ACCAN National Conference
Wednesday 5 September 2012
It’s great to be back at the ACCAN national conference.
Tribute to ACCAN
Let me begin by thanking ACCAN for its contribution to the dynamic and, at times, challenging telecommunications environment.
It is vital for the interests of consumers to be at the forefront of the minds of policy makers and service providers.
That is the important role ACCAN was formed to fulfil; a goal it has been fulfilling.
The last national conference was themed on “Our Broadband Future”.
I spoke of how Australians deserve the NBN and the importance of empowering communities to take advantage of its benefits.
ACCAN has been an effective advocate for the provision of better information, delivery of improved services and the efficient handling of complaints to empower consumers.
The most recent example is ACCAN’s booklet of consumer rights, ‘Making the Right Call’.
It combines information from a wide range of sources into a concise guide to consumer rights when purchasing a phone or internet service.
This easy to understand guide distils the laws, regulations and codes of practice to give consumers what they need to know and will help them make the right choice.
ACCAN also played an important role in the development of the revised Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code, which came into force earlier this week.
But, more on the TCP Code later.
ACCAN Review and new funding agreement
The formation of ACCAN has been a successful reform from its inception in mid-2009.
Its achievements have improved the telecommunications market for Australian consumers.
This has been confirmed by the review of ACCAN’s operations recently completed by my department.
I know many of you present here today provided valuable contributions to that review, and I thank you for that.
In three short years ACCAN has established itself as a well-regarded and effective organisation representing telecommunications consumers.
This is as a result of the hard work and commitment of the whole team at ACCAN and for that they are to be congratulated.
This review also marked a transition to a new phase of development for ACCAN.
It is no longer a new organisation, finding its feet in the complex telecommunications world.
ACCAN is now an established and important part of the landscape.
Today I am pleased to announce a new funding deed for ACCAN which will provide funding right through to 2017.
It will continue to receive over $2m a year to broaden its reach and consolidate its position as an advocacy body.
This will ensure that the consumer continues to have a strong and unified voice.
The Review also made recommendations for ACCAN to build on its early successes.
- broadening its advocacy work to ensure that all members of the community and small businesses are represented by ACCAN;
- developing its media presence and performance; and
- building a better industry engagement framework.
This will reinforce ACCAN’s role as a key player in the industry that is well connected to all of the key stakeholders.
I’m delighted to see that ACCAN has already begun work on implementing these recommendations.
As part of this, ACCAN’s first Consumer-Industry Association Forum will go ahead later this year.
The forum’s main aims are to share priorities and identify areas of constructive engagement between industry and consumer representatives.
Once again, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to everyone at ACCAN for their hard work and dedication.
It is important that we remember the important reforms that we have delivered together.
When I became Minister it was apparent the telecommunications market was failing consumers.
Consumers were under-represented at the policy table, leading to outcomes that didn’t always meet their needs.
I made it a priority that consumers should be represented at the policy table.
That’s why I moved quickly to establish ACCAN as a new customer representative body.
Other failings of the market resulted in consumers facing confusing and sometimes misleading advertising.
This created real difficulty in comparing services for informed choices.
On top of all that, consumers also had to deal with poor customer service and complaints often fell on deaf ears.
The Government has strengthened the ACMA’s powers to enforce regulatory obligations.
The Government has also implemented consumer protection and fair trading legislation to strengthen provisions on unfair contracts.
These reforms mean that the long-term interests of telecommunications consumers have become more secure.
Last May my department completed its review of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) scheme.
It recommended changes to the TIO’s governance structure, compliance incentives for industry, identification of emerging trends and faster complaint resolutions.
I know the TIO and the ACMA are both progressing with the implementation of these recommendations.
I look forward to further advice on their implementation, especially the implementation of an effective unitary governance structure.
The Gillard Government has also focused on the needs of people with disability when they access telecommunications.
I released the review of the National Relay Service on 15 August.
The review highlighted that we are witnessing a revolution in telecommunications technologies – providing new opportunities to improve the lives of people with disability.
Through the current tender for the National Relay Service we will seek new ways for people with disabilities to enrich their communications experiences and their lives.
Through this tender, TUSMA is testing the market to see if it can deliver an improved National Relay Service in the future.
In addition to the current services, we are seeking to add new services, including:
- text-based access to emergency services from mobile phones;
- a two way-internet relay;
- captioned telephony; and
- a solution for Auslan users.
This is potentially a big step forward for people who need assistance to use telephony.
One of the biggest improvement to consumer protection happened earlier this year, with the registration of the revised Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP).
The TCP came into effect earlier this week, and the vast bulk of the new requirements have already been implemented.
A small number of protections in the TCP Code require industry to invest in new capabilities.
These provisions will be progressively implemented over the next 12 to 24 months.
Among the improvements secured by the TCP, service providers must now offer a “Critical Information Summary” — information consumers need to make informed choices.
The information included in this statement should make it easier for consumers to understand the details of their service plan.
The objective is to reduce the volume of complaints generated by consumer misunderstanding of the service they are buying.
The Code also has new spend management requirements to will help address the incidence of ‘bill shock.’
Suppliers must warn when consumers have reached 50, 85 and 100 per cent of their monthly phone and data allowance.
