of smartphone users will continue to use their phone as normal while travelling.

While this percentage may seem small, international roaming has been under some scrutiny recently, with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) wrapping up a review of the International Mobile Roaming (IMR) Standard in Australia in October last year.

According to the review’s report, released in October 2018, there were some key areas found that could be improved upon “to make regulation more flexible in light of changes to mobile phone use overseas”.

“TIO [Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman] data indicates that complaints to it about IMR services has risen again in recent years. While complaint numbers remain low, the amounts in dispute per complaint can be high,” the report said.

The Vodafone-commissioned YouGov Galaxy study comes just a few months after industry analysis firm Juniper Research found that operator revenues from international mobile roaming are expected to remain flat over the next four years, representing about 6 percent of total operator-billed revenues and $51 billion in value.