ISPs back new rules for NBN data sharing

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ISPs back new rules for NBN data sharing

Licence condition to limit Telstra's advantage.

Australia's telcos - including incumbent Telstra - have backed a proposal to remove any advantage Telstra has from information it receives from NBN on the network rollout.

The Government last month asked the ACCC to consult with the industry on a new carrier licence condition for NBN (formerly NBN Co) to govern the way it provides rollout information to Telstra and network retail service providers (RSPs).

It followed industry concerns that Telstra may either have or be perceived to have an advantage over other RSPs due to its role as the former owner of the copper and HFC networks bought by NBN.

Optus and iiNet have been long-term vocal advocates of ensuring confidential NBN data disclosed to Telstra Wholesale can't be abused by Telstra Retail.

As a result, the Communications Department drafted a proposed carrier licence condition for NBN.

It lays out regulatory rules on the sharing of information relating fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), fibre-to-the-basement (FTTB) and hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) work, to oblige NBN Co to share equivalent information with retail service providers as it does with Telstra.

The licence condition would not include rules on fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) information sharing -Telstra is already required to ring-fence FTTP information under its structural separation undertaking and migration plan.

In submissions to the ACCC's consultation, published this week, Optus, iiNet, TPG, AT&T and Telstra all gave their support to the proposal.

All agreed that there was an obvious risk Telstra could use - or be seen to use - the rollout information it receives from NBN to gain a competitive advantage.

"As Telstra is an RSP that is in competition with other RSPs, Telstra being in receipt of NBN information in circumstances where other RSPs do not receive that information (or they receive it later than Telstra does) has the potential to allow Telstra to gain an unfair competitive advantage," iiNet said [pdf].

"The benefits [of the condition] are plainly that the playing field for NBN end users will not be unfairly weighted in favour of Telstra," TPG wrote [pdf].

Optus said the shift to the Coalition's multi-technology mix would likely increase the complexity of the rollout and migration arrangements.

"It will also increase the risks of information asymmetry since NBN Co’s need to access more Telstra infrastructure will deepen the interaction between NBN Co and Telstra in the rollout of the NBN," Optus said [pdf].

"The disclosure of relevant and timely information from NBN Co on its rollout will be critical to ensuring RSPs are able to transition their existing customers and service requirements into an NBN environment."

AT&T said it had tried to obtain certain NBN geographic rollout data for the past six months with no success.

"It appears that the current environment provides very little rights and avenues for second-tier service providers such as AT&T to obtain information and assistance related to NBN services."

Telstra said it supported the introduction of the licence condition, but the issue of what information it provided to RSPs should not be viewed as Telstra-centric.

"The main benefit to be derived from NBN Co increasing transparency around its network rollout is that this will empower all RSPs, including Telstra, to more effectively promote the NBN rollout, the products available and encourage timely migration by end users to the NBN," the telco wrote [pdf].

How much detail?

The ISPs all agreed they would need access to construction and other ready for service information and the likely technology choice for a particular area.

Most also lobbied for data on forecast and actual line quality so RSPs could accurately estimate available line speeds at the point of sale and therefore manage consumer expectations.

TPG avoided pushing for any particular data, rather argued that the licence should mandate that whatever Telstra gets should be made available to all RSPs.

"Information symmetry will only be achieved if all providers have access to the same information," it said.

Meanwhile, Optus pushed for a requirement that NBN publish a summary table of all the information it receives from Telstra "regardless of whether it is to be disclosed under this licence condition to RSPs or not".

"Making this information available will ensure greater transparency on the information flows provided between Telstra to NBN Co."

NBN says no

However, the network builder argued it was premature to introduce such a condition while the organisation was working its way through developing the multi-technology mix approach.

"NBN Co does not consider that all of the information it provides to Telstra is needed by RSPs to effectively compete with Telstra in the market for retail broadband services," it wrote [pdf].

"Most of the information shared with Telstra is not reflective of NBN Co’s final rollout plans and is typically of a highly technical nature related to network and infrastructure planning.

"As NBN Co is yet to finalise the planning and operational aspects of the MTM deployment, it believes that it would be premature to attempt to lock-in an approach to providing information in a [carrier licence condition] at this time."

It said it supported the fundamental aim of the licence condition - which had 'strong incentives to encourage retail broadband competition' - but that the focus should be on ensuring all RSPs had access to equivalent, relevant information in a timely manner.

Instead of the proposed condition, the Government should consider a three-prong approach to information sharing, NBN said, where:

  • NBN provides a nine-quarter rollout plan to RSPs showing completed, in-build, or in-plan fixed-line areas, with estimated build commencement and ready-for-service (RFS) dates, and a premises count;
  • NBN continues to provide monthly updates on RFS dates once construction has commenced in each area; and
  • NBN updates the wholesale broadband agreement following consultation with RSPs to understand what information they require.

"NBN Co believes this approach is the most appropriate way to address the stated objective of the proposed CLC at this time," it wrote.

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