NBN Co cuts 'blame clause' after backlash

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NBN Co cuts 'blame clause' after backlash
NBN Co head of product development and sales, Jim Hassell.

Carriers overwhelmingly say it's unnecessary.

NBN Co has removed an ambiguous clause in its service provider contract that sidelined criticism of the wholesaler in communications with end users.

Clause E7 of the contract, referred internally at NBN Co as "the blame clause", was introduced in the second iteration of the Wholesale Broadband Agreement released in May.

It prevented service providers from criticising or attributing to NBN Co "any fault or blame in connection with (i) Customer Products" when dealing with possible faults on the network for end users.

An NBN Co spokesperson told iTnews at the time that the clause was designed to ensure "complex issues" were investigated before service providers attributed blame to NBN Co for a network fault.

The clause had since been dropped from a third revision of the agreement, released this week.

"We've just completely removed it," NBN Co industry engagement manager, Jim Sproule, told providers at an industry consultation in Sydney earlier this week.

"The feedback was such that you felt it wasn't warranted, that it was inappropriate and that it was an unnecessary gate to be able to describe circumstances to your customer about the network."

The clause's removal came as one of several "extensive amendments" the wholesaler had made to its standard contract ahead of its introduction at the beginning of October and inclusion in a special access undertaking to be lodged with the ACCC a month prior.

"Of course there's going to be pushback - it's a commercial document, you've got to meet in the middle somewhere," Sproule said. "It's good to identify the sore points and we took that into account."

Service providers had taken issue with the clause E7 in particular, among others that covered issues of gross negligence on the part of the service provider and liability covered under the contract.

Calls to remove the clause had appeared in submissions from Telstra, Optus, Vodafone Hutchison Australia, Amcom and a joint submission by Internode, iiNet and Adam Internet from legal counsel Herbert Geer.

"If NBN Co is concerned that an access seeker is incorrectly attributing blame to NBN Co then there are other remedies that it can pursue (e.g. misleading conduct)," a submission from VHA reads.

Other parties had called the clause "impractical".

NBN Co had earlier tried to allay any criticism attributed to it around how long it took to connect a customer to the network.

First rollout timeframes in September

Jim Hassell, head of product development and sales for NBN Co, revealed this week that the wholesaler would publish its first long-term roll-out plan by the end of September.

The plan would list locations where NBN Co intended to roll the network to over the next year, with updates expected every three months.

Hassell said the company would also publish a three-year plan, updated annually, of areas NBN Co intended to roll out without detailed planning.

It would be distributed to service providers at the same time, with provisions in the recent $9 billion agreement between NBN Co and Telstra preventing Telstra from receiving a leg-up on where the network would be installed.

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