Optus has misunderstood the Critical Information Summary requirements of the TCP Code, showing how easy it is to slip up under the new law. The issue relates to disclosure of ‘mandatory goods included in the offer’.
What the TCP Code requires
The Code requires a telco to disclose whether an offer includes any goods that the customer must buy and, if so, what they are and whether there’s an additional charge for them.
The Code is not asking whether the customer would need any hardware to successfully use the service (eg a landline needs a handset). It is asking whether the deal includes a handset that the customer must buy. They are two different matters. Of course you need a handset to use a landline, but handsets are almost never included in landline deals, because almost everyone already has a handset.
What Optus seems to think the TCP Code requires
Optus has misread the requirement as calling for it to disclose whether the customer will need any particular hardware to use a particular service. That’s a very sensible thing to tell people, but it isn’t what the Code mandates. Optus says, for instance, ‘You need a handset to use this service’ but it doesn’t say ‘this offer does (or doesn’t) include one that you must buy from us’.
This may seem very picky in the circumstances but, as we recently posted, ACMA has taken a literal approach to the disclosure of ‘mandatory goods included in the offer’ requirement of the TCP Code. Applying the approach uniformly, several of Optus’ Critical Information Summary documents are non-compliant. They do not state:
whether there is any Telecommunications Good that the Customer must take as a mandatory component of the Offer, (so the Consumer has no choice as to that Telecommunications Good).
They do state whether there is equipment that the customer must have in order to use a service, but not whether the customer must ‘take’ it from Optus as part of the offer.
For our part, we have no problem with the Optus CIS documents in this regard, but if ACMA’s position is taken as correct and applied uniformly, you can only conclude that Optus needs to correct its CIS statements before it lodges its Compliance Attestation, due by 1 April 2013.