The NBN Co will have to lift its game or face bigger financial penalties for shoddy work, delays, and connection issues – if the consumer watchdog gets its way.
On Tuesday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) proposed new regulations aimed at improving NBN Co’s service standards.
The proposed changes would see the NBN Co pay bigger rebates for missed appointments, late connections and unresolved faults, as well as new penalties for network congestion and failing to deliver promised speeds.
“We have heard long-standing concerns from consumers about how frustrating, inconvenient and costly these issues can be,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.
“We need to see more action from NBN Co and [retail service providers], especially now that the NBN rollout is entering its final stages.”
Public confidence in the network is low, with only 5.9 million homes and businesses using the service as of August, despite 10.2 million being ready to connect. The network is slated for completion in 2020.
In August, the consumer watchdog’s Measuring Broadband Australia report showed that 12.4 per cent of NBN consumers were experiencing speeds that rarely came close to reaching those they were paying for.
As a wholesaler, the NBN Co pays rebates for poor service to retail service providers (RSPs) – not the affected individuals.
But RSPs would be expected to pass on compensation to customers should the changes come in, the ACCC said.
We expect retailers to ensure that their customers benefit from the payment of wholesale rebates,” Mr Sims said.
The proposed changes would “give NBN Co more incentives to lift its service standards to retail service providers which should, in turn, improve service to NBN consumers by reducing instances of missed appointments, delayed connections and unresolved faults”.
Mr Sims pointed out it is “unusual for a monopoly telecommunications network operator of NBN Co’s scale” to not already be subject to “regulated service standards”.
An NBN Co spokesperson told The New Daily that the firm is “committed to working with the industry to improve customer experience and will always work constructively with the ACCC to help achieve this”.
“However, we are concerned the draft determination announced today by the ACCC will not drive the right improvements in customer experience and could lead to unintended consequences,” the spokesperson said.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) told The New Daily that implementing “benchmarks for service with penalties for failures” are necessary in order to “motivate NBN Co to provide reliable services”.
“Being disconnected from their phone or internet service is also costly for people in our increasingly connected world,” ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin said.
ACCAN “will be watching closely to ensure that consumers are receiving the rebates they’re meant to from their telcos” should the changes go ahead, Ms Corbin said.
The $51 billion taxpayer-funded national broadband network has faced ongoing criticism from consumers and experts.
In May, University of Sydney research showed that one in two households in Australia’s three biggest cities – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – is being dudded with an inferior NBN connection.
Internet the biggest source of consumer complaints, but not an ‘essential service’
Last week, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s (TIO) revealed that internet has outstripped mobile to become the most complained about telecommunications service in Australia.
A total of 132,387 complaints were made in 2018-19, TIO’s annual report revealed showed.
Poor internet was shown to be the biggest source of frustration for consumers, accounting for 32.6 per cent of total complaints or 43,164 individual complaints.
However, despite being the dominant modes of communication in 2019, neither the internet nor mobile are classified as “essential services”, which means consumers lack vital protections.
Consumer advocates have “repeatedly called for reliability consumer protections to be extended to include fixed-line broadband services from all telcos,” Ms Corbin said.
“Access to the internet is now essential and needs to be regulated as such.”