Australian government looks to limit Telstra's NBN advantage

As a result of Telstra having to work closer with NBN Co under the 'multi-technology mix' model of the NBN, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is mulling imposing a rule on NBN Co to ensure data is shared equally amongst Telstra and its retail competitors.

As a consequence of the new NBN Co deal to access Telstra's copper and cable networks, the Australian government has been forced to consider a new carrier licence condition to be placed on the government-owned network company to ensure that Telstra doesn't get an unfair advantage over its retail competitors.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been tasked by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to seek feedback on a proposed carrier licence condition to be placed on NBN Co that would force the company to make information available to all retailers at the same time as that information is given to Telstra.

There are already restrictions under Telstra's migration plan that prevent it from using fibre-to-the-premises rollout information for an unfair commercial advantage.

Under the revised agreement between NBN Co and Telstra that will see Telstra hand over its copper and hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks to NBN Co area by area as the network rolls out, Telstra will be working closely with NBN Co in the planning, design, and construction phases of the network.

This means that potentially, Telstra, even just its wholesale arm, will have access to information that companies like iiNet, Optus, and TPG do not have access to.

"The information Telstra receives could include advance details of the timing for the rollout or the particular technology mix to be used at a given location. Telstra could use this information to inform its own retail activities in that area, such as by deciding which technologies to target for marketing," the ACCC said in its discussion paper (PDF).

"Other retail service providers would not have the same opportunity to compete for customers."

Under the condition, NBN Co would be required to make this information available to those companies.

The information would be disclosed in reports, including information on forecast ready-for-service (RFS) dates for particular areas, and tracking of NBN Co meeting the RFS targets.

The ACCC is also seeking feedback on how far ahead retailers would like to know the technology that will be used to connect to the NBN in a particular area, as well as the line quality in a particular location.

The watchdog has also asked retailers whether knowing if an existing customer of theirs has lodged an NBN migration order would be beneficial to them. Under the current scheme, a retailer doesn't learn that their customer has churned to another retailer on the NBN until after the activation of the NBN service.

Despite the condition, Telstra still stands to gain the most out of the revised agreement. Although the basic amount that Telstra will be paid for the deal is the same as under Labor, Telstra stands to win not only large construction contracts, but also contracts to maintain the legacy copper network it once owned.

Telstra has already secured a design and planning contract with NBN Co worth up to AU$390 million.

The ACCC is accepting responses from telcos until Friday, April 24, 2015.

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