Small telcos band together to push for NBN market share

Macquarie Telecom, MNF, Amaysim, MyRepublic, Vocus, Inabox, Southern Phone, TasmaNet, and others have announced banding together to form Commpete, with a goal of attaining 30 percent NBN market share.

The rebranding of the Competitive Carriers Coalition (CCC) into Commpete is all about a renewed push for the smaller telco players to gain "a seat at the table" when it comes to policy and decisions on both the National Broadband Network (NBN) and 5G, the CEOs involved have told media.

The group's new chair Michelle Lim on Monday morning announced that members include Amaysim, Macquarie Telecom, MNF Group, MyRepublic, TasmaNet, Vocus, Inabox, and Southern Phone.

"Our membership is diverse, with broad expertise, and companies at different stages in their business evolution, in different parts of the industry," Lim said.

"We cover carriers, wholesale enablers, software innovators, disruptors, MVNOs, and government specialists. We're also pleased that we've got regional players who face some of the biggest hurdles through lack of choice."

Speaking on the sidelines of the CommsDay Summit in Sydney on Monday, Amaysim CEO Julian Ogrin said his company had been initially keen to enter the NBN market during the forced migration of more than 8 million premises to a new network.

"That on the surface sounds like a really exciting opportunity to jump into ... [but] the competition that's evolved out of that is not really in line with what we've experienced on the mobile side," Ogrin said.

"You have Telstra who had 50 percent share of the Australian market at the start of this process; we're now halfway through that forced migration event, and if nothing changes Telstra will remain with over 50 percent share of the Australian market.

"That is a failure in competition on one of the single biggest forced migration events in Australian telco history."

Ogrin said having reached the midway point of the NBN rollout, there is still a chance that the government and industry can address the competition issue.

"We're very focused on what the government can do to grow the benefits of the innovative telcos who are outside the top three," Macquarie Telecom CEO David Tudehope added.

"And one of the things we've said as a directional endpoint, we're looking to have 30 percent of the market ... that will come with the right sort of policy settings."

MyRepublic MD Nicholas Demos said that with the market constantly changing -- such as the continually shifting wholesale pricing model -- it is also difficult for smaller players to offer NBN services.

Inabox CEO Damian Kay explained to ZDNet that NBN's 50Mbps speed tier discounts are also inaccessible, as they would cost smaller telcos AU$9 million in marketing funds.

"To be able to participate, an RSP had to show AU$20,000 in marketing funds. Times that by 450 [service providers], so that's how it gets to AU$9 million really quickly ... you have to show how you spend AU$20,000, and they'll then apply discounts," Kay told ZDNet.

"There's no recognition of the smaller guys, so that's great for the big guys and directly connected guys to NBN, but 450 service providers that are turning over AU$150,000 to AU$200,000 a year, making a fairly good living when they can, AU$20,000 is probably a fifth of their income.

"Then you also have to achieve a goal of 200 services a month, and that's great -- for a big retail service provider that's easy, but consistently across 450 service providers that means we have to deliver 90,000 services and so it starts to add up ... it's just not feasible."

Demos added that with NBN CEO Bill Morrow leaving, the opportunity has arisen to not only connect all premises and hero the 50Mbps speed, but to drive the next phase of the rollout in providing a better experience for customers and enabling telcos to differentiate their services.

According to MNF Group CEO Rene Sugo, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield's speech on Monday morning was basically "patting the big three on the back for what a great job of taking the NBN complaints out of the headlines".

"Really, it just goes to show that the minister has a top three-informed view. He's not coming down to our level and understanding our issues, and that's really why we need to get together as Commpete and have a stronger voice," Sugo said.

"Unless we start banging the drum and banding together to get our voice heard, we're going to be ignored from a regulatory and policy framework."

Sugo added that Commpete wants to ensure the "same mistakes are not made on 5G policy", with Tudehope saying there is a need for Commpete to be on the key 5G committees.

Commpete's complaints on the state of the telecommunications market come as the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) on Monday afternoon unveiled new research showing that half of the 3,000 people it recently surveyed have had "phone or internet issues" during the last year.

"That is potentially 10 million Australians who are having issues with their phone or internet service," Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Judi Jones said.

One in five respondents had more than one issue, she added, with around a quarter of all issues remaining unresolved for a period of four months.

"For small businesses, things are also quite discouraging: Almost 60 percent had had an issue in the past year, and almost 25 percent had had more than one issue," Jones added.

"Residential consumers and small businesses both rated the vast majority of issues as 'serious' or 'very serious'. For both residential consumers and small businesses, the majority of issues relate to service delivery and in particular the quality or the absence of a service."

The TIO is slated to publish its six-monthly update next week.

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