Stephen Conroy, Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, has announced an extension of retail price controls on incumbent Telstra’s fixed line voice calls. With the price controls now extended until June 2014, the minister stated: ‘This is good news for Australian consumers – untimed local calls will still cost AUD0.22 (USD0.23), and calls from a payphone will still be capped at AUD0.50 for a local call. Calls to directory assistance will also remain free of charge for Telstra fixed line customers.’ It was noted, however, that while the retail price controls will be extended for two years on Telstra’s existing networks, the National Broadband Network (NBN) will remain largely free from retail price regulation, in part because it ‘provides a stronger platform for retail competition and a level playing field for fixed-line suppliers’. The extension follows recommendations made in a review of regulatory pricing arrangements by the Department of Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), which considered submissions from, among others, industry, consumer groups and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
In separate but related news the ACCC has revealed that, having completed a public inquiry into varying the fixed line services final access determinations (FADs), it has decided to temporarily vary the determinations and remove the obligation to supply certain regulated fixed voice services over the NBN. With the FAD variation effective from 29 June 2012, the regulator has noted it will apply until 31 March 2013, or the date on which Telstra can supply a wholesale NBN voice service, whichever comes first. The ruling comes after Telstra requested that the ACCC vary the FADs based on its temporary technical inability to provide access to a wholesale voice service over the NBN until the end of September 2012; the request for regulatory relief until March 2013 was reportedly made with a view to accommodating for any unforeseen delays in launching such services. Commenting on its decision, the ACCC said it believed there would be ‘limited impact in terms of both the affected number of end-users and its timeframe’, adding: ‘The ACCC accepts that technical and regulatory barriers temporarily prevent Telstra from supplying wholesale voice services over the NBN … However, this variation is only intended to apply for the period that Telstra is incapable of supplying a wholesale NBN voice service.’ Meanwhile, it was confirmed that the variation does not affect Telstra’s obligation to provide regulated access to certain regulated fixed voice services over available copper lines, including those in NBN estates.