Commerce Commission publishes telco ‘naughty list’ in run-up to Christmas
There are a handful of providers locking out 100,000 consumers from the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution scheme
By Ruairi O'Shea
The Commerce Commission has today published a list of telecommunications providers who are, or are not, members of the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution service (TDR).
The Commission has made its list and checked it twice. So who’s naughty and who’s nice?
The commission reports that Contact Energy, InspireNet, Lightwire and Voyager are not part of the scheme, which was created 10 years ago to resolve issues between telco providers and their customers. The Commission says that more than 100,000 Kiwi consumers are locked out of the free and independent industry dispute resolution scheme as a result.
What is the TDR?
The TDR is a free and independent dispute resolution service that has been set up to deal specifically with telecommunications complaints. As a specialised service, it is designed to handle a range of issues (from billing to connectivity faults) better and faster than other generalised dispute services. Similar schemes exist in other sectors, including utilities, financial services and health services but unlike these sectors, membership in the TDR scheme is voluntary.
What’s the problem?
Customers of providers which are not members of the TDR do not have access to free dispute resolution services.
Telecommunications Commissioner Tristan Gilbertson said this is particularly problematic due to the high number of consumer complaints in the telecommunications sector.
“We don’t want consumers to find that they’re locked out of the scheme at the time they need it the most – when they run into a problem that they can’t resolve with their telecommunications provider,” Gilbertson said.
And this is a problem that has grown in the past year. In the TDR’s Annual Report for 2021-2022, it said it received 2271 complaints and inquiries between 1 July 2021 and 30 June 2022 – a 17% increase year –on year. The TDR is effective, resolving 96.5% of complaints and inquiries after initial assistance or referral by the TDR, with 91% of complainants satisfied with their TDR experience.
The vast majority of telecommunications providers are signed up to the service, with Contact Energy, InspireNet, Lightwire and Voyager the only providers with annual revenues of more than $10 million not participating.
For Gilbertson, there is a serious issue of accountability.
“These providers are profiting from providing telecommunications services to New Zealand consumers while avoiding the accountability that TDR is designed to provide.”
Grumbles with bundles
The bundling of telecommunications services with other utilities – such as purchasing your internet and your gas from the same provider – has become increasingly popular. However, with mandatory membership of dispute resolution schemes in other sectors and voluntary membership in telecommunications, often consumers are left in the lurch.
“If there are issues with these bundles, which we recently found can be problematic, customers have no recourse to TDR, and UDL (Utilities Disputes Limited) has no jurisdiction over telco disputes – leaving customers stuck in an unhelpful position,” Gilbertson said.
The Commerce Commission encourages consumers to check whether a telco provider is a member of the TDR before signing up to use the provider’s services. However, consumers must be aware of the scheme, its importance, and who’s in and who’s out.
The Commission hopes that this list can be the starting point.
“Customers need to know when they’re being sold services by providers who won’t give them access to the industry dispute resolution scheme when things go wrong – as well as providers who will – and that’s exactly what the list we’re publishing today is designed to show,” Gilbertson said.
“We encourage consumers to use this information, and consider the value of access to TDR, when choosing or renewing with a telecommunications provider.”
A simpler solution, however, would be for the remaining telecommunications businesses to sign up to the scheme. This is a change that Gilbertson would encourage.
“We encourage all providers who are not yet members to join TDR so that their customers can access the industry disputes scheme in the same way as all other telecommunications consumers in New Zealand.”
Customers of these providers can access the TDR and the Disputes Tribunal
Nova (membership pending from 28 February 2023)
Customers of these providers can only access the Disputes Tribunal and cannot access the TDR
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