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«FOREWORD This report was prepared by Dr Patrick Xavier, Faculty of Business, Swinburne University of Technology, as a joint project of the Working ...»

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DSTI/CP(2007)6/FINAL

FOREWORD

This report was prepared by Dr Patrick Xavier, Faculty of Business, Swinburne University of

Technology, as a joint project of the Working Party on Communications Infrastructure and Services

Policy, part of the Committee for Information, Computer and Communications Policy (ICCP), and the

Committee on Consumer Policy (CCP). It draws on the proceedings of, and papers presented to, two OECD Roundtables convened by the CCP in October 2005 and October 2006. The proceedings of the October 2005 Roundtable are available on the OECD website at www.oecd.org/dataoecd/31/46/36581073.pdf. The proceedings of the October 2006 Roundtable are available at www.oecd.org/dataoecd/5/38/39015963.pdf.

© OECD / OCDE 2008 DSTI/CP(2007)6/FINAL

TABLE OF CONTENTS

FOREWORD 2 MAIN POINTS 4

ENHANCING COMPETITION IN TELECOMMUNICATIONS: PROTECTING AND EMPOWERING

CONSUMERS 6

1. INTRODUCTION 6 Background 6 Telecommunication policy and regulation in the interest of the consumer 7 Demand side analysis 8

2. INFORMATION IMPERFECTIONS AND CONSUMER EMPOWERMENT 10

Consumer detriment resulting from imperfect information 10 Awareness 11 Access to comparable information on prices and quality 11 Comparing quality of service 16 Difficulty in making comparisons due to technical complexity 21

3. SWITCHING 22 Barriers to switching 22 Influences on switching in telecommunications markets 23 Switching costs 24 Efforts to address barriers to switching for consumers 26 Broadband Internet switching issues 28 Bundling 29

–  –  –

The regulation of the telecommunications sector has focused mainly on the supply side of the market including, for example, market entry and licensing, access to and use of networks, interconnection, control over retail and/or wholesale pricing. Even the regulation of universal service has to a large extent emphasised the supply side through such requirements as the need to build-out networks and make access available at a reasonable price, setting geographically average prices for subscriber lines and determining technical requirements to facilitate consumer use (e.g. sound quality, access for the hearing impaired).

This emphasis on the supply side has been appropriate since the task was to install effectively competing alternative suppliers in former monopoly telecommunication markets. As competition has developed and the number of new entrants in fixed and mobile telecommunication markets has grown, there has been increased attention by some telecommunications regulators on the consumer demand side.

For instance, a ‗demand-side‘ measure introduced in many OECD countries is the requirement for ‗number portability‘ aimed at facilitating consumer ‗switching‘ in the fixed line and mobile markets.

Such attention to the consumer demand-side is timely because informed consumers who are prepared to exert an ability to choose between competing suppliers are necessary to stimulate firms to innovate, improve quality and compete in terms of price. In making well-informed choices between suppliers, consumers not only benefit from competition, but they initiate and sustain it. Conversely, where consumers have too little information, poor quality information, or mis-information, they may end up misled and confused by the choices on offer, may pay too much or buy the wrong service. This may, in turn, inhibit and dampen the competitive process. For consumers to engage effectively in the market and use their ability to vote with their wallet, they need to be able to move quickly and with the minimum constraint between service providers.

Government policy and regulation, in addition to facilitating well-functioning markets, which includes ensuring that consumers have the ability and confidence to engage in those markets, has also been concerned with minimising detriment to the consumer interest resulting from a lack of consumer information, or misleading information, or mis-selling, or the ―bounded rationality‖ of consumer decisionmaking. Demand-side analysis is indicating improved insights into actual consumer behaviour that may exhibit systematic departures from the ―rational‖ behaviour assumed by conventional (neoclassical) economics. That is, even when presented with full information, consumers may not always be in a position to understand and/or use that information to their advantage. This raises questions about whether, and if so, what different policy or regulatory intervention may be necessary to help consumers adopt decisions in their best interests.

This report sets out to examine the available evidence of actual consumer behaviour and analyse

implications for policy and regulation. It addresses questions of:

 Whether consumers are satisfied with their present telecommunications provider.

 Whether dissatisfied consumers decide to switch.

 How dissatisfied consumers could be equipped with the information and confidence to ensure that a decision to switch or not to switch is in their best interests; and

–  –  –

 How the approach to this task could take account of the findings of demand-side analysis that consumers may be influenced not only by ‗information asymmetry‖ but also by ―systematic bias‖ in their decision-making?





