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Published Tuesday 7 Sep 2021


Telecommunications today is more than just a way of talking to other people, it is an essential gateway to modern life. If you add up the mobile phones in use, and all the landlines to homes and offices (broadband or otherwise) you get close to eight million connections in New Zealand alone, and the types of services we use our phones for have grown almost exponentially.

 

Article by: Paul Brislen

Twenty years ago, our phones were good for voice calls and (for mobile at least) text messages. Today mobile apps provide us with access to banking services, health, fitness, online entertainment, work and productivity apps, as well as health and wellbeing and meditation. We can stay safe during a pandemic by scanning in, we can stay in touch with friends and family, we can book travel, buy food, check the weather, take photographs, make movies, watch movies, listen to music and find our way home.

Our broadband is no less astounding. Instead of a 56kbit/s dial-up connections, today we have gigabit speeds with unlimited bandwidth that allows our whole households to run online all day and all night. Whether it’s watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster, or All Blacks’ match, or working from home during a pandemic, or doing our homework, without our world-class broadband we’d struggle to get by.

In addition, if we want too, we can still pick up the landline and dial anyone, anywhere and keep in touch with friends and family or contact emergency services.

So, it’s no wonder when things go wrong with any one of those interactions, people get upset. I know I do. Because all of the above is important to how we live today. If my banking app doesn’t work, if my call doesn’t connect, if I can’t watch the game because it’s pixelated, it’s incredibly frustrating.

Of course, your first port of call is to contact your telco to make a complaint about the service you’re getting, but if things don’t go quickly enough or if you feel you’ve reached a deadlock and still aren’t happy, there’s the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution service (www.tdr.org.nz) to assist you. TDR provides independent resolution of disputes, using various methods, that work out the issues and helps customers and telcos reach a resolution to any problems. It’s free for complainants – the telcos pay for it all – and you can make a complaint online or over the phone.

In the year to June 30, 2020 the TDR received 2752 complaints or enquires from consumers and handled them all. This year they’ve received fewer complaints (1005) – down by 36% – which is gratifying as it means most problems are being successfully handled by the telcos directly before the TDR becomes involved.

The Commerce Commission is charged with reviewing dispute resolution schemes every three years and has issued a draft discussion paper outlining some areas we should look at with ours, to ensure it’s still fit for purpose.

The TCF welcomes the review and is actively engaged in building a better scheme. The main issues the Commission wants to discuss is scheme independence and jurisdiction.

When the TDR was created in 2007 the TCF established a TDR Council to oversee the TDR process. Today, the gold standard is to have a dispute scheme that is entirely independent from the industry, so we are working with the TDR Council to determine what that could look like and how to get there from here.

It is also important the TDR can deal with a complaint relating to any aspect of a telecommunication service. As the telecommunications sector has developed new technologies and services, we need to ensure that the TDR is able to address complaints across all services for consumers. 

The Commission also wants to hear from you – the customers and users of telecommunications – about what you’d like to see from a dispute resolution scheme. You can read the Commission’s discussion paper and provide feedback here and I would encourage you all to do so. We want a scheme that delivers for customers and providers alike and it’s only through engaging in the process that we can be sure we’re covering all the bases.

Paul is the New Zealand Telecommunications Forum's CEO.