NBN battery backup needs regulating: ACMA

Unsatisfied with NBN Co requiring ISPs to get informed consent from users who don't want battery backup for their NBN services, the media regulator is seeking to step in and oversee the process.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor on

Although NBN Co is requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to seek the informed consent of its customers before they're allowed to opt out of having battery backup for their National Broadband Network (NBN) service, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has said that it believes regulation is required to oversee the process.

Under the fibre-to-the-premises NBN, battery backup is required to ensure that in the event of a power failure, residents are still able to access their fixed phone service for a time before power is restored.

Given the size of the battery, and the number of residents who have indicated that they would use mobile services instead, the former Labor government mandated in 2012 that battery backup would be optional for all end users, other than "priority assistance customers".

In October this year, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull indicated that he would keep the battery backup as optional, insofar that it is still relevant to the NBN design. The ACMA noted in a discussion paper released yesterday that under a fibre-to-the-node model, battery backup may be located in the node rather than in the end user's premises.

As of December 19 this year, NBN Co will alter its wholesale broadband agreement with the ISPs to enable them to order a new service without the battery backup on the provision that the ISP demonstrates to NBN Co that informed consent has been received from the end user who decides to opt out of the battery backup.

The ACMA has sought industry input on the best method to ensure that informed consent is received, and has suggested three options: No ACMA input, an industry code, or an ACMA service provider determination.

The ACMA has said that it believes no regulation could result in exposing end users to risks if the information provided by the ISPs is inadequate. It also said that an industry code may fall short of the requirement for informed consent, and argued that a determination would obligate ISPs to ensure that specific informed consent is obtained from the end user prior to them agreeing to forgo the battery backup.

The ACMA said that it would like this determination to be in place by February or March 2014, with a view to come into power when the new wholesale broadband agreements are in place in late June 2014.

ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said in a statement yesterday that it is important to ensure that rigorous processes are in place to safeguard end users.

"For the sake of people who critically rely on a fixed-line connection, it will be vital that adequate and consistent advice is given and informed consent obtained in all cases," he said.

The ACMA is accepting submissions on the discussion paper until December 20.

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