The key opportunities for furthering participation in the telecommunications market revolve around efforts to: educate consumers about the alternative services and suppliers that are available; highlight the tangible benefits of any new service; make the switching process easier; and allay fears regarding the potential risks associated with switching. There may also be a role for education to make consumers aware of their biases (e.g. in heavily discounting costs). For instance, to counter ―hyperbolic discounting‖, consumers might be counselled to consider carefully whether a flat rate contract or a ―free‖ mobile phone handset with a two-year contract really does suit their usage level and pattern.

Policy makers and regulators should be mindful that the widely expressed purpose of pro-competition policy is to enhance consumer welfare. Some regulators have made an important and commendable start on work to provide evidence upon which measures to enhance consumer protection and empowerment can be based. As other regulators also begin to focus more attention on demand side analysis, the evidence will improve and deepen. This will help support further developments in competition that will serve the consumer interest.

This report arrives at a number of recommendations, including the following:

 Service providers in the communication sector should be strongly encouraged through selfregulation to develop a consumer bill of rights, to provide adequate and accurate information to consumers so that consumers may exercise effective choices and assert their rights and to put in place transparent and low cost procedures to facilitate consumers in changing service providers.

 Policy makers and regulators should develop a better and fuller understanding of the needs and motivations underlying consumer behaviour in telecommunications markets, especially those of vulnerable consumers (such as those in rural areas, the elderly, minors, disabled, those on low incomes, the unemployed).

 Policy makers and regulators, in conjunction with industry, could assist consumer participation in telecommunications markets by educating consumers about their rights, by raising awareness about new services and options offered by the market, and by making the process of switching in the fixed line, mobile and Internet markets easier, cheaper and faster.

 Regulators should consider requiring that all major operators provide complete, comparable, appropriate and accurate information to consumers through different channels (e.g. through leaflet, radio, consumer hotline and web-based programmes) to enable consumers, especially vulnerable consumers, to quickly identify the most suitable and best value telecommunications plan.

 Regulators could use more effective means of targeting information to vulnerable groups to provide them with practical guidance about how they can get the best deal.

 Regulators could encourage third parties, including consumer organisations, to provide price/service-comparison facilities and other relevant information through consumer hotlines, websites, etc.

 Regulators could work with the fixed line (including Internet service providers) and the mobile network operators to develop and publicise a set of comparable indicators relating to quality of service.

 Regulators should ensure that the shortest possible time is taken to complete number portability for consumers switching between fixed line and between mobile service providers.

 Regulators should require that all Internet service providers ensure a simple, free (or at least lowcost) and quick transfer for consumers who choose to switch provider.

 Regulators should require ―truth-in-billing‖, and prohibit harmful business conduct and practices (e.g. by prohibiting mis-selling, misleading advertising).

This report sets out to examine available evidence of actual consumer behaviour in the telecommunications market and analyse the implications of such behaviour for policy and regulation in the consumer interest. It seeks to identify specific measures for consumer protection and empowerment in telecommunication markets. The report has a particular focus on ex ante regulation of the telecommunications sector, but also considers other measures for enhancing consumer empowerment and consumer protection, that do not necessarily involve regulation. The report also discusses influences on switching decisions and examines the evidence that is available about actual consumer decision-making behaviour in telecommunications markets. The report concludes with an examination of the implications of the analysis for consumer policy and regulation.

Background

Regulation in the telecommunications sector has focused mainly on the supply side of the market including, for example, market entry and licensing, access to and use of networks, interconnection, control over retail and/or wholesale pricing. Even the regulation of universal service has to a large extent emphasised the supply side through such requirements as the need to build-out networks and make access available at a reasonable price, setting geographically averaged prices for subscriber lines and determining technical requirements to facilitate consumer use (e.g. sound quality of service, access for the hearing impaired).

This emphasis on the supply side was appropriate because the task was to install effectively competing alternative suppliers in monopoly telecommunication markets. As competition has developed in telecommunication markets and users have a wider choice of service providers, there has been increased attention by some regulators on the demand side. For instance, a ‗demand-side‘ measure introduced in many OECD countries is the requirement for ‗number portability‘ aimed at facilitating consumer ‗switching‘ in the fixed line and mobile markets.

Such attention to the consumer demand side is timely because informed consumers prepared to choose between competing suppliers are necessary to stimulate firms to innovate, improve quality and compete in terms of prices. Indeed, in making well-informed choices between suppliers, consumers not only benefit from competition, but they exert the sustained pressure for providers to compete for their custom. Conversely, where consumers have too little information, poor quality information, or misinformation, they may end up misled and confused by the choices on offer, may pay too much or may buy the service which does not meet their needs. This may, in turn, inhibit and dampen the competitive process.

Moreover, if suppliers can exploit consumers this could at some point lead to ‗reputational damage‘ and disillusionment with the competitive process as a whole. Hence consumer empowerment and protection is critically important from an economic as well as social rationale.

–  –  –



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