The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) will continue to be funded as the peak body representing telecommunications consumers, following a review of section 593 of the Telecommunications Act 1997.
In October 2016, the Department of Communications said it would be looking into the “effectiveness” of section 593 of the Act, pointing to “dramatic changes” that have occurred in the Australian telecommunications landscape over the last 20 years as its primary reason for review.
Under section 593, ACCAN is the sole recipient of funding thanks to two multi-year agreements that provide it with around AU$2 million per year, with the funding drawn from annual telecommunications licence fees collected by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
The latest five-year agreement, made in 2012, was set to expire at the end of May this year.
The public consultation process attracted 65 submissions, the majority of which were in support of retaining section 593 of the Act.
The review concludes that ACCAN has to date “provided a voice for consumers in the retail telecommunications sector” and “generally managed the competing priorities of diverse types of consumers”. However, “there is room for improvement in the way it performs this role”, the report on the review of telecommunications consumer representation states.
Ten recommendations were made in the report, including the continuation of section 593 of the Telecommunications Act 1997. The review also recommends boosting engagement between ACCAN and industry stakeholders on current and emerging issues including customer needs, behaviours, preferences, and expectations.
“This would ensure ACCAN has access to the views of the majority of consumers, which is difficult to capture through other means,” the report states.
The report says that arrangements for more frequent engagement and information sharing could be achieved through a revision of the existing “Statement of Intent” between ACCAN and the Communications Alliance.
“The government could provide support for this change by including more specific KPIs in any new funding deed entered into with ACCAN,” the report states.
It also made a number of recommendations for improving the grants program administered by ACCAN, such as the development of guidelines around subject matter priorities, as well as removing funding caps and time limits for research projects to allow for longer-term research proposals.
Section 593 also allows the Minister for Communications to provide grants to organisations to represent the interests of consumers in relation to telecommunications services, and to conduct telecommunications-related research.
“The Turnbull government recognises the ongoing need for consumer representation in telecommunications policy and regulatory processes and has accepted the recommendations of the review,” a statement issued by Communications Minister Mitch Fifield on Tuesday said.