Despite pleading by big telcos, the ACCC has refused to warn hundreds of thousands of Australians that triple 0 calls may not go through when 3G is turned off.

Telstra, Optus, and TPG met with the competition watchdog recently to ask it to use its recall powers to help warn the public that they could face emergency service call problems.

Approximately 740,000 handsets are thought to be affected, including older 4G phones, and grey market imports.

TPG started shutting down its 3G network last December, Telstra is expected to start in June, and Optus in September.

The ACCC rejected the pleas of telcos as the shutdown technically sits outside its recall powers.

This power is used to advise when a product is dangerous, and could delay the switch from 3G to 4G.

An ACCC spokeswoman said, “The affected mobile handsets do not have a characteristic that is likely to cause injury.”

Telcos have argued affected devices could worsen injuries or health conditions if individuals couldn’t use their phone to call emergency services.

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The ACCC is remaining firm, and is being very literal in regards to its recall powers.

“The affected mobile handsets may not be able to be used for emergency calls in the event of an injury, but they are not the cause of the injury,” the spokeswoman continued.

“Suppliers can choose to undertake a voluntary product recall under the Australian Consumer Law recalls provisions if they consider a recall of a product they are supplying is necessary.”

Considering some consumers own grey market devices, coming from overseas and not sold by carriers, issuing a supplier voluntary recall proves problematic.

More Australians have chosen to purchase mobile phones from retailers rather than mobile carriers, which makes it hard for telcos to warn all affected customers.

The telcos had hoped the ACCC would assist in the process by hosting the types of phones the switch could affect.

“The ACCC has provided advice to the MNOs about effectively communicating with impacted consumers.”

Telstra started notifying consumers via text message last week, warning them their device could be affected. Consumers can reply ‘3’ back and Telstra will determine if the phone needs upgrading.

“Once the network shuts down, these services will no longer be usable, unless you upgrade to a compatible device,” Telstra said.

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“Since we announced the closure of our 3G network almost five years ago, we have seen a significant decline in 3G usage across our national network. In fact, 3G accounts for just 1 per cent of our total network traffic, however we want to make sure everyone is prepared and has an easy way to check the compatibility of their device.”

Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland also fears Australians won’t be able to call 000 following the switch completion, which is an issue she became aware of in March. She has flagged the government could delay the move.

“The government is concerned customers in possession of particular 4G handsets may mistakenly believe their mobile device is unaffected post-switchover, as the handset could continue to operate normally for voice and data, except when trying to call triple-0.”

“If warranted in the public interest, options exist under law for the government to consider regulatory intervention – including proposals for delays to planned switch overs, subject to required consultation and procedural processes.”

Opposition communications spokesman, David Coleman argued it was only in the last few weeks that Australians started to be informed their phones could be rendered useless.

“It’s very hard to believe that the Minister did not know about the coming problems regarding triple-0 calls after the 3G networks are shut off until March of this year.”

“The minister was warned in June last year, but her office did not respond, and instead fobbed off the inquiry to her department. The department then responded in September, revealing that they were receiving quarterly updates from Telstra on the 3G shutdown.”

“Had the minister taken action last year, we could have avoided this last-minute, desperate scramble to fix these issues. Instead, the public is now paying the price as the government tries to play catch-up.”

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