ACMA continues to keep itself and the industry busy with reviews and consultations, with the release yesterday of its Consultation Paper on the operation of two consumer protection pieces of regulation regarding premium messaging services (PMSs). This consultation continues ACMA's focus on consumer protection issues in the telecommunications sector.
The regulations under review are:
- the Barring Determination (allowing customers to bar access to PMSs); and
- the Do Not Contract / Do Not Bill Determination (preventing mobile operators from contracting with or billing for "unregistered" premium content providers).
Both Determinations have been in operation for just over one year – having been implemented in March and July 2010 respectively.
PMSs in Australia are those provided via numbers beginning with the "19" prefix. Services include content ranging across news, weather,entertainment, viewer voting on TV programs, access to media promotions, chat services and some public service content (such as public transport timetables etc). The content can be one or more of text, music, pictures, voice, and video.
Because of the premium charging for these services and, to some extent, the nature of some of the services available, ACMA and the Government have always been sensitive to consumer complaints regarding PMSs. And there were numerous complaints. ACMA quotes some 10,000 complaints in the September quarter of 2008 as being the peak complaint rate. Hence the 2010 determinations. These were designed to protect consumers in two ways:
- giving consumers the ability to bar access to PMSs on their services (fixed and mobile); and
- prohibiting mobile operators from contracting with, or billing for services on behalf of, content providers who are not registered in accordance with the requirements of the MPS Code (by means of a register maintained and managed by Communications Alliance).
Data from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman indicates a significant and steady decline in the number of complaints about PMSs since the implementation of these determinations.
ACMA is now seeking views about the effectiveness of the determinations.
In relation to the Barring Determination, ACMA is asking for responses to specific issues. These are:
- Currently, barring takes place if requested by a customer. That is, it is an "opt out" process. ACMA seeks views on whether this has been an effective method for allowing customers to control expenditure on PMSs. Alternative methods would include some variation of an "opt in" process (that is, a general barring, with customers able to request access to PMSs).
- Various methods are used by mobile operators to provide customers with the ability to request barring. These include call service numbers, websites, IVR services, email, or the sending of a keyword to a specified number. ACMA is asking whether these are appropriate and convenient methods.
- There is currently no time limit on the mobile operator to implement barring after it has been requested, although the operator must stop charging for the relevant PMS by no later than 6pm on the business day following the request. ACMA is seeking views on the appropriateness of this timeframe.
- Currently, mobile operators must notify customers of their capacity to bar PMSs every 6 months (it was every quarter for the first year of the Determination), when a customer acquires a new mobile service, and when the customer makes a complaint about, or gives consent to, or requests the barring of, a PMS. In addition, this information must appear on all bills for which there is a charge for a PMS. This information must also be available on the operator's website or by means of a specified and publicised number. ACMA is seeking views on the effectiveness and appropriateness of the frequency and availability of these notices. Specifically, ACMA notes that some mobile operators are now communicating with customers by means such as on SIM cards, in SIM welcome packs, and via SMS.
In relation to the Do Not Contract / Do Not Bill Determination, ACMA is seeking views on:
- Whether the Do Not Contract provisions have enhanced compliance with the registration requirements of the MPS Code; whether there have been any unintended consequences; and whether there have been any financial costs associated with the Do Not Contract provisions. ACMA is also asking for views on whether there are other measures that could be more effective.
- Whether the Do Not Bill provisions have provided a deterrent to operating PMSs that cause "significant detriment" to consumers; whether there have been any unintended consequences; and whether there have been any financial costs associated with the Do Not Bill provisions. ACMA also seeks views regarding other measures that may be more efficient in deterring such PMSs or in reducing the severity of detriment of those PMSs.
This consultation is open to all interested parties and runs until 22 December 2012. Responses can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
They can also be sent by mail. Postal and other ACMA contact details for the consultation are available at http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_410217
If you would like further information about this consultation or any of the other reviews and consultations currently underway in the communications and media sectors, please contact us at Truman Hoyle.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.