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.

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.

Tudehope named Comms Ambassador at 2018 ACOMMS, with Fifield/Stanton speeches hitting home

Macquarie Telecom Group CEO David Tudehope has been named 2018 Australian Communications Ambassador for helping shape the competitive, regulatory and consumer environment of the telecommunications industry in Australia.

Tudehope founded Macquarie Telecom in 1992 as a provider of voice services and has guided the company’s development to become a fully integrated carrier; supplying voice, mobile, data networks & managed hosting solutions to business and government users in Australia and Asia.

Communications Alliance CEO John Stanto

“David was a pioneer in the early days of the liberalisation of the Australian telecommunications market and remains a highly influential customer and industry champion,” said Communications Alliance CEO, John Stanton. “The ACOMM Awards represent the pinnacle of achievement for the Australian communications industry and I congratulate all the winners and finalists in the 2018 ACOMMS.”

Both John Stanton’s speech and returning Comms Minister Mitch Fifield’s address didn’t pull any punches.

Mitch Fifield:  Well thanks John, and thanks to the band for playing Gold, which is one of my absolute favourite Spandau Ballet tunes.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s good to be back, and thank you indeed, John and Michael, for the invitation. Can I also acknowledge my colleagues, Michelle Roland, Ed Kusic, and Steven Jones.

Ladies and gentlemen, since I last spoke at the 2017 ACOMMS, it has been a big year in the telco industry. So I thought I’d start with a year in review.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield

We’ve had the USO Review; the Regional Telecommunications Review; the Online Safety Act Review; the Copyright Infringement Review; the ABRA Review; the Review of New Spectrum Legislation; the Review of Carrier Powers and Immunities; and last, but not least, the big daddy of them all, the Consumer Safeguards Review – so big that we had to split it into three parts.

Now I have heard, I must admit, a few grumbles with the industry suffering from review fatigue, so tonight I’m pleased to announce a Review Review. It will review the number of reviews conducted by the Government, to ensure that there aren’t too many reviews. Consistent with all previous reviews, public consultation will commence on the 24th of December and close on the 1st of January.

Always important that all voices are heard.

It’s also been a productive year for the Government, which has added a significant number of new acronyms since my last speech in 2017. And if you were to judge a minister by the number of new acronyms produced, I think I’m doing okay.

In December, we introduced the USG – but don’t worry, the USO isn’t going anywhere for a while yet. At least that is not until the RTERC has tabled its report known as the RTR. And, rest assured, this report will include feedback from the ICPA, the B4BA, the BIRRR, and ACCAN, about issues such as the NBSP, the RBBP, STS, and HCRC. Our review of CP&I led to the LIFD changes, but further reforms will be discussed through the new P&I reference group known as the PIRG.

And in the single greatest boost to the number of acronyms in the portfolio, NBN has released a new WBA. This document contains so many acronyms that it actually comes with its own separate dictionary which is no less than 86 pages long. To put this in perspective, NBN’s acronym dictionary is around the same length as the Australian Telecommunications Corporation Act of 1989. And it’s almost as interesting to read.

But I don’t want to leave you in any doubt, this is a reforming government. We’re not just here to introduce new acronyms. We’re also reforming existing acronyms.

So, through our Telecommunications Reform Package, or TRP in Parliament, we’ve introduced SIP rules, which were previously known as the IPOLAR. Now, yes, as part of our red-tape reduction agenda, we have replaced a five-letter acronym with a three-letter acronym which will deliver an immediate productivity benefit each and every time it is used.

The ACCC, to their credit, chipped in as well renaming the BPMR, the MBA – a 25% reduction in acronym letters. Rest assured, this is a Government delivering the important reforms this industry needs to grow and prosper.

But it’s been a big year for the industry, and for the rollout of the NBN. One of the big ups was NBN’s hugely successful focus on 50 pricing changes which, as you know, offered 50 megabyte per second connections at the same price as 25 megabyte per second connections, and threw in some additional CVC capacity for free.

Unsurprisingly, telcos and consumers rushed to take up the offer, and this was an important lesson in the most effective way to get users to take up higher speed services – you have to give it away for free. So what that means is that the economics of the NBN are looking as rosy as ever…

Ratings agency Standards & Poor’s recently issued a report saying that a write down of the NBN appears inevitable. And I take some comfort in the fact that this is the same agency which gave AAA credit ratings to subprime mortgages in the immediate lead up to the Global Financial Crisis. So, if Standard & Poor’s say the NBN is in bad shape, then maybe, potentially, looking much better than anyone realises.

Now one of the reasons that S&P believes the NBN’s economics are in trouble is, obviously, the anticipated rollout of 5G. 5G networks, they say, can steal market share from NBN, reducing its ability to make a return on investment. That’s what S&P say.

So, naturally, this was a source of concern for me, so to help shore up NBN’s business case, government intervention is required to undo the problems which government intervention has created. We will do whatever it takes.

First of all, I’m here to announce,  that we’ll be delaying the auction of 5G spectrum from November this year, until the NBN is profitable – so probably sometime in the 2030s.

Secondly, we’ll introduce a tax on mobile operators competing with the NBN. We’re going to call the Metropolitan Broadband Scheme, and it will work in tandem with the Regional Broadband Scheme to dissuade anyone from competing with the NBN.

