ACCC launches inquiry into NBN services

"We are very concerned about the high number of complaints from consumers around poor customer experiences, particularly in relation to customers connecting to NBN services and having faults repaired", ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.

The new WBA includes a new two-hour service level for hand-offs from NBN to RSPs, a commitment to notifying RSPs within one hour of an connection appointment being rescheduled, and a new service fault rebate for RSPs if NBN doesn't meet fault restoration performance objectives.

The ACCC has launched an official public inquiry, focused on determing whether NBN wholesale service standards are "appropriate", ultimately deeciding if regulation is needed to improve the "customer experience".

NBN is now finalising a new Wholesale Broadband Agreement (WBA) with RSPs that will include service performance commitments for activations and fault restoration, the spokesperson said.

ACCC chairperson Rod Sims said numerous problems faced by end users relate to issues set out in the wholesale service standards detailed in agreements between NBN and RSPs. We are also concerned that some service levels at the retail level are not enforceable.

The ACCC has flagged the potential of regulating wholesale service levels to combat the user experience problems that have been steadily increasing. "We are pleased to see the broad focus of the inquiry on the entirety of the supply chain, including wholesale and retail service levels". NBN services are declared services.

Complaints about the NBN lodged with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman more than doubled in the past year.

He said what happens at the wholesale level often flows through to the retail level and affects the customer experience.

Speed advertising compliance should be enforced through Australian Consumer Law as of 2018, it added.

The ACCC added that the "Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) reported an nearly 160% increase in complaints from consumers about their NBN service in the past 12 months, the majority in relation to delays in connections, missed appointments and fault rectification".

Given the NBN has been a "calamitous train wreck", as described by Australia's Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who was famously ordered by his predecessor, former PM Tony Abbott, to "demolish the NBN", it seems Turnbull's mission has been accomplished, and it falls to the ACCC to finally clean up the mess.

However, its draft report on Monday said it would "consider exercising our regulatory powers where this would support these market outcomes being realised sooner". RSPs in turn sell services to end users on the National Broadband Network.

Also needing examination is the NBN wholesale aggregation market, the ACCC said, with smaller providers now unable to connect to all 121 points of interconnect (POIs) themselves. The ACCC suggested that NBN offer transitional products and pricing measures while the rollout is taking place in order to assist smaller retailers to enter the market, and said it will examine the supply of transmission services to POIs as part of the Domestic Transmission Capacity Service (DTCS) declaration and Final Access Determination.

A discussion paper will be released in December allowing those interested to provide feedback, and submissions are due in the first quarter of 2018.

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