ACCC targets NBN in new inquiry

Published On 06/11/2017 | By Andrew Arulanandam | Consumer protection

Following rising complaints about NBN, the ACCC has commenced a public inquiry to investigate the quality of NBN wholesale service standard levels and consider whether regulation is needed to protect consumers.

The ACCC’s inquiry, which was launched on 2 November, is expected to finish in December 2018. In the interim, the ACCC will release a discussion paper in December 2017 to gather feedback from interested stakeholders, with responses to the discussion paper due in the first quarter of 2018.

In the media release announcing the inquiry, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims identified several areas of focus including:

  • whether there are appropriate incentives for NBN Co to remedy service failures;
  • the adequacy of compensation available to wholesale customers;
  • transparency around service outcomes;
  • clear consequences and redress options where standards are not met;
  • NBN wholesale service levels in the context of the supply chain; and
  • what wholesale service standard levels are required to improve the customer experience.

The Inquiry comes against the backdrop of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) reporting that complaints from consumers about their NBN service has increased by approximately 160% over the last year, with complaints centred on delays in connections, missed appointments and fault rectification.

The ACCC’s powers and regulation

Under Part XIC of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) (the Act), the ACCC has the power to set regulated terms and conditions of access to NBN services, to promote the long-term interests of end users. Such regulatory intervention can come in the form of binding rules of conduct, interim access determinations or final access determinations. The ACCC has expressly flagged these forms of regulation as a possible response to issues at the NBN wholesale level. In August 2016, the ACCC published a set of guidelines on Part XIC of the Act.

Collaboration with ACMA

The ACCC will be liaising with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) during the inquiry. ACMA has also been considering NBN-related supply chain issues to determine how they affect outcomes at the retail level, and has gained very useful data from notices issued to 21 industry participants on issues such as fault handling, connection timeframes, appointment keeping, and telephone number porting.

Regulatory spotlight continues to intensify on NBN

NBN has been under significant scrutiny from regulators this year. We reported on Mr Sims’ 24 August speech at a Committee for Economic Development (CEDA) in Perth, where he reflected on the ACCC’s strategy to deliver improved advertising practices, better informed consumers and improved consumer experiences in relation to services supplied using the NBN. On 21 August 2017, the ACCC published guidelines on how Retail Service Providers should advertise speeds for fixed-line broadband services, requiring the clear identification of typical peak speeds.

About The Author

is a Solicitor in the Dispute Resolution group of King & Wood Mallesons.

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