New ISP guideline introduced

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has announced a new Internet Service Provider (ISP) industry guideline, designed to help ISPs deliver "clear and comprehensive" knowledge on their service offerings and equip consumers with tools for comparing the quality, reliability and capabilities of Australian Internet services.

The ACA says the new guideline is in response to the results of the Telecommunications Service Inquiry (TSI)'s Besley Report, which found consumers were keen to gain access to more information on installing and maintaining an Internet service. The TSI was established by Senator Richard Alston, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts in March 2000 to assess the adequacy of telecommunications services throughout Australia.

The guideline has been developed over the past six months by the ACA in association with over 800 Australian ISPs, industry and consumer representatives.

ISPs who elect to participate in the new guideline will be expected to create and maintain a consumer information sheet on the services they offer. The information sheets will be available to consumers from both the ISP's and the ACA's Web sites and be updated quarterly. The ACA has also created a logo to help consumers identify ISPs participating in the new guideline.

Criteria featured in the information sheets will include details on the provider's service plans, such as pricing, download limits and contract terms, as well as billing methods, installation and ancillary services. The guideline also requires ISPs to provide information on network performance, the number of Points of Presence (POPs) they maintain throughout Australia, and the level of network and service security offered.

While the guideline is not compulsory, the ACA says it will conduct a review of the guideline after 12 months and has not ruled out the possibility of implementing stricter regulatory measures upon ISPs if consumer needs have not been met.

The first response from ISPs to the guideline is due 30 August.

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) John Pinnock agrees the guidelines are a good starting point and represent a "reasonable benchmark" for the industry, but said more could be done in the way of enforcing ISPs to comply with the guideline.

"The TIO has been talking about the need for customers standards for at least four years, so in that respect we welcome the guideline," he said. "The new guideline does cover service issues we originally discussed, and does provide a basic framework of standards for the industry.

"We would have preferred to register and enforce the code, but for a variety of reasons the ACA did not take that course."

Pinnock is also concerned about the level of certainty surrounding the quarterly reports ISPs are to submit to the ACA and says it will be a matter of waiting to see the proof of provision in three month's time.

However, the guideline should at least give consumers an objective means of understanding what levels of service to expect from the Internet industry, he said.

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Nadia Cameron

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