The Australian consumer watchdog has launched an inquiry into the NBN wholesale service standards after complaints against the service skyrocketed in the last year.
The ACCC announced the public inquiry late last week, and will be looking at whether the current NBN wholesale service standard levels are appropriate and if regulation is needed to improve the experience for customers.
It comes after the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s report for 2016-17 revealed record numbers of complaints surrounding the National Broadband Network. Complaints about the NBN increased by more than 150 percent in the last year, hitting more than 27,000. The majority of these were in relation to faults in services delivered by the NBN, followed by connection delays.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said it was these complaints that prompted the watchdog to launch the inquiry.
“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,” Sims said.
“Many of these complaints relate to matters set out in wholesale service level standards.”
These wholesale service standard levels are currently determined by commercial agreements between NBN Co and the retail service providers, and include performance objectives, operational targets, compensation framework for wholesalers and the action that the RSPs can take if these are not met.
The inquiry will be aiming to determine whether these agreements are adequate to ensure customers get the best possible experience with the NBN, or if regulation is needed.
“One of the main focuses of our inquiry will be whether there are appropriate incentives for NBN Co to remedy service failures, along with the adequacy of compensation available to wholesale customers, to ensure consumers in turn are provided appropriate redress when things go wrong,” Sims said.
Sims said the whole service levels will be examined in the context of the supply chain, and whether there are enough rules in place to make them enforceable.
“If we identify other changes to aspects of the supply chain that will improve customer experiences on the NBN, we will certainly highlight them,” he said.
“We will consider what wholesale service standard levels are required to improve customer experiences. We also believe increased transparency around service outcomes and clear consequences and redress options where standards are not met, by those best placed to manage the risk, will be important.”
The ACCC will be working closely with the Australian Communications and Media Authority on the inquiry. It will be releasing a consultation paper in December and accept submissions in the first quarter of next year. The ACCC will report back on the inquiry by the end of next year.
The Federal Opposition welcomed the ACCC’s inquiry, saying that it is currently unclear who NBN Co is accountable to when standards aren’t met and complaints rise.
“The move to examine wholesale service levels exposes the government’s desperate attempts to create distractions and blame retailers for every issue,” Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland and Shadow Minister for Regional Communications Stephen Jones said in a joint statement.
“Over five years the Turnbull government has approached consumer protection as a spectator sport. This lack of commitment has unnecessarily delayed outcomes for consumers. The ACCC has clearly lost patience and is stepping in to fill the void.”
In the statement, the shadow ministers said that if the inquiry doesn’t get results, Labor would take action if it wins the next federal election.
“Should the ACCC process fail to achieve adequate outcomes, a future Labor government, if elected, will act. Consumers can count on Labor to stop the NBN ping-pong and put their needs front and centre,” the shadow ministers said in the statement.
“Labor is firmly of the view that unless responsibility and accountability are structurally aligned, consumers will continue to suffer. The company tasked with deploying a flawed multi-technology mix has become a law unto itself and this is not sustainable.”
An NBN Co spokesperson said the company would work “constructively” with the ACCC to assist its inquiry.