To underpin the Code, industry has - for the first time - developed a compliance regime.
I look forward to hearing in April next year that the new body, Communications Compliance, has received compliance attestations from all service providers.
I have every expectation that the telecommunications industry will implement these new and positive changes swiftly.
But let me be clear about my expectations.
The only acceptable outcome is significant measurable improvements for consumers.
While the Code addresses current issues, I expect industry to be responsive in addressing new concerns as they emerge.
It is the responsibility of the Government, and the ACMA as the industry regulator, to ensure that consumer interests are protected.
To this end, I announce today that I am providing the ACMA with new powers to make service provider determinations on consumer protection matters.
This will provide the ACMA with the flexibility to introduce consumer protection measures if satisfactory consumer outcomes are not being delivered.
A service provider determination is a rule making power that applies to all service providers and is enforceable by the ACMA.
Examples of the kinds of rules that may be made are:
- rules about advertising, marketing and promotion;
- rules about notifying customers of terms and conditions;
- rules about enabling customers to monitor their charges; and
- rules about dealing with a customer’s complaint about services.
I still expect industry to take primary responsibility for achieving the outcomes we all seek for consumers.
In particular, I expect the ACMA to work with industry to get the TCP Code to work before making any determination.
However, we know that these processes can be slow and protracted.
If the outcomes we seek for consumers are not occurring the ACMA will now have the ability to act rapidly to place new enforceable requirements on service providers.
I also want to reassure industry that the ACMA is required under the Act to undertake effective consultation before making any determination.
Another important issue for many consumers is the costs of calling 1800 and 13 /1300 numbers from mobile phones.
The ability for organisations to provide low-cost and free call numbers for customers and clients is becoming constrained, as consumers move away from fixed line phones.
That’s why the ACMA has proposed changes designed to make calls from mobiles to freephone 1800 numbers genuinely ‘free’.
Calls from mobiles to 13/1300 local rate numbers would cost no more than a caller would expect to pay from a fixed service.
The ACMA has said it would proceed with an amendment to the Numbering Plan from 1 January 2015.
I encourage industry and consumers to work with the ACMA to progress to an effective arrangement for ensuring free and low cost calls from mobiles.
International Mobile Roaming
International mobile roaming is another issue that is harming consumers.
In fact, Teresa Corbin was one of the first to welcome my recent decision to develop a new industry standard on international global roaming.
I have directed the Australian Communications and Media Authority to have an industry standard in place within 12 months.
The new standard will provide additional information to Australian consumers when they are overseas to help them manage their mobile phone costs.
I also announced seven options being considered for joint action by the Australian and New Zealand governments to directly regulate roaming prices between our two countries.
The Government is exploring similar action in a number of multi-lateral forums.
The Gillard Government is committed to the development and success of regional Australia.
We recognise that telecommunications services have a vital role to play in achieving this.
Every three years a Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee is appointed.
The current committee, chaired by Rosemary Sinclair, conducted its review in 2011-12 and reported to me in March.
The report was tabled in Parliament in May and the Government responded to it on 23 August 2012.
Many of you contributed to the review through the public consultation and submission processes or met with the committee separately.
I join Rosemary, who is on the Regional Telecommunications panel session later today, in thanking you for your contributions.
The Sinclair review found that much has changed for the better in regional telecommunications since the 2008 Glasson review.
The Government’s investment in the NBN and related regulatory reforms are largely responsible for these improvements.
The committee found that there is a genuine desire across regional Australia for fast, affordable and reliable broadband services that the NBN provides.
Regional Australians are conscious of the NBN’s role in regional development, health, education and small businesses.
They also strongly support the Government’s commitment to uniform national wholesale pricing, thereby closing the rural-urban divide.
We have already acted on a number of the report’s recommendations.
We have already undertaken to continue the provision of untimed local calls in the Extended Zones in 2012‒13.
We have also implemented the recommendation to allow remote schools and health facilities to access the Interim Satellite Service (ISS).
Many people are already using this service, with over 12,000 active services as of last month, August 2012.
The Government supports the Sinclair Review recommendation of consultation between NBN Co and mobile carriers on NBN fixed wireless towers.
This will serve to improve mobile coverage.
The Government is also looking at future improvements to the Indigenous Communications Program.
We envisage trialling Wi-Fi hotspots and internet kiosks, using the ISS in selected communities, as recommended by the Sinclair Review.
The Government is currently funding the Digital Hubs, Digital Enterprise and Digital Local Government programs.
These provide training and assistance to businesses, not-for-profit organisations, councils and individuals in communities first to benefit from the NBN.
It’s with great satisfaction I reflect on how far we have travelled together since I became Minister.
But there’s much more to do.
Over the next 12 months the Government will be delivering on an enhanced National Relay Service.
We will be making sure the TIO is more efficient and effective.
I will also be closely monitoring the new TCP Code for improvements in consumer outcomes.
Increasingly, as the new telecommunications landscape unfolds, solutions to problems will require industry, consumers and government to work closely together.
Before ACCAN was formed, consumers didn’t have a truly effective voice in the telecommunications sector.
It’s a testament to ACCAN that in just three years, consumers have a voice that is heard, understood and importantly, listened to.
I look forward to working with ACCAN and its broad membership base towards even better deals for all our consumers.