ACCC to NBN: Improve service or pay the cost

Sort the service problems or pay the price. That the message from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, as it proposes new terms – including increased rebates for missed appointments, late connections and unresolved faults – in an effort to improve NBN Co’s wholesale service levels.

The consumer watchdog has released a draft decision for new regulated wholesale terms for the service standards NBN provides to RSPs. Among the proposals is that one-off rebate payments switch to a daily penalty, at an increased rate, and rebate rates for missed appointments increased from $25 to $75. Also flagged is a $20 monthly rebate introduced for underperforming fixed wireless services.

The proposals are part of the NBN wholesale service standards inquiry, which kicked off back in 2017 as complaints about the service soared. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s Annual Report for 2018-2019 noted 11,635 complaints about changing providers or establishing connections to the NBN, with the number of complaints rising from 6.7 per 1000 in the first half of the year to 8.6 in the second half.

Once connected, the complaints continued, with 23,362 complaints recorded about service quality.

In August the ACCC also flagged underperforming broadband as an issue, noting in its Measuring Broadband Australia report that 12.4 percent of consumers were continuing to experience underperforming services that rarely come close to reaching maximum plan speeds.

This week’s draft decision report says daily rebates for delayed connections should involve ‘a meaningful financial consequence for each delayed connection, providing a clear incentive for NBN Co to promptly resolve connection delays and minimise harm to end-users’.

With that in mind, the ACCC has suggested a connection rebate of $13.50 per business day for each missed connection service level, up to 20 business days.

Slow fixing of faults would see NBN charged $20 a day for the first five business days, then $30 a business day, up to a cap of 40 business days.

Rod Sims, ACCC chair, says it’s unusual for a monopoly telco network operator of NBN’s scale not to face regulated services standards.

Sims says the draft arrangements are designed to provide NBN Co with ‘more incentives’ to lift service standards to retail service providers, something Sims says should, in turn, improve service to consumers by reducing instances of missed appointments, delayed connections and unresolved faults.

“We have heard long-standing concerns from consumers about how frustrating, inconvenient and costly these issues can be,” Sims says, adding that there needs to be more action from NBN Co and RSPs.

NBN and RSPs are currently negotiating a new wholesale broadband agreement, setting out access to NBN’s wholesale service, and Sims says the ACCC’s proposal is expected to complement industry negotiations.

“These proposed regulated terms will establish baseline service standards, while allowing parties freedom to bargain on specific terms,” he says.

“We expect NBN Co and other service providers to identify more improvements that will benefit consumers.”

Feedback on the draft decision is open until 01 November.

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