In 2017, the telecommunications industry and the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be re-assessing the customer information obligations framework for telecommunications companies – what is referred to as the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code (the TCP code). The Australian telecommunications industry has indicated long-standing desire for more flexibility with fewer restrictions in the information provided on a mandatory basis to consumers. It has been contended that current mandatory consumer information requirements, particularly in terms of the amount of information that must be provided at point-of-sale, are not necessarily useful to consumers and result in substantial cost to the industry.
One concern of consumer advocates has been that important consumer protections could be lost in the absence of independent evidence-based information and research, to the detriment of both industry and its customers. Consumer information is fundamentally important, but it has to be carefully designed so that customers can understand what they’re buying, how to use the service, and how to constructively resolve issues into the future. In the past, with the development of the code and some other regulations, there has been an absence of sophisticated empirical evidence about the best way to effectively communicate this fundamental information in the telecommunications space.
Informed consent sits behind most legal agreements, but in reality, the notion of informed consent is usually measured by directly asking consumers whether they understand their obligations and rights under a contract. While this is indeed testing the reflective capacity of consumers in relation to their belief that they have understood something, it is arguable that it is not actually measuring whether the consumer has actually understood the agreement. In other words, a person may claim to understand the implications of their signing a contract, but may fail to appreciate the possible consequences until they are presented with a particular challenge arising from or related to the terms of the contract.