Well, firstly, it can ‘bring telecoms kicking and screaming into the 21st century’, as Pete Moorey, head of campaigns at Which?, reminded MPs when giving evidence in Parliament earlier this week.
Vast in its scope, the Digital Economy Bill brings together a number of different issues across our mobiles, broadband and nuisance calls campaigns over the past few years. We told the committee of MPs who are scrutinising the bill that there are four main areas to the bill that we think consumers need to see become law:
It’s incredible we don’t have Gaining Provider Led [GPL] switching in the telecoms sector yet.
GPL means that when you want to change mobile or broadband provider, instead of having to call the operator you’re leaving, you only need to talk to the one you want to switch to – it will take care of the rest. This would bring it in line with the banking and energy sectors, and you’d avoid the awkward ‘leaving’ conversation or being talked out of switching by your existing supplier.
We think this will mean companies will have to work harder to retain your business, and, as a result, there will be better deals for everyone as competition increases. This is proposed in the bill, and we think it’s vital that it stays there.
Whenever you experience a loss or degradation of service, your provider should offer adequate compensation to make up for the inconvenience caused.
Again, this is paid in sectors such as energy and water, so it’s baffling that telecoms companies aren’t subject to the same conditions. If you pay for a service, you should receive that service. Wherever it can’t be delivered, companies should be making that up to you in the easiest way possible without the need for long and complex complaints mechanisms. But companies will have to raise their games and treat customers better, because if they don’t they’re going to have shell out.
Currently, telecoms providers can challenge any decision that Ofcom, the regulator for the sector, makes in court and challenge ‘the merits’ of a decision.
In other regulated sectors, businesses can only challenge the process through which a decision was made – and decisions can only be overturned once they prove the ‘process’ was flawed. This bill is proposing to change the way Ofcom’s decisions can be challenged by businesses and bring it into line with other regulators. This is hugely beneficial for consumers, as decisions taken can be brought into force and the regulator will have real teeth to act in the interests of consumers. It would also improve competition and better protect customers.
Basically, more powers to the Information Commissioner’s Office [ICO], making its Direct Marketing Guidance statutory.
This means that ICO rules have to be followed, and companies that make nuisance calls can be prosecuted more easily – currently, only four out of 22 fines levied by ICO as a result of companies making nuisance calls have actually been paid.
From our Calling Time on Nuisance Calls campaign, we know that they’re still a massive issue for people across the UK, and over 80% have experienced one in the past month, so this is another step on the road to cracking down on the companies that harass us with unwanted calls.
But wait, there’s more
There’s always room for improvement and we told the committee so too.
We think the bill should introduce Director Led Accountability [DLA] for nuisance calls. This would make the heads of companies making nuisance calls directly responsible, and help close a loophole that many of these companies use.
Often, when companies are fined for making nuisance calls, they simply close their businesses and declare bankruptcy, then reopen under a different name and continue making calls. DLA would mean that heads of businesses are personally responsible for the marketing tactics of their companies, and any fines they receive. This then stops them being able to ‘phoenix’ in this way and closes an important loophole in the law.
So what do you think of the Digital Economy Bill? Is there anything else you’d like to see in there? What do you think is the most important measure?