Future consumer: emerging consumer issues in telecommunications and convergent communications and media

3 Sep 2009

This report brings together consumer-focused case studies across telecommunications and mobiles, the Internet, affordability and broadcasting.

This collection of fundamental consumer issues and policy analyses sketches out the field of play for consumer advocacy moving forwards.

• In the Telecommunications and Mobile area – perhaps the backbone of a converged communications space – nine issue areas are identified: consumer protection and policy arrangements; information provision and decision-making; availability of services; accessibility of services; inclusion and integration with lifestyle; relationships with service providers; security and privacy; using content; and ICTs and the environment.

• The Internet study, discussing a shift towards consumers as producers, raises the issues of: copyright and intellectual property; privacy; trust and risk management; contracts; social and cultural capital access and rights; content regulation; and crossjurisdictional issues.

• In the Affordability study, cost is identified as a key factor in the take-up and use of ICTs. Attention is directed towards defining concepts of affordability, and towards appropriate affordability provisions around next-generation broadband and mobile services, especially amid economic crisis.

• Finally, noting the switchover from analogue to digital television, the introduction of digital radio and the growth of audio and video on demand, the Broadcasting study raises issues about service coverage, service delivery methods – including accessibility – and advertising and program content.

There are sites of crossover between these areas that standout. These include siloed policy frameworks, a need to connect to international policy work, non-discriminatory access to services, the use of personal information, copyright, content regulation and environmental impact. With a future-looking gaze, though, it may prove useful to further delineate issues into three themes that span different technologies:

• Access to underlying networks. Are they available to all, open access, non-discriminatory, affordable, environmentally sustainable and reliable?

• Service delivery. Are consumers informed? Is there appropriate safety and privacy? Are there fair and effective relationships between consumers and service providers?

• Content and services delivered over networks. Are they accessible and easily usable? Do they meet the diverse needs of users and support users as creators? Do they deal fairly and consistently with content regulation and content use? Three main areas of policy and advocacy priorities then surface for consideration:

• Developing more sustainable consumer protection and communications policy frameworks to balance consumer rights with innovation in services. This is a vast area which might include a focus on concepts of consumer empowerment, key consumer rights and responsibilities, reform of self-regulation, increased functionality in policy participation and relationships with industry, and connections to international policy work. A commitment to consumer-centred research is also central here.

• Developing consumer skills and literacies. The main goal here is to help consumers better use, understand and create media and communications. There appears to be a great deal of work to be done in defining these skills and in honing the approaches and roles required to foster them. Information disclosure arrangements, especially around contracts, connect to this area.

• Access to next-generation networks (NGNs). Specifically, this refers to the National Broadband Network (NBN), digital TV and radio, and services using vacated analogue spectrum. Policy processes are already in train here that have the potential to impact consumers for a significant period of time.

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