Australia's competition watchdog has demanded Telstra notify its wholesale (ISP) customers in under two hours on those occasions when it is instructed by NBN Co to connect a fibre customer to the national broadband network using a process called 'pull through'.
Pull through involves the disconnection of an existing connection in the conduit connecting a premises to an access network such that a new fibre cable can be attached to it and 'pulled' up the pipe. Telstra connects customers using the 'pull through' method in those cases where NBN Co cannot easily push fibre up through the existing lead-in conduit.
Pull through requires existing connections to be switched off, creating service delivery, billing and liability concerns for Telstra's ISP customers, led by AAPT, Optus and iiNet.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been attempting to arbitrate disputes between ISPs and Telstra for two years, seeking formal assurances from NBN Co, its retail service providers, and Telstra as to how they would seek to obtain consent from customers and minimise service disruption during the pull through process. In August 2013, Telstra redrafted commitments to how it would handle the pull through process in order to appease the regulator and ISPs, which for the most part the ACCC has accepted.
But the competition regulator, after consultations with Telstra's wholesale partners, was not entirely satisfied with the timeframes in which Telstra promised to inform service providers of an impending disconnection.
Telstra's draft agreement states that it "expects" that in" at least 90 percent of cases” wholesale customers will be notified “within four business hours of being advised by NBN Co" of the need for a pull-through event, with the remaining ten percent informed within two business days.
Wholesale partners, led by AAPT, argued that this would not meet the service level agreements they hold with customers.
"Telstra should be able to provide the notice within 1-2 hours after it has been advised by NBN Co," AAPT said in a submission to the ACCC.
Optus recommended the window be narrowed to "under two hours" of NBN informing Telstra of the requirement.
The competition watchdog today backed these calls.
"Due to the potentially significant consumer detriment that may result from a prolonged service outage, it is important that service providers be in a position to respond to end-user needs in a timely and effective manner," the ACCC said in its formal warning to Telstra. "This objective will be best achieved where wholesale customers are notified at, or as close as possible to, the time Telstra is notified by NBN Co."
The ACCC has asked that Telstra directly inform wholesale ISPs "within minutes" of receiving notification from NBN Co. But it won't be enough, the watchdog said, to simply update the Telstra Wholesale (SIIAM) system with this advice - Telstra would need to proactively send a notification to affected wholesale customers.
"The wholesale customer will be dependent upon Telstra to provide a specific notification of the service outage before it will be in a position to proactively manage the consequences of the service outage for the consumer," the ACCC noted.
The ACCC advised that Telstra could offer a firm commitment to provide 90 percent of notifications within one business hour, with the worst case being four hours, without making any major changes to its help desk ticketing systems.
"Telstra is already required to establish a help desk and information systems that will enable it to process quickly the calls it receives from NBN Co concerning pull through," the ACCC said. "In this regard, Telstra has committed to processes that enable it to respond to an NBN Co contractor within one hour on the status of a cable that might be used for pull through. Similar processes can be used to identify wholesale customers that are affected by exception events. The task of then notifying wholesale customers is relatively straightforward and can be satisfied by using established processes."
The ACCC said that if Telstra was to be swamped with a large volume of pull through requests - an unlikely scenario given the Abbott Government plan to radically alter the NBN project - it would revise commitments.
The ACCC has given Telstra 40 business days to respond.
A Telstra spokesman told iTnews the telco is "well progressed in discussions with industry and the ACCC on this measure and confident we can reach agreement with them in the new year."