Telstra has asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to be released from its obligation to provide wholesale voice services to competitors in National Broadband Network (NBN) greenfield sites.
The ACCC has today sought comment from industry and the public on whether a one-year exemption from the obligation to provide wholesale voice services in the NBN greenfield areas should be allowed, because Telstra is still working on wholesale voice products to provide over NBN fibre.
Under the current universal service obligations, Telstra is obliged to connect up new housing estates with less than 100 premises — and is generally doing so with copper — but for estates with more than 100, NBN Co is the fibre provider of last resort and will roll-out fibre to these premises.
It is in the latter areas that Telstra would seek a temporary exemption. Telstra has said it will have its wholesale and retail NBN services available by September this year, but is pushing for a reprieve from its wholesale voice obligations until March 2013.
NBN Co is still in the process of developing a voice product for the NBN; however, a number of retail service providers, such as Internode, have not at this stage offered stand-alone voice services, instead offering VoIP products that are bundled in with internet plans. Telstra's NBN plans bundled with a fixed line currently require customers to retain their voice service on the copper line. Primus has said it is working with NBN Co to develop a voice-only product for those residents who don't want an internet connection. It is understood that only around 4000 services will be active in NBN greenfields areas by September, and the issue is only expected to affect a minority of those, given that most would opt to either get a service with their own internet service provider, or to go without a fixed-voice service.
Taking all that into account, ACCC chairman Rod Sims said he is inclined to let Telstra have a temporary reprieve.
"The ACCC notes the apparent limited impact of this proposed variation in NBN greenfield estates in terms of both the affected number of end users and its time frame," he said. "The ACCC's provisional view is to favourably consider Telstra's request."
Submissions are open until 11 May 2012.