The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has formally warned Telstra for breaching the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code 2007 (TCP Code).
Between 2006 and 2012 Telstra incorrectly billed a large number of international data roaming customers multiple flag fall fees for single data sessions. The incorrect bills reflected incorrect information Telstra received from international carriers and its contracted data clearing house.
The TCP Code requires providers to bill customers accurately allowing for certain exceptions. One such exception is where the inaccuracy is caused by reliance on information provided by contractors. Whether Telstra could rely on this exception was a key issue for this investigation.
The ACMA investigation found that Telstra could rely on this exception only until early 2009. It was then that Telstra first received a complaint from a consumer who had been incorrectly billed for multiple overseas data sessions. The ACMA found that billing inaccuracies after that complaint was received were caused by Telstra’s failure to investigate and identify the problems with the information being provided by its contractor.
‘Accurate billing is of the utmost importance’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman. ‘Our investigation makes it very clear that all telcos need to listen to their customers who report billing problems and be vigilant about any potential issues with the information provided to them by third parties.’
Once the information problem was discovered, Telstra promptly identified all customers who were incorrectly charged for international data roaming and is systematically providing rebates. It has also permanently ceased charging a flag fall fee for international roaming data services.
The ACMA’s decision on this occasion to formally warn Telstra for the breach took into account the facts that Telstra was not the original cause of the problem; that this was the first time a billing issue of this nature had been investigated under the TCP Code; that Telstra itself reported the matter; and that Telstra appears to be otherwise currently compliant with the relevant parts of the TCP Code 2012. Importantly, Telstra proactively implemented a comprehensive program of compensation that mitigated the harm for affected customers.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Emma Rossi, Media Manager, (02) 9334 7719 and 0434 652 063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media release 67/2013 - 16 September
In November 2012, Telstra self-reported to the ACMA that it had overcharged just over 260,000 customers a total of around $30 million for international data roaming. The overcharging occurred over a 6 year period. Most customers were overcharged small amounts.
When Telstra discovered the problem it:
- ceased charging flag fall for international data sessions and
- began arranging credits or refunds for all customers who had been affected.
Where the ACMA finds a breach of the TCP Code, it can:
- agree with the telco provider on steps it will take to remedy the breach or improve compliance (in this case Telstra has of its own volition provided refunds to affected customers and ceased charging flag fall for international data roaming)
- give a Formal Warning or
- give a Direction to Comply with code provisions going forward.
The ACMA cannot, itself, impose penalties or require refunds in response to code breach findings.
Since the new TCP Code was registered in September 2012, the ACMA has been checking the compliance of telco providers with key new consumer protections – including new advertising rules, the requirement for Critical Information Statements and the requirement for providers to submit their own compliance assessments to industry body Communications Compliance. It has:
- Made over 330 inquiries with providers about TCP compliance issues
- Issued 8 Formal Warnings and
- Given 3 Directions to Comply.
The ACMA’s focus over the next quarter will be on checking compliance with the new requirement that telco providers notify customers on included value plans when they have used 50%, 85% and 100% of their included allowance.