ACCC sues Optus for allegedly misleading customers about NBN

The consumer watchdog is concerned that it has yet again had to file legal action against Optus for alleged misleading conduct.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has filed an action against Optus alleging the telco misled consumers about the need to move to the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The consumer watchdog alleges that Optus sent an email on 24 May 2018 advising some of its mobile customers that their broadband service would be "disconnected very soon" and encouraged them to "make the switch, before it's too late". 

The email was allegedly sent to 138,988 of Optus' mobile customers.

"Moving to the NBN is an important decision for consumers, and it can also be a confusing process," ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said in a statement.

Since the ACCC filed the action, Optus has acknowledged it misled customers about the need to migrate to the NBN and apologised to customers who received the email. 

It has also offered a costless exit for those who took out the offer, the telco said in an emailed statement.

"In October 2018, Optus committed to improving customer experience and customer service across our business and we continue to devote significant energy and resources to address issues like this and make the necessary changes and improvements so we can deliver great service to all our customers," Optus vice president of Regulatory and Public Affairs Andrew Sheridan said.

See also: ACCC ponders merger law revamp to stay relevant in the digital era

This is not the first time that the ACCC has called Optus out for misleading consumers, with the consumer watchdog taking the telco to Federal Court in May last year. This resulted in Optus being ordered to pay AU$1.5 million in penalties after it was found that the telco made misleading representations to its fixed broadband customers about their shift to the NBN hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) service.

Optus was also fined AU$10 million earlier this year by the Federal Court of Australia after it admitted to misleading consumers and breaching the ASIC Act for its third-party billing practices. The telco admitted that it had knowledge from as early as April 2014 that customers were being billed for direct carrier billing (DCB) services that they had unknowingly or mistakenly signed up for.

"The ACCC has had to take action about Optus' advertising on several previous occasions, and it is concerning that we are again having to take them to court for alleged misleading statements about this issue," Court said.

"We are keeping a close eye on this sector and we will continue to take enforcement action where appropriate."

The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, compliance orders, and costs.

The ACCC is also set to go into a separate legal battle against TPG and Vodafone in September after it opposed the merger of the two telcos. At the time of the decision, the ACCC said the merger would reduce competition in the telco sector, explaining that TPG had a "commercial imperative" to deploy its own mobile network.

Updated at 4.16pm AEST, 27 June 2019: Added Optus comments.

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