ACCC chair warns NBN retailers of 'further interventions'

Consumer broadband issues will be a major ACCC focus this year, with the Chair Rod Sims saying the watchdog will continue focusing on NBN speed advertising.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Broadband consumer issues have been labelled a major focus for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in 2018, Chair Rod Sims has announced.

Sims used his speech on Tuesday to warn National Broadband Network (NBN) retailers that the ACCC will continue stepping in when they do not provide the speeds consumers are paying for.

Such enforcement action has already seen the ACCC make Telstra, Optus, and TPG refund tens of thousands of NBN customers.

"Consumer issues in the provision of broadband services, including addressing misleading speed claims and statements made during the transition to the NBN, have become one of the ACCC's most prominent issues in the past two years and highlights the importance of both our consumer and competition focus," Sims said on Tuesday.

"The first report of the ACCC's Measuring Broadband Australia program will be released shortly, and our commitment to truth in advertising related to broadband speeds is making it easier for Australians to choose a service provider.

"You have seen a number of ACCC enforcement actions in 2017, and can expect further interventions this year."

Sims earlier this month said the first speed-monitoring report on fixed-line NBN services is due to be published next month, despite the boxes having only just been provided to the homes taking part.

"We'll be putting out a monitoring report by the end of March where everybody can see which providers are providing what speeds, and so that will firstly allow consumers to see what's going on," Sims said on ABC Radio National Breakfast.

"We have just got all the boxes for the first run of people."

According to Sims, the speed monitoring program is part of a three-pronged approach the regulator is taking to improve NBN customer experience, which also includes hitting telcos with consequences for not providing the speeds customers are paying for, and providing guidance on speed advertising.

The AU$6.5 million speed-monitoring program will take place across 4,000 premises over the next four years, with SamKnows appointed in December to monitor speeds. The government is also providing AU$7 million in funding over four years from July 1, 2017.

The looming speed-monitoring program has also put sufficient pressure on retail service providers (RSPs) to prepare for public reports, Sims added, which he said partially caused the increase in connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) capacity purchasing.

The announcement followed the ACCC publishing its draft Communications Sector Market Study, which said "immediate measures" are needed to address NBN consumer complaints.

The commission's report had pointed to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) research on NBN migration issues, and said it would be proposing to examine NBN's service standards, particularly in regards to "incentives in place along the supply chain".

Also needing investigation is the "allocation of responsibility" for faults between NBN and RSPs, the regulator said, along with whether there are incentives for repairing faults and compensation for consumers.

The ACCC in December also published its discussion paper investigating NBN's wholesale service standards, seeking feedback from industry on whether it should make a final access determination (FAD) regulating non-price terms and conditions.

This would include NBN's wholesale contracts on connecting customers, fixing faults, and organising appointments, as well as rebates and compensation for when NBN misses its wholesale service targets.

"NBN is now in its peak rollout phase, and the ACCC is concerned that complaints about connecting to services, including missed appointments and having faults repaired, will continue to grow unless improvements are made now," Sims said in December.

"This inquiry will consider whether there are appropriate incentives for NBN Co to remedy service failures. We will also look at the compensation made available by NBN Co to ISPs, which are responsible for providing redress directly to consumers when things go wrong.

"The ACCC has heard industry concerns from ISPs that the service standards aren't adequate to ensure customers have a good experience connecting to and having faults repaired for NBN services."

In addition to broadband, Sims said the regulator will also focus on consumer issues in energy; competition in financial services and commercial construction; consumer guarantee issues; and misuse of market power and concerted practices during 2018.

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