The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has announced plans to ‘declare’ local bitstream access service, with the declaration intended to cover the last mile of fibre to premises on networks that are not owned by NBN Co. It has, however, confirmed that the declaration will not apply to mobile, wireless broadband or satellite broadband networks, nor those offered over the National Broadband Network (NBN). The bitstream access service will be used by retail service providers (RSPs) to supply broadband access to end-users, predominantly in new housing developments served by fibre-optic networks other than the NBN, and it will specifically apply to non-NBN ‘superfast’ internet services, i.e. those offering speeds of more than 25Mbps. The ACCC has also stipulated that the declaration will also only apply to those networks rolled out or upgraded after 1 January 2011.
As per the declaration, wholesale service providers will be required to provide, upon request, services to RSPs under the standard access obligations in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The regulator also notes that, unlike other declared telecommunications services, the local bitstream access service declaration does not expire, cannot be varied and cannot be revoked. The decision falls in line with new provisions of the Telecommunications Act 1997, which required the ACCC to declare the service, and it claimed that the provisions are ‘designed to ensure that such networks providing superfast telecommunications provide access to the network at that same low level of connectivity as the NBN and that such networks are operated on a wholesale only basis’. The Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy does, however, have the power to exempt a network from such obligations, and such power has already been exercised; fixed line incumbent Telstra has been granted such exemptions for its South Brisbane fibre network and for certain ‘Velocity’ estates.
The ACCC has released a discussion paper commencing a public inquiry on access terms for the service in which it seeks submissions on factors including: the appropriate pricing methodology or price for the service; the duration of the final access determination; and what non-price terms and conditions should be included in the final access determination. Interested parties have been given until 23 March 2012 to make their submissions, and the declaration itself is expected to come into force on 13 April 2012.
Commenting on the development, ACCC chairman Rod Sims noted: ‘This is the first step in setting the access terms for this service so that businesses can provide innovative services to consumers in these areas, similar to those provided over the NBN.’