ACMA releases new NBN migration rules

The ACMA's new rules will require line tests on NBN services, reconnecting customers to legacy services where the NBN is unusable, providing minimum information to consumers, and reporting complaints data to the ACMA.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has unveiled its new National Broadband Network (NBN) migration rules.

According to ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin, there have been three main issues when people are migrating to the NBN: Not having the information needed to choose a suitable NBN plan; being disconnected from their legacy service before the NBN service has become usable; and NBN complaints taking "too long to resolve".

"In response to these issues, we are introducing a package of new rules with a focus on improving consumers' experience when moving to and using services delivered over the NBN," O'Loughlin said during the CommsDay Summit on Tuesday.

"Our intention is that this package of rules will ensure that consumers: Have the information they need to make informed choices about the NBN service that is right for them; have the confidence that their new service will work, and will work as promised; have options if issues arise that mean their new service will take more time to work than planned; and have their complaints heard and addressed effectively."

The release marks the second tranche of the ACMA's rules, which covers the essential information to be provided to customers, line testing requirements, and service continuity rules.

"Together, these rules will require telcos to specify the minimum information that telcos must provide to consumers; 'line test' new services to ensure that lines are working and that faults are identified early; reconnect consumers to legacy network services where readily feasible if a consumer is unable to get a working service over the NBN network; comply with minimum standards for handling of consumer complaints; and report data about the complaints they receive to the ACMA so these can be monitored," she said.

The draft rules are up for public comment, with the ACMA accepting submissions until May 11. They will come into effect at the end of June, and will be directly enforceable by the ACMA.

The Communications Alliance said it supports rules being implemented to improve the migration experience, but said it would examine the practical and cost considerations for retailers to implement them.

"The requirement to respond to consumers' speed concerns within one working day will add to costs," director of Program Management Christiane Gillespie-Jones said.

"Providers support testing speeds in response to a consumer request, but the strict timeline proposed in the draft determination is likely to require additional staff and lead to higher costs for consumers."

The ACMA chair acknowledged work being done by NBN to improve customer experience, saying the company last month began reporting network performance, service installation, and fault restoration against its metrics on these.

The second tranche also follows the ACMA last week saying it had warned three NBN retailers on not providing sufficient critical information to consumers on their broadband offerings.

Additional ACMA rules are also likely to cover information about power outages and over-the-top services including medical alarm systems, and it is continuing its examination into the impact modems can have on service quality.

"The ACMA is aware that the performance of some modems may mean consumers cannot access optimal speeds on the new network," the agency said last week.

"We will undertake a study to identify the modems currently being supplied in the market and test their capabilities. The evidence gathered and any issues identified will inform our response to this matter, including whether there is a need for further regulatory or non-regulatory intervention."

O'Loughlin said the ACMA will also be introducing its new consumer information rules from July 1.

The ACMA had in December published new consumer protections to be implemented during the migration to NBN services after finding that connection issues may not be resolved for over 100 days on some technologies.

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".

"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 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.

Last month, the ACCC's first fixed-line broadband speed monitoring report found that NBN retailers are actually delivering up to 90 percent of their speed tier promises during peak hours.

The first Measuring Broadband Australia report [PDF] showed Telstra, Optus, TPG, and iiNet delivering between 80 and 90 percent of their speeds at all times, including the busy hours of between 7pm and 11pm.

The ACCC speed monitoring report followed the consumer watchdog forcing Telstra, Optus,TPG, iiNet, Internode, Dodo, iPrimus, and Commander to compensate tens of thousands of customers for not providing them with the NBN speeds they were paying for.

5G spectrum auctions

O'Loughlin also used her CommsDay speech to provide an update on the ACMA's 5G spectrum allocation plan, saying the 3.6GHz band would go up for auction in October.

The ACMA will next month release the draft legislative instruments setting out the auction rules, with mock auctions to take place in early October.

The agency will have an announcement on the auction of the millimetre-wave (mmWave) band around the 26GHz frequency around mid-2018, she added.

"This is one area where the ACMA has committed its spectrum planning engineering expertise to contribute to global spectrum sharing considerations being undertaken within the framework of the International Telecommunication Union," O'Loughlin said on mmWave spectrum.

"We have been at the forefront of developing and contributing detailed technical sharing analysis between potential 5G broadband and satellite systems. Domestically, the 26GHz band is attractive as an early band for millimetre wave 5G because of relatively low incumbency issues and its increasing attention globally, for example by Europe and China, as an early 5G band."

While there is enthusiasm on 5G, however, O'Loughlin added that "industry still needs to find the business case to support its investment in the rollout of 5G networks".

"I think there is a danger that consumers will be confused by industry's marketing efforts and may think they should wait for 5G rather than moving to already-available 4G services -- a particular risk when 4G coverage is still rolling out to match that of 3G," she said.

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