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AITI introduces Code of Practice to regulate the quality of telecom services

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AITI introduces Code of Practice to regulate the quality of telecom services
28/02/2014
 
Introduction to the Code
 
AITI introduces a Code of Practice and Standards of Performance Relating to Quality of Services for the Telecommunication Sector to regulate the quality of telecommunication services from 1st March 2014 onwards. The Code broadly aims at ensuring the delivery of good quality telecommunication services for commercial and residential users. It re-emphasizes the fact that wide availability of reliable telecommunication services is one of the necessary ingredients for achieving economic development in general and, boosting the ICT industry in particular. 
 
Background
 
Since April 2006, when AITI’s regulatory powers took effect, both the number of licensees and the number of telecom services have grown consistently. AITI has taken a light handed approach to quality of service, believing that the service providers need time to mature and establish their networks.  However, AITI recognised that there were persistent consumer issues which needed to be solved and, therefore, engaged service providers to develop the Quality of Service framework. Consultations were held throughout 2011 to ensure that the performance parameters and target set in the framework were practical and operationally feasible for the telcos to comply.  The telcos were then given a one-year voluntary compliance period starting from October 2012. Results obtained from periodic performance reviews of telecoms services during the voluntary compliance period have provided a good working base before introducing mandatory compliance through this Code.
 
In brief, the Code combines relevant international technical standards, proven best practices and the actual experiences gathered at the industry-level during the past two-years to deliver a platform which should result in an improvement in subscriber experience. As a reference, an online copy of the Code is available for public use on AITI’s website (www.aiti.gov.bn).
 
Provisions of the Code – enhancing transparency, fairness and commitment to quality
 
Since the telecommunication sector is one of the most dynamic economic sectors, the Code establishes minimum quality benchmarks for both conventional and evolving technologies for the telecommunication sector.  This allows telecommunications service providers the flexibility to provide services at levels which exceed the stated benchmarks.  In addition to mandatory performance assessment, it also requires higher transparency in all transactions conducted between customers and the licensed service providers. Consumers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the provisions of the Code so they can assert their rights to their respective service providers.
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Disclosure of essential information is now mandatory
 
As shown in the illustration, the Code deals with many inter-twined aspects in a comprehensive manner. To make it meaningful for the average user, the Code doesn’t only emphasize the technical performance but also requires disclosure of essential information to make sure that consumer can make informed decisions and safeguard her interests. For example, availability of clear and complete information about different subscriptions offers makes it easier for customers to decide which plan to subscribe for. Going further, standardisation of consumer-specific processes and timelines for activities such as installation, fault-restoration and consumer complaints also helps by making expected turnarounds for these activities clear to both the customer and service provider. The Code also seeks to help the industry to self-optimise the resources in the era of convergence of services i.e. same networks may be quickly tailored to provide different kinds of services for use by multiple set of customers.
 
Availability & Reliability
 
Another important aspect is to know what services are readily available in a given area. While performing performance assessments of various telecommunication services available in Brunei Darussalam, AITI observed that further efforts are required to deploy satisfactory level of services in the identified areas. The Code also prescribes baselines for improvement of service-coverage.
 
Service providers are expected to ensure service reliability and quickly inform their customers of service outages- scheduled or un-scheduled. Scheduled outages should be notified at least one-week in advance to customers that are likely to be affected. Un-scheduled outages should be notified on the same day. The availability of such information allows customers to adjust their work-schedules or seek alternative or backup solutions to minimize the impact of service outages.
 
In order to manage reliability, the Code also sets mandatory performance parameters for different telecommunications networks and services. In brief, it requires licensees to optimise their networks and services delivery to meet customer expectations round the clock. The licensees must also share any technical limitations, with customers under Fair Usage Policy. In turn, customers are required to use the services in a fair manner for legitimate and lawful purposes only.
 
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Flexibility for users
 
The Code recognises that not all users are the same and a “one size fits all” approach may not be suitable for all type of customers. As such, it allows all customers with specific requirements to demand tailored solutions in the form of customised service-level agreements. Therefore, service providers may modify the mandatory performance parameters for voice, broadband, messaging and leased line services to meet the customer’s requirements and with the customer’s consent. Service providers can choose the most appropriate technology, resources and manner to serve the consumers. 
 
While attending to quality requirements, the Code also introduces specific practices to meet public health and safety requirements. For example, to avoid any excessive EMF (Comment from DCE RII – please provide the full phrase before the abbreviation as the readers may not know what EMF stands for) radiations from telecommunication infrastructure and equipment, it requires annual self-check by the service provider and allows random audit by AITI.
 
Reliance on Consumer Awareness
 
A better-informed customer can safeguard his own rights to secure actual delivery of the promises made in the subscription agreement; the easy availability of information-tools to conduct basic quality check may help him further. For example, broadband subscribers may raise valid complaints in case the speed-test does not provide expected results or the data consumption charges are inaccurate. It ultimately paves the way for better understanding between consumers and service providers.
 
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Customers can also relay actual observations to the service providers so that the service provider has meaningful information while attending to the complaint within the mandated two days initial response period. If the customer is still not satisfied with the final resolution provided by the service provider, he may escalate the concerns to AITI in-writing.
 
Escalation of complaints to AITI will activate the standard time-bound process where the matter would be taken-up with the concerned provider to seek comments within a maximum of 30 days depending on the circumstances of the case. Depending upon the details involved,   the matter shall be decided in accordance with the provisions of the Code. This three-step process has been depicted in the illustration.
 
Provisions related to Compliance
 
To ensure compliance, the Code provides for the regular assessment by the service providers through self-reporting as the basic step. In addition, AITI shall continue to carry out certain audit exercises and sample-checks to benchmark quality in an appropriate manner. For example, mobile cellular based-services may be benchmarked using service drive test to cover all populated areas. Similar exercises may be conducted for other telecommunication services as well. This is considered essential in order to deal with any possible act of non-compliance. In such cases, financial penalty may be imposed against non-disclosure, performance found below qualifying benchmark, and serious breach of the Code. As stipulated under Telecom Order 2001, the financial penalty may be reach up to B $ 1 million per incident or for each breach of Code and the license may be also suspended or canceled.
 
While considering the imposition of financial or administrative penalties against the act of non-compliance, AITI shall take a few key things into consideration:  impact of non-compliance, contributing reasons towards non-compliance and efforts made by the service provider to deal with the emerging position. Imposition of penalties in each case of consumer complaints may not always be warranted, however, penalties may be imposed to deal with recurring problems that affect a particular set of customers or area. In general, AITI would be first acting as facilitator while attending to consumer complaints in the light of the Code.
 
Summary
 
AITI hoped that the Code shall be seen as a self-guiding mechanism to create a participative, balanced, dynamic and competitive ecosystem. Any such progress shall ultimately contribute to the achievement of long-term development goals for the country as a whole.
 
Even though the running series of the recent press articles ends here, the published articles and any future information shall remain available on AITI website (www.aiti.gov.bn). AITI also welcomes any feedback which may be sent through e-mail info@aiti.gov.bn or be addressed to Chief Executive, AITI by post or fax.