Consultation on how telecoms consumer advocate should operate opens
Have thoughts about who and how a consumer advocate should operate for consumers in the telecoms sphere than head on over to the consultation that is open and submit your response by 14th October 2019.
This consultation seeks views on options to improve the provision of consumer advocacy in the telecoms sector, by appointing a well-resourced independent body to:
- Provide direct support and advice to consumers, particularly the most vulnerable;
- Conduct more research to better understand and highlight where the consumer experience can be improved; and
- Better represent consumers in key public debates in relation to digital infrastructure.Open Consultation on Reforming Consumer Advocacy in Telecoms
The Government is now looking for responses on three options and of these option 1 appears to be the preferred option, largely because Citizens Advice is well recognised and with its existing work in other areas may require less funding to expand to cover work as a telecoms advocate.
The Government is now seeking views:
- Option 1 : Replicating the arrangements in energy and post, by appointing Citizens Advice as the new statutory consumer advocate for telecoms;
- Option 2 : Expanding the funding and remit of the existing Communications Consumer Panel (CCP); and
- Option 3 : Creating a new Arm’s Length Body to become the new statutory consumer advocate for telecoms.
The advocate will not be funded by central Government but rather the intent is to use an Ofcom industry levy with the advocate publishing a work plan each year which if approved would see Ofcom levy the telecoms industry the amount needed to meet the approved plan.
After years of cuts to the funding given to Citizens Advice by local government more funding for the independent charity would probably be welcome but given the work plan will require justification for the funding the role is unlikely to reverse some of the cut backs that have had to be made in the last decade to the service. Taking on the advocate role will require people with expertise in the area otherwise the role will be just another script driven support network, obviously there will not be a broadband expert in every local office if Citizens Advice is chosen as the advocate but if the local staff have access to trusted resources they will be able to help.
There are some concerns to be voiced over how well the advocate will be able to operate and ensuring it does not become the de-facto IT support source for the public. A good example is someone trying to get to the bottom of why there connection is behaving so badly for long periods of time and over the years the collective wisdom of our forum users has learnt to double check that there is not a device trying to do a large upload to the cloud backup service - now in this example you would expect this to be spotted by the ISP support but all too often they tend to report that connection speeds look good and close a fault ticket.
If the advocate is really good at its online role it is possible that it may impact sites such as ourselves where over the years many have been helped by the forums and with more direct informal prodding of network operators to get things like checkers corrected e.g. the hardware is present and neighbour has a live service but checkers say no to them and there is no obvious reason why and the most common one of 2018 was checkers say slow speeds but neighbour is getting 60 Mbps and we are connected to the same cabinet.
We could use the advocate as an opportunity to scale back the work we do on this front and direct people to the advocate but that would mean that over time we would lack visibility on what is going wrong in the broadband market and shift towards just publishing press releases and updating broadband listings. Fixing peoples broadband problems can take a long time but it is satisfying to hear back on the successful cases.
What the UK does not need is an advocate who spends their time and money doing more research surveys, Ofcom already does more than enough of these, the role should be much more focussed on direct support of the public and a strong independent voice reporting on what it is seeing in its contacts with the public but only after helping people to solve their problem.
Areas of particular interest to whoever becomes the telecoms consumer advocate will be:
- The shift from PSTN to voice over broadband whether there is a role helping
- Broadband universal service obligation, while the advocate is not going to be up and running when the USO starts helping the public understand the options and costs involved and potential disputes of computer says not eligible for USO support when reality suggests otherwise.
- Full fibre migration is likely to have concerns raised by people who are confused when areas bulk migrate
- Disputes with landlords/building owners over getting better broadband installed to a property e.g. fitting full fibre
In theory a lot of this should be handled by industry but it is all too easy for people to fall through the cracks and get confused by communications they have received and this is where having someone local to talk to or possibly even visit them would be ideal e.g. the advocate could be funded by industry during the PSTN to voice over broadband switch over to visit people who need extra help with the in home changes required.