ACMA unveils new code for telcos – five critical points businesses need to know

Alerting consumers when they’re about to breach their usage caps and making plans easier to compare are just some of the mandates contained in a new code for the telecommunications industry, set to take effect from September after months of negotiations.

But business users beware – there are a few key differences you need to know about.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority confirmed yesterday the new code will take effect, with new mandates designed to help cut down on the huge amounts of complaints flooding the telco ombudsman, along with reports of “bill shock”.

“The code comes against the background of the rollout of the National Broadband Network and is a good example of forward-looking and evidence-based engagement in a converged world. The ACMA laid out the issues based on evidence and the industry has responded,” ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said in a statement.

There are some good changes here. But there are also some things business owners specifically need to know about.

1. New usage alerts are only for individual users, not businesses

One of the best parts of the new code is that telcos now have to tell users, whether it’s through email or text message, when they’re about to breach their caps. It’s an attempt to quash “bill shock”, so users aren’t hit with bills worth thousands of dollars.

It’s a good move. But business users beware – this doesn’t apply to you.

While normal customers will receive alerts, users on business plans won’t receive any at all. That’s not to say they won’t in the future, they just won’t right now. Part of the reason is that sending alerts to businesses with potentially dozens of users can be a tad problematic.

So, for now, just continue watching your usage limits as you’ve always done – and lobby ACMA if you want to see that changed.

2. A cap is really a cap

Until now, when telcos advertise a plan as having a “cap”, it doesn’t actually mean that plan is limited at the purchase price. For instance, if you buy a $49 “cap” plan, you can still spend over that allotted $49.

But under the new code, businesses must be literal about the advertising they use. So when they say a plan is “capped”, it really does mean that you can’t spend more than the advertised amount.

“The only time the word ‘cap’ can be used in the future is when plans are actually a ‘hard cap’,” an ACMA spokeswoman told SmartCompany this morning.

This means the default plan will be those where you pay your monthly amount and can continue to breach that cap if you need to. But be careful – when plans suggest a “cap”, it really does mean that you can’t exceed that amount.

For business users, who tend to vary month to month on the amount they spend, this is a change they need to be aware of or risk buying a plan that constricts their use.

3. …and that goes for “unlimited” as well

Currently telcos try to get away with offering “unlimited” internet services by arguing these plans are “technically” unlimited. Except for the fact they slog you with slower speeds once you reach a certain point.

From now on, “unlimited” really does mean “unlimited” – no caps. Anything else will need to be spelled out in full. And that brings us to our next point.

4. Breaking down into elements

One of the most frustrating things about comparing different mobile plans is that every company has a different standard for what they charge. So one company might calculate calls by the minute, others by 30 seconds, and so on.

Under the new code, this will change slightly, so when a plan is advertised at a certain price, it must be broken down into individual units.

For instance, if a plan costs $49, the company must also say a standard call will cost X amount, followed by a standard text, and so on, so you can more easily break these down from telco to telco.

And to make it easier for everyone, you don’t have to go scrounging around for this information. Each business is now required to provide something called…

5. Critical information summaries

This is perhaps the most effective tool for business users and, really, any customer in general. When you go into a store and ask about a specific plan, telcos must now provide you with a maximum two-page information summary. This summary will tell you everything you need to know about the plan, including the breakdown of individual elements like calls and texts.

These summaries will make it much, much easier to compare and contrast different deals. And while you can have them delivered online, they’ll be on-hand in stores as well, so you can just walk around to a few locations, pick up a few summaries, and then take them home to make your decision.

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