After a long 18 months in and out of COVID-19 lockdowns, all of us who working, schooling and simple existing at home have become intimately familiar with the quality and service of our telecommunications providers.  

Our 2020 Sector Scorecard measuring consumer experiences of different sectors found telco providers were joint wooden spoon winners overall. On our different category scores, telco providers performed particularly poorly in delivering the fewest supportive actions (e.g. proactive support, or reducing cost of service) and ranked second last for helpful advice and customer experience. Telco providers also ranked worst for user experience and accessibility (e.g. navigating websites, long wait phone wait-times) scoring extremely poorly compared to all other sectors, which is ironic given their core business is communications.

Telco services are without a doubt essential in nature, as the gateway to almost every other facet of our lives. However, telecommunications protections just aren’t up to scratch when it comes to what consumers need in essential service markets.  

In the Consumer Safeguards Review consultation late last year, CPRC and other consumer advocates called for a significant overhaul of the current Consumer Safeguards framework, identifying how the industry-led Code has clearly delivers poor consumer outcomes and is no longer fit for purpose.  

Drawing on our research the key changes we believe that would make the lives of telco consumers easier and fairer are: 

  • need for clear, enforceable consumer protections (e.g: hardship provisions) in the telco industry  
  • strengthened ACMA regulatory powers via the Consumer Safeguards Review  
  • the ACMA to develop a vulnerability strategy, outlining clear expectations for retailers and to bring the sector along 
  • ACMA to adopt auditing of telcos credit management (“hardship processes”), billing, customer service 
  • a need for disclosure requirements (data from telcos) and the ACMA to publish customer service performance to drive competition around quality and improve culture 
  • to develop customer service quality rankings/league tables 
  • the ACMA consider inclusive design in reforms to consumer protection framework, expectations of retailers   

It wasn’t just consumer organisations highlighting the need for change. In its own submission to the Safeguards Review, the regulator itself called for changes to the regulation of the sector calling for “clearly drafted and properly enforceable rules made by the regulator”, noting under the current regulatory framework they were  

unable to take direct enforcement action (other than issue a formal warning) where there is a breach of an industry code… 

and consequently  

…We are therefore unable to deliver outcomes for consumers in a timely and efficient manner or adequately protect them from rogue operators.1 

Telecommunications will remain an essential part of our lives, particularly if flexible working arrangements continue and given video chat is now firmly a business-as-usual process. The sector needs clear, enforceable regulation to improve the minimum standards of service delivered to consumers, as well as public accountability to drive competition for high quality customer service provision.