The Telecommunications Forum (TCF) has released a draft code for public comment on “full disclosure” and more consistent description standards for retail broadband offerings.
The code was created in response to a request from ICT Minister Amy Adams. Inspired by her 70-year old mother, Adams says broadband data plans need to be presented in a way that is easy for the average consumer to understand.
Increased choice and competition in the broadband market with the advent of Ultra Fast broadband could lead retail service providers to describe their various UFB and non-UFB offerings “in different ways”, says TCF, and this could confuse consumers.
“RSPs may struggle to convey genuine advantages of the plans they offer if there is no standard way of describing these benefits that consumers can understand,” says the preamble to the code.
“The industry is exposed to risks under the Fair Trading Act and other relevant legislation if consumers feel misled by the way in which broadband plans have been described.”
Accordingly, TCF suggests a standard vocabulary and format for describing broadband services in a consistent and comparable way.
Information should be accessible (“clear, readable, easy to understand and easy to find”), appropriate (“the right information at the right time”), comparable, current, honest and transparent, the code says. Basic information should be disclosed in an “Offer Summary”, enabling the consumer to make a quick comparison among rival offerings.
The summary should describe the service and say whether it is bundled with other services or standalone, state availability, including “limitations such as network and technology coverage”; charges including setup and service charge; technology (ADSL, VDSL, cable or UFB); average speed and data caps and consequences of exceeding them.
The summary should also detail the minimum contract period, length of notice for terminating the contract and any charges for early termination, the code suggests. Traffic management and fair-use policies should also be detailed.
Disclosure of many of these details was fingered as a problem for several Australian ISPs by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in a report earlier this year.
An independent body – to be known as the Measurement Entity – will be engaged to provide neutral measurements of each service’s practical speed.
The code currently only applies to fixed broadband services, but the TCF signals future work on a similar code for mobile offerings.
“As an industry, we’re keen to make life as easy as possible for our customers,” says TCF CEO David Stone.
Closing date for submissions on the draft code is June 7.