ACCC launches inquiry into NBN rebates

The ACCC is seeking feedback on NBN's long-term rebate framework.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has published the next stage of its investigation into the National Broadband Network (NBN) company's wholesale service standards, including an examination of rebates for poor service.

The ACCC inquiry into NBN wholesale service standards: Second discussion paper [PDF], published on Friday, said it is seeking feedback on "the broader principles underpinning the long-term rebate framework".

"Information and treatment of service speed and performance issues, arrangements at the wholesale level for the support of retail consumer safeguards, measurement and reporting of operational outcomes, and current arrangements regarding liability" are also being sought, the ACCC said.

The NBN had published a variation of its wholesale broadband agreement in October, with the terms to apply from December 11.

"The improved NBN wholesale rebates terms will soon be in effect. We will be monitoring the impact of these terms to ensure they give the right incentives for NBN Co to meet its service level commitments and ensure that consumers are better off," ACCC Commissioner Roger Featherston said.

"The enforceable undertaking addressed some of the more pressing issues, affecting customer experience, but there are still several complex issues to consider, which we are looking at in this second part of the inquiry."

The ACCC is seeking submissions on 22 questions, including how rebates should be structured to "provide the right incentives" for ensuring good user experiences; what factors and principles should underpin rebate structure and amount; whether rebates should be available for connections where service levels are only for one business day; what processes retailers expect to use to ensure rebates are received by affected customers; and what records retailers will keep on compliance, and whether they should be required to publish this.

It is also asking whether NBN's information on speeds supports retailers' advertising and selling of services; what additional fixed-wireless performance information is necessary to better set customer expectations; what wholesale commitments should apply where service performance is consistently low; how should a possible fixed-wireless rebate be structured; and how should priority assistance (PA) connection and fault rectification service standards be designed.

The ACCC is also asking how customer service guarantee (CSG) compensation processes could be simplified; what measures are required to support the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) instruments; whether the categorisation of "new service never worked" installations is a concern; whether end-user fault rectification should begin from the time a ticket is raised or acknowledged by NBN; and what key service level outcomes NBN should report to retailers.

Lastly, the ACCC is seeking submissions on what wholesale arrangements should be put in place for operational information so that retailers can provide a reasonable level of customer service; how liability and indemnity terms in the wholesale broadband agreement compare with similar wholesale telco customer agreements; whether an improved rebates regime would address liability concerns from retailers; what limitations on third-party claims against NBN are reasonable; and what other wholesale level terms should be implemented and how.

It is accepting submissions until February 15, 2019.

The ACCC had kicked off its wholesale service levels inquiry in December last year.

The NBN's wholesale service standard levels are presently set out in its commercial agreements with retailers, and include performance and operational objectives and targets for NBN's services; requirements for when service levels are not met; and the framework under which RSPs can claim rebates or compensation for their customers when NBN fails to meet its service levels.

The ACCC had announced in November 2016 that it would be conducting a public inquiry into the appropriateness of NBN's wholesale service standard levels.

The announcement followed the ACCC saying "immediate measures" are needed to address dissatisfaction with speeds and rising consumer complaints.

The ACCC then accepted a court-enforceable undertaking from NBN in September on increasing its rebates paid to retailers.

For each late connection and fault rectification, the company responsible for deploying the National Broadband Network across Australia will hand AU$25 back to retailers, with a AU$25 rebate also introduced for each appointment missed by NBN.

"The undertaking will improve the rebates that NBN Co pays to RSPs for not meeting its service level timeframes for connections, fixing faults and meeting scheduled appointments," ACCC chair Rod Sims said at the time.

"Under the undertaking given to the ACCC, NBN Co will require the RSPs to continue to take reasonable steps to ensure customers receive a benefit from the improved rebates the service providers will receive from NBN Co."

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