- Services with a smile
The Consumer Protection (Definition of Goods and Services) Bill is a great idea but working out the details could prove a sticky task.
The bill extends the definition of goods and services to cover telecommunications, software, network operators, electricity and gas and makes them clearly subject -- in the same way as more material goods and services -- to the provisions of the Consumer Gurantees Act, the Fair Trading Act and the Sale of Goods Act. But in submissions on the bill, which closed in January, the telcos argue that some of the consumer rights that would be conferred are just not sensible when applied to telecommunications and software.
In its submission on the bill Telecom argues that software, as well as telecommunications signals, should be classed as "services" rather than "goods". Services have less stringent guarantee requirements than goods.
Provision of software is effectively a transfer of a right to use the software under a licence, not a sale of the code itself, so less severe guarantees relating to "services" should apply, says Telecom.
For goods, the Consumer Guarantees Act says the supplier must provide items of "acceptable quality", fit for the purpose for which the consumer tells the supplier they are to be used. Guarantees applied to services include that "reasonable care and skill" are taken over delivering the service.
Telecom compares software use with the viewing of a TV programme, where no material good or intellectual property right changes hand, although Computerworld has suggested that if the comparison is with a book Telecom's points might be less substantial, as you can sell your copy to someone else.
Power company UnitedNetworks, which is also a telco, has made similar submissions to Telecom.
Telecom and TelstraClear want the bill honed in other areas also. If the provisions of the current consumer protection legislation are applied, wholesale suppliers and downstream carriers would be legally responsible for phone and internet services, even though the failure was an upstream party's fault.
TelstraClear says any given call can cross several networks and reach any network in the world. Interconnection agreements between telcos make such clauses untenable in any direction.
The bill is likely to be law by June so we'll just have to wait and see what the lawmakers come up with.