Fines for NBN installation delays proposed by ACMA

The ACMA found that NBN connections could take up to 71 days, while resolving connection-related complaints can take up to 169 days and fault-related complaints up to 99 days.

(Image: ACMA)

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has published new consumer protections to be implemented during the migration to National Broadband Network (NBN) services after finding that connection issues may not be resolved for over 100 days on some technologies.

The ACMA gathered information about all technologies -- fibre to the premises (FttP), fibre to the node (FttN), fibre to the basement (FttB), hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC), fixed-wireless, and satellite -- from 16 retail service providers (RSPs), four wholesale providers, and NBN.

During the period of April 1 to June 30, 2017, the ACMA sought information from those providers on customer numbers, supply chain, connections, appointments, faults, complaints, ability to retain landline numbers, and compensation.

The Migrating to the National Broadband Network - the consumer experience: Key findings from analysis of industry information [PDF] report found that the mean time taken to connect to the NBN was between seven and 67 days for FttP; nine to 41 days for FttB; 10 to 64 days for FttN; 15 to 71 days for HFC; six to 55 days for fixed-wireless; and 15 to 30 days for satellite.

In terms of resolving connection-related complaints, the mean range of time taken was between two and 169 calendar days for FttP; two to 123 days for FttB; two to 97 days for FttN; three to 104 days for HFC; two to 36 days for fixed-wireless; and nine to 96 days for satellite.

"We have had strong concerns for some time about how telcos are helping consumers move to the new network. These concerns have been borne out by our recent analysis of industry's own data," said ACMA Chair Nerida O'Loughlin.

She added that the data shows many RSPs are not "stepping up to get the right information to consumers and resolve migration issues quickly and effectively".

For fault-related complaints, the mean range of time taken to resolve those was two to 38 calendar days for FttP; two to 32 for FttB; two to 67 for FttN; two to 66 for HFC; two to 19 for fixed-wireless; and seven to 99 for satellite.

According to the ACMA's research, 55.7 percent of all complaints were about service quality including faults and speed; 44.3 percent were about connection issues; and the average time to resolve fault complaints was 19 days. Of all faults, 71.2 percent were associated with the FttN and FttP networks.

It took up to 45 days for customers to have their old voice and data services migrated to the NBN, the ACMA added.

"The selected RSPs paid or otherwise made available to their network customers a total of AU$6.64 million in compensation," the ACMA said.

The ACMA research called the supply chain between NBN and the customer "non-linear", adding that this can make it difficult for RSPs to provide information to their customers about appointments.

Half of the RSPs taking part in the research were not able to provide information on their customers' ability to retain their phone number when shifting across to the NBN.

(Image: ACMA)

"Industry co-regulatory arrangements are not serving consumers well in a number of important areas. As a result, the ACMA will make new mandatory rules to require telcos to improve their performance in these areas," O'Loughlin said.

A new Consumer Information Standard will require all RSPs to provide network-specific information in a standardised format including speeds to be delivered, the technology being used, technical limitations, exit provisions, and what information will be provided in the event of an outage.

The NBN Connection Assurance Standard will require RSPs to "undertake measures to maintain service continuity when consumers are migrating to the new network".

"In cases where a service cannot be delivered on the network, all parties are to work effectively together to ensure that a consumer's legacy service is reconnected in a reasonable time," the ACMA said.

A new Service Provider Rule states that all RSPs must undertake post-connection line testing to find faults and ensure services are working as part of the installation process.

"The rule may also include an obligation for an RSP to perform a line test at the customer's request to gain accurate information about the speed their premises is receiving. This new rule would buttress the ACCC's existing activities in place through the Broadband Monitoring Program and industry guidance," the ACMA added.

Under a Complaints-Handling Standard, RSPs will be required to respond to and resolve complaints within certain timeframes under new and existing provisions in the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code.

The Record-Keeping Rule requires complaints data to be provided by RSPs to the ACMA on a quarterly basis, which will be published in a table.

The ACMA will undertake public consultation on the new rules and standards in early 2018, with the rules to become active as of July 1, 2018. The rules will be directly and immediately enforceable by the ACMA, with any RSPs breaching the standards set to face legal action.

"If a telco breaches an industry standard, the ACMA can commence court proceedings seeking remedies such as injunctions and civil penalties of up to AU$250,000. For breaching a service provider rule, the maximum civil penalty a court can impose is AU$10 million," the regulator explained.

"There are no pecuniary penalties for breaching an industry code."

The ACMA said it is also looking to research how modem quality issues could be affecting NBN user experience, and will assess whether intervention on this is required.

In response to the new rules, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) called them "an early Christmas present for consumers".

"The ACMA's analysis of issues relating to NBN migration confirms what we already know, and highlights some very concerning complaint trends," said ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin.

"The experience of migrating to the NBN has shone a light on the inadequacies of the current regulatory framework to support the delivery of essential telecommunications services. Once in place, these new rules will ensure that the regulator has better tools to ensure practices of telco providers improve."

Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said the rules will have a positive impact on better coordinating the supply chain.

The ACMA was ordered by the federal government to research NBN migration issues in August, with NBN at the time also creating a dedicated churn team to work through issues as quickly as possible.

Citing concern over rising consumer complaints, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has also been looking into NBN customer experience issues, setting NBN speed-advertising guidelines earlier this year and actively monitoring speeds.

The ACCC has since forced Telstra, Optus, and TPG to refund tens of thousands of customers for not giving them the speeds they were paying for, and has also instituted proceedings against Optus in the Australian Federal Court last week, alleging that the telco misled customers about having to move migrate to the NBN.

Earlier this week, it also kicked off its public inquiry into NBN's wholesale service standard levels to determine whether regulation, including resolutions for consumers when wholesale standards are not reached, is necessary in order to improve customer experience.

NBN last month decided to cease sales on its HFC network for between six and nine months while it remedied customer experience issues following Aussie Broadband telling ZDNet back in July that it was escalating 30 percent of its HFC connections to NBN due to such issues.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield described the HFC repairs as involving the taps connecting the cable in the street with the cable inside the home and an issue involving spectrum frequency causing network dropouts for some customers.

With 3.1 million premises in the HFC footprint, NBN CEO Bill Morrow told ZDNet that 370,000 are already connected and an additional 50,000 are queued to be connected. All remaining premises slated to be connected by HFC will see delays of between six and nine months.

The delay will taper down over the next 18 months, he explained, and as a result "will not jeopardise the rollout being complete by 2020".

According to Telstra CEO Andy Penn, the HFC network is working well for existing Telstra and Foxtel services, and the issues cropped up during NBN's works.

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