But, in all seriousness, it has been an important year for NBN and I acknowledge Ziggy Switkowski and Stephen Rue in the audience. Since I last spoke at the ACOMMS we’ve gone from 2.4 million active premises to over 4 million – users I should say. We’ve gone from 5.4 million premises ready to connect, to more than 7 million. And I can’t let this opportunity pass without paying homage to the man who made it all possible, Bill Morrow. Bill should be remembered – although he is still with us. He should be remembered as the man who executed one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in Australia’s history. So, Bill, a grateful nation says: Thank you for your service.

It’s also been a big year for the telcos. Optus, we know, was hoping to get lots of media coverage for its video streaming of the World Cup – not the kind of coverage it received.
I did give some heart to Optus earlier in the year when I announced reforms to the Universal Service Obligation, or USO, but what I didn’t announce at that time was that USO would stand for Universal Soccer Obligation. So we are going to be putting a new levy on the NRL, the AFL, and the ARU to make that possible.

But I think is if there is one thing that the industry has taught us is to avoid schadenfreude towards your rivals when they suffer issues. Optus, we know, had Floptus; Vodafone had Vodafail; and even Telstra had its problems this year. It’s just that they didn’t get a catchy name for them.

While Telstra did struggle with its own network outages on several occasions, Telstra was not delivering anything nearly as important as the World Cup. Thankfully for Telstra, far fewer people were outraged by their outages, or maybe they just weren’t able to lodge a complaint.

Telstra also recently made the front pages with the announcement of the T22 strategy, a vision for the company over the next four years. Part of the strategy, as you know, is to create InfraCo – a new separate business unit of containing Telstra’s fixed-line network assets. And I very much look forward to Telstra’s gymnastics in explaining to the market how easy it will be to structurally separate the company, given the last 10 years telling everybody that structural separation would be a value destroying, technically challenging exercise to achieve. I’m just saying.

Now, just looking around the room I don’t think I’ve left anyone unscathed, so let me move on. Tonight has been described often as the Telco Industry Logies – just without the celebrities and any interest in watching it.

But we do genuinely have great finalists for tonight’s awards from categories such as Commitment to Customer Service, Community Contribution, and, of course, this year’s Telco Ambassador. And, this year also marks the sixth anniversary of the Telco Together Foundation, the not-for-profit that brings the industry together in support of Australian in need.

Q&A with Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton – Part II

Welcome to Part 2 of our QA interview, in which Communications Alliance chief exec John Stanton looks ahead  to an evolving remit for the peak industry body, the role of government and regulators, and of course the ACOMMS Awards as well.

Telecom Times   Looking ahead, do you see the role of CA evolving into other areas, remits or approaches? If so, what would these be and what specifically would drive such a move?

Stanton    Ultimately, those decisions will be driven by our Members, but standing still in a sea of change is not an option. Three years ago we started an IoT think-tank that became the IoT Alliance Australia and grew so rapidly that it threatened to crush its mother.

We made the decision that the best course was to set it up as an independent company and it has flourished. We took on the responsibilities of the Internet Industry Association a few years ago and have a stronger presence in internet content matters. We created a satellite services group and that is now a vibrant voice for that sector and working well with the new Australian Space Agency.

At the same time, we can’t lose focus on a key part of our core mission – managing the system of co-regulation upon which the industry operates.

This is the platform of more than 120 Codes, Standards and Guidelines – largely invisible to customer – that the industry has created to enable interoperability, customer service and complaint handling, network and customer coordination, safety and operational standards, customer transfers, consumer protections and security for customers.

While there is often a temptation for Governments and regulators to jump immediately to external regulatory options when a problem is evident or perceived, co-regulation is typically more agile and benefits from industry knowledge in its creation – it’s a system that has worked well in Australia since 1997 and must be allowed to continue to deliver value and benefit to all Australian telecommunications users.

Telecom Times      The ACOMMS – now in its 12th year – never fail to provide a great occasion for those telco-minded entities to come together, network and/or raise their companies’ profile. (Shortlisted finalists)

Do you think the format – solid as it is – will at any point need to be tweaked to include a greater focus on  ‘new tech’ like AI, machine learning etc.?

Stanton   There’s no doubt the award categories will continue to evolve, because transformation is a constant in the telco sector – we introduced an award for IoT two years ago, for example.

Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton

What we want to retain in the format is the sense of celebration around shared endeavour and achievement.

The telco sector is an enabler for all other industries and makes an enormous contribution to the Australian economy – one that is not always fully recognised.

Telecom Times   Does it help that we have such an avuncular presence in the current Comms minister? *

Stanton    We’re waiting to see who the Minister is right now! Mitch Fifield is well-regarded by the sector. He made the effort to get across the detail of our industry. He is pretty available, by Ministerial standards and does listen.

We recognize that there has been political and constituent pressure around some of the challenges during the NBN rollout, and Mitch has had to manage that. He might have leaned too far in the direction of direct regulation just lately, but opinions will vary on that issue.

Telecom Times    Thank you for your time, John. Am looking forward to your speech this week at the ACOMMS.**


*At the time of going to press, the Coalition Government had just selected Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg to be the next Prime Minister and Treasurer. UPDATE: On Sunday, the new cabinet was announced, with Mitch Fifield continuing in his role as Communications Minister.

** The 2018 ACOMM Awards winners will be announced on Wednesday, 29th of August at the Hyatt Regency Sydney, 161 Sussex Street, Sydney.

Nominations for 2018 ACOMM Awards closing shortly

Nominations for the 2018 ACOMM Awards close on 11 May.

“Act now, to put your company in the running for a prestigious award, to be presented by the Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, at the annual ACOMMS Dinner in Sydney on 29 August,” said Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton.

Nomination details and categories are in the ACOMMS section of the Communications Alliance home page.