Recently, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) announced the implementation of a new Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code.
The new code aims to provide protection against ‘bill shock’ and eliminate confusing mobile plans, making ISPs and telcos more transparent. The code will be fully operational by September 2012 and will ensure that consumers are sent alerts once they use 85% of their mobile plans, including calls, text and data. Telcos and ISPs will also be required to detail their product and service offerings more clearly, and make information about domestic and international call charges more readily available.
This will be something of a revolution in a market packed with service providers, each trying to gain some measure of competitive advantage over the others. Traditionally, ISPs and telcos have done this by each offering its own range of plans and schemes, with different charges for use at different times of day and in different circumstances, and throwing a range of options at consumers, including bundled services in different permutations and combinations.
Unfortunately, this can leave consumers with far too many choices – choosing a mobile plan can be a painstaking job that requires complex calculations and difficult predictions, and an Excel spreadsheet for good measure. With many companies also offering multiple services, for example bundling home broadband with mobile phone plans, the choices can rapidly multiply out of control, if they weren’t already difficult enough to understand.
An excess of choice may not necessarily be a good thing. A look at markets across Asia where consumers have taken more readily to mobile reveals that sometimes it is the lack of choice that makes mobile an easy option. Limited by what is on offer, or what is affordable, many times the choice is cut down to ‘mobile or not’, and consumers increasingly choose mobile. Offering too many choices can be paralysing, leaving people worried that they are not getting the best use out of their devices, or are being overcharged.
Making it easier for consumers to cut through the number of choices is a good move, and will remove one of the last remaining pain points from the adoption of mobile. ACMA’s chairman, Chris Chapman, describes the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code as a “unique and ground-breaking document by world standards”, and he might be right.
In this, Australia is once again leading the world, by creating an ideal situation, one where consumers could pick plans that were almost tailor-made to individual needs or where consumers have sufficient flexibility to select from a range of plans. In turn, this would make mobile a more attractive option, since consumers would get exactly the plans that they need, lending them confidence and making mobile more cost-effective. This can only happen when consumers have enough information to make an informed choice, and when this information is made available in a clear, comprehensible way.
ACMA seems to be taking the steps necessary to make this a reality for Australians, and it will only be a matter of time before other governments or authorities in other territories follow suit.