A public inquiry has been launched by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with a view to determining whether wholesale service standard levels are appropriate for the National Broadband Network (NBN), and to consider whether regulation is necessary to improve customer experiences.
Announcing the start of the inquiry, the regulator said this will focus on the ability to enforce appropriate service standard levels at a wholesale level, including redress arrangements when consumers seek compensation at a retail level when those wholesale standards are not met. ACCC chairman Rod Sims noted that the watchdog was ‘very concerned’ over the high number of complaints from consumers regarding their experiences with the NBN, particularly in relation to problems connecting to the infrastructure and having faults repaired. Mr Sims said: ‘Many of these complaints relate to matters set out in wholesale service level standards. We will examine whether the service levels that are currently in place are appropriate and effective … This is important as what happens at the wholesale level often flows through to the retail level and affects customer experiences.’
Wholesale service standard levels are currently set out in commercial agreements that have been negotiated by nbn, the company overseeing the NBN rollout, and its wholesale customers, the nation’s retail service providers. These include performance objectives and operational targets that apply to nbn’s products and services, requirements to take corrective action if service standard levels are not met, and the framework within which wholesale customers can claim compensation for retail customers or receive commercial rebates where nbn fails to meet a specific service level.
Highlighting the growing issues, a press release announcing the inquiry also noted that the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) had reported an almost 160% increase in complaints from consumers about their NBN service in the past twelve months. The majority of these were said to relate to delays in connections, missed appointments and fault rectification. As the scale and pace of the NBN rollout increases, the ACCC has said it is ‘concerned these issues are likely to affect a significant proportion of consumers unless improvements are made now’.