The Australian telecommunications industry is known for its innovation and competition. Over the past year, the industry has followed changes in consumer behaviour and supplies more mobile services than ever before.
Smartphones and wireless broadband are in demand by consumers who find them convenient and attractive. According to research by IBISWorld1, there are 29 million mobile subscriptions in Australia, outnumbering the population of the country by more than 6 million. About half of the mobile phone handsets in Australia are smartphones, according to market research by Kantar Worldpanel2, making Australians the second largest buyers of smartphones in the world.
The Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) estimates that the number of internet subscriptions from a mobile phone is 8 million, a 21 per cent increase compared to last year. On a similar note, the number of wireless broadband subscriptions (products such as dongles) increased 49 per cent to 4.2 million during the same period3.
The take up of fixed internet plans and landlines is declining, and that gap is filled by these flexible mobile services.
Complaints to the TIO are a thermometer of this trend in the industry. New complaints about mobile phone services in 2010-11 grew to a record 112,376 - 54 per cent more than in 2009-10.
Too many consumers came to us with issues about unusually high bills because they are not able to monitor their spending. Many were not provided the tools to do so, or the charges in their plans were overly complex.
The majority of complaints reflect what hadn’t changed in the industry: consumers’ frustration with not being heard in a timely manner, and providers that don’t action their undertakings or give inadequate advice.
This frustration sparked a push for change in telecommunications regulation. The ACMA’s Reconnecting the Customer public inquiry brought customer service and complaint handling practices in the industry to the forefront at a time when the industry itself was looking to reform its code of practice, the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) code.
We joined this debate by adding our voice to those who believe the telecommunications industry needs to improve the amount and quality of information it gives consumers, and simplify its advertising, bills and description of telecommunications products. We also called on service providers to give consumers better tools to manage their spending.
While these changes were happening, the TIO came under review. The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) launched a consultation to make sure the TIO has the right tools in a changing and more complex telecommunications environment.
The TIO Board also started a review by KPMG – Preparing for the future – to assess how the TIO is placed to meet the challenges in coming years.
We had already taken a number of steps to handle increased complaint demand over 2010-11. We completed the rollout of our process to notify providers by email of most complaints as soon as they were registered by the TIO. We also required providers to contact consumers more quickly. This makes our referral process faster and gives providers another opportunity to repair the relationship with their customers.
We have begun to introduce conciliation for complaints not resolved by referral. This process is less formal than evidence-based investigations. We are achieving faster solutions for consumers and service providers, with fewer cases requiring detailed and time consuming investigations.
We worked on redesigning our website to increase our accessibility and the quality of information we provide. We also continued to work on a new complaint handling system that will increase the efficiency with which we assist consumers and service providers to resolve their disputes in this environment, where the only constant is change.
1Sallmann, Nick (May 2011), IBISWorld Industry Report J7122: Mobile Telecommunications Carriers in Australia
2Kantar Worldpanel Comtech (August 2011), Smartphone ownership in Australia
3Australian Communications and Media Authority (July 2011), The internet service market and Australians in the online environment