End in sight for long-running NBN access negotiations

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is edging close to making a decision on whether to accept NBN Co's crucial special access undertaking.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

After close to 18 months of negotiation between NBN Co and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the document outlining the pricing and regulatory environment for the National Broadband Network for 30 years is close to being completed.

The SAU sets out the pricing and regulatory framework for the operation of the NBN until 2040, and is designed to work hand in hand with the wholesale-broadband agreement (WBA). The WBA sets out arrangements between NBN Co and access seekers over a shorter period of time; at this point, one year.

For the third time, NBN Co submitted the SAU to the ACCC on Tuesday, following a request from the ACCC last month to vary the last lodgement to include greater ACCC oversight over the prices NBN Co charges for new products, and for the watchdog to be able to stop NBN Co from removing wholesale products from the market.

The ACCC chair Rod Sims said that this was the final stage in the assessment of the SAU and the commission will have a short consultation with industry until November 28 before making a decision on whether to accept or reject the SAU before the end of 2013.

Despite the change of government, and a potential shift to fibre-to-the-node, NBN Co's head of regulatory affairs Caroline Lovell said that the SAU would be flexible enough to accomodate any changes.

"While the SAU was developed in the context of previous government policy, NBN Co considers — and the ACCC acknowledges — that the SAU should be flexible enough to be varied to respond to any future technology changes that are required. Having an accepted SAU in place establishes a baseline from which future regulatory decisions can be made," Lovell said in a statement.

One of the most controversial aspects of NBN Co's pricing model is its connectivity virtual circuit charge for capacity provided to each premises. At the NBN Rebooted conference earlier this week, the decision to include an artificial limit on capacity use on the network was described by iiNet's chief technology officer John Lindsay as "a tax on packets".

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