Ofcom yesterday announced a raft of changes to their ‘General Conditions of Entitlement’ for all Comms Providers. These changes affect nuisance calls, complaints, billing, debt collection and services for disabled people and vulnerable customers.
The new regulations will not come into force until 1 October 2018 to ‘to protect consumers and aid Ofcom’s enforcement work.‘ Some of these are so basic that they beg the question ‘Why have we waited?’
In more detail the new rules will:
- Ban providers from charging for caller display facilities, to help people to screen nuisance calls. Telephone numbers displayed to people receiving calls must be valid, dial-able and uniquely identify the caller. Ofcom also requires providers to identify and block calls with an invalid or non-dial-able number – a feature of many nuisance calls – so they don’t get through to consumers. This change has been a long mooted and it’s not yet clear how soon conformance will be imposed.
- Introduce a new requirement for all communications providers to have clear, effective policies and procedures for identifying vulnerable customers– such as people with learning or communication difficulties or those suffering physical or mental illness or bereavement – to ensure they are treated fairly and appropriately;
- Require all communications providers to offer disabled users access to priority fault repair, third party bill management and accessible bills.These measures previously applied only to disabled people’s landline and mobile services, and will now extend to broadband.
- Strengthen the complaints handling rulesto ensure that complaints are dealt with promptly and effectively, and consumers are kept informed about the progress of their complaint, with faster access to dispute resolution services in cases where they reach deadlock with their provider;
- Require broadband and mobile providers to have fair and transparent debt-collection and disconnection practices in place. This requirement already applies to landline providers; and
- Extend current rules on billing accuracy, which previously only applied to voice call services, to include broadband.
The proposed changes have generally been welcomed by citizen/consumer interest groups.
Most CP’s will surely not be surprised by the requirements – not least because they come with a generously relaxed implementation period – and in many ways the larger players could have heeded consumer demands well before this regulatory action and perhaps, in so doing, already gained consumer marketing advantages.
Accurate billing for broadband? Hmm . . . . who’d have thought rules were needed?
Market regulation to invoke change tends to appeal to economists. However, Jonathan Mitchie (Prof. of innovation and knowledge exchange at Oxford University) takes issue with economists when they claim undue efficacy for price impacts on demand. He cites the introduction of tax on plastic bags and subsequent drop of 90% in demand. He points out that ‘increased appreciation of the ecological damage’ was a big factor – the price signal encouraging awakening of the latent cultural and ethical values. Similarly he would credit changes in cultural attitudes to drink driving as greater than the impact of higher car insurance premiums. Large changes in social attitudes may however be easier to engineer than changing the ethics of commercial enterprises.
Ofcom’s regulatory efforts, surely being evidence-led, presumably infer that we have a generic problem with [rotten] enterprise ethics. This in turn suggests that the underlying issues are not unique to the communications sector. Prof. Mitchie suggests that policy makers should be aware that Market, Regulatory and Cultural influences on behaviour all have mutually reinforcing potential. Regulators in other market sectors might note, but their sponsoring government departments cannot entirely avoid responsibility.