NBN Co faces fresh pressure not to fully unwind free bandwidth boost

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NBN Co faces fresh pressure not to fully unwind free bandwidth boost

As its own research shows ongoing need.

NBN Co is under renewed pressure to maintain some of the free bandwidth boost it has offered during the coronavirus lockdown period after its own research indicated that elevated demand for internet could extend beyond July.

Figures released by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) today showed the aggregate impact of the temporary capacity offered by NBN Co.

The boost allows RSPs to use up to 40 percent additional bandwidth above February 2020 levels without incurring additional costs.

On a network-wide basis, bandwidth per user “increased from 1.92Mbps to 2.52Mbps during the March quarter,” the ACCC said.

Separate numbers released by the ACCC last week [pdf] showed that the temporary boost reversed negative performance impacts of up to 23 percent.

NBN Co has already extended the free offer once, such that it now runs through to the end of July instead of the end of May as initially slated.

The immediate question is what happens to the bandwidth boost after July - and specifically, the extent to which it might be eased.

"The question from here is how do we transition CVC [connectivity virtual circuit bandwidth] pricing to a new normal in a fair and economically responsible way?" shadow minister for communications Michelle Rowland said.

"Hastily undoing the capacity boost would be problematic given this could force up prices or lead to congestion. 

“For this reason, Labor would prefer to see a considered transition of NBN capacity pricing in consultation with retail providers, informed by traffic trends as COVID-19 restrictions wind down.”

NBN Co’s ability to fully unwind the bandwidth boost is made more tricky by the release of a ‘behavioural change survey’ it commissioned Venture Insights to produce last month.

Though the survey was seized upon by the government as a largely political point-scoring exercise, it found 67 percent of respondents “expect to work from home more after the pandemic has ended.”

Of people working from home, 79 percent had “purchased one or more devices to support their online activities during COVID-19, and 56 percent had created a new or dedicated office space,” NBN Co said.

As to what that means for NBN Co’s ability to resume charging for some of the bandwidth it currently provides for free, the Government said only that “NBN Co is actively monitoring and managing network demand”.

Comment was also being sought from an NBN Co spokesperson at the time of publication.

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