Watchdog decision on NBN access rules delayed until after election

The key document outlining the regulatory framework and pricing for the National Broadband Network will not be accepted by the ACCC until after the federal election.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has put off making a decision on whether to accept NBN Co's revised special access undertaking (SAU) until after the September 7 federal election.

The SAU sets out the pricing and regulatory framework for the operation of the AU$37.4 billion National Broadband Network (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.

NBN Co has submitted the document to the ACCC twice so far. The latest document was put in to the authority in September, and included a five-year freeze on prices for the current set of wholesale products. It also limited NBN Co's ability to raise the prices after that to 1.5 percent less than the rate of annual inflation.

The ACCC has largely agreed to the current document, but has suggested a few slight variations to ensure that the regulator has better oversight of the products on offer and the agreements between NBN Co and internet service providers (ISPs).

As interim agreements between NBN Co and the ISPs for access to services on the NBN are set to expire, the ACCC is in a race against time to either accept or reject the document. The ACCC has largely accepted the changes made by NBN Co over the last few months, but the ISPs are still concerned that NBN Co will ultimately be able to raise prices beyond the current trend for wholesale broadband plans.

The looming federal election will ultimately decide whether the current project proceeds as planned, or whether the Coalition will change the network rollout to shift from a majority of premises passed by a fibre-to-the-premises network to a fibre-to-the-node network.

Yesterday, the ACCC said it would delay making a decision on whether to accept or reject the SAU until after the election has passed.

"The ACCC is working through the extensive submissions and detailed drafting suggestions received in late July in response to the draft notice to vary. However, in the ACCC's view, the proximity of the federal election means that it is not practical to issue the notice at this time," the commission said.

"The ACCC is nonetheless aiming to settle the arrangements in the SAU as soon as practicable, given that interim contractual arrangements between NBN Co and access seekers will expire before the end of the year."

The ACCC said it would expect to finalise its decision "shortly after the federal election".

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