In a submission to the Department of Communications, telco AAPT has asked the government to make it exempt from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme.
Telco AAPT thinks it ought not be answerable to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), the Australian independent body that resolves customer disputes with their internet and telephone service providers. In a submission to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the Deregulation Initiatives in the Communications Sector, the company claimed that the TIO has exceeded its authority.
Under the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Services Standards) Act 1999, all carriers and carriage service providers are obligated to join and comply with the TIO Scheme. This means that telcos are also obliged to respond to customer complaints lodged through the TIO, respond to communications from the TIO, and comply with TIO rulings on disputes.
"The TIO has chosen to exercise its jurisdiction in a manner that is broader than originally intended under the TIO Scheme," AAPT wrote. "For example, the TIO is applying provisions of the TCP Code as "best practice" to all TIO complainants, notwithstanding that: (a) those complainants may not be caught by the TCP Code (and thus imposing rules that are not required by any regulation); and (b) applying the TCP Code provisions arbitrarily (for example, by requiring that service providers respond to complaints that are "urgent" within 2 business days, being the timeframe specified in the code, but not requiring that such "urgent" complaints meet the definition of "urgent" set out in the code).
"Such application conflicts with the intent of the regulation, particularly in its application to business customers. In addition, the fee structure of the TIO is such that service providers have little choice but to settle with a consumer, purely on a cost/benefit analysis, despite clear contractual arrangements or factual circumstances to the contrary."
In other words, AAPT — which is often ranked fairly poorly among telco customer service reviews — objects to having to respond to complaints in a timely fashion, and abide by the TIO's decisions.
The telco — which is one of the largest in Australia — went on to claim that it does not fall under the TIO's remit. "In AAPT's view, mandatory participation in the TIO scheme should be removed for service providers like AAPT who do not generally service the residential or small business market (i.e. consumer market)," AAPT, which sold its consumer division to iiNet in 2010 to concentrate on business customers, wrote. "As a safeguard, non-participating service providers can be required to disclose to customers at the time of sign up that the service provider is not part of the TIO scheme."
This is not the first time AAPT has gunned for the TIO. In 2010, it penned a submission to the Australian Communications and Media Authority's consultation paper on Reconnecting the Customer in response to the high number of complaints received by the TIO that stated "the TIO should require consumers to first try and resolve any complaint with their service provider and this could easily be achieved by introducing a process whereby consumers must obtain a letter from their service provider indicating that it does not intend to do anything about the complaint before approaching the TIO" — effectively, customers would have to obtain permission from their service provider to lodge a TIO complaint.
Several other telcos also made submissions to the Deregulation Initiatives in the Communications Sector. Neither Vodafone, Optus, Macquarie Telecom nor iiNet — the only four other telcos submitting — had any complaint to make about participating in the TIO Scheme.