NBN Co has embarassingly canned a plan to charge new sign-ups to fixed wireless $20 extra per month for a new bundled service after the government intervened.
The reversal comes less than 12 hours after the company told a parliamentary hearing that it would effectively kill uniform pricing on its network from next week, charging existing fixed wireless users $45 a month for a new 50Mbps service and $65 a month for new sign-ups to exactly the same product.
The move would have created a politically unpalatable digital divide, with the mostly metropolitan and regional fixed line footprints paying less than rural and remote Australians for an equivalent 50Mbps service.
The move provoked a rare rebuke from Communications Minister - and NBN shareholder - Mitch Fifield.
“NBN offers equivalent pricing on comparable fixed line and fixed wireless products,” Fifield said in a statement.
“The government will ensure this continues.”
Fifield said unequivocally that a digital divide on price “will not occur” - and only hours later, NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow agreed to withdraw the plan.
“Looking at the reaction behind this, I’ll just take it off the table right now,” he said.
“So consider the $65 price for new 50Mbps customers off the table.”
Morrow attempted to reframe the comments made during the parliamentary committee hearing as a proposal that had simply been out for consultation, and not as “a decision or a foregone conclusion that we’re going to do.”
Morrow instead revealed details of a completely new fixed wireless product construct that NBN Co hopes to introduce in February 2019.
He said it was “a product we think we need to take to fixed wireless technologies that’s comparable or similar to what we see everywhere else around the world on fixed wireless.”
“We’re calling it a ‘Max’ plan and that is basically you get the maximum speed that that tower or cell can support,” he said.
“If that’s 50Mbps or 100Mbps you’ll benefit from that, and we’ll offer a minimum [speed] that will ensure if everyone is using that cell at the same time, we’ll offer some minimum guarantees that will have imposed penalties on them if we can’t deliver on that.
“That will be targeted at a $45 price point and it will be a one product that suits all.”
He said the ‘Max’ product was not confirmed, and it is subject to another round of industry consultation which kicked off this morning.
“We have talked to the RSPs verbally about this,” he said.
“We believe they like that concept. That’s why that went into the more official consultation paper which has been issued this morning to the RSPs.
“But as we think about this ‘Max’ product, we know if we get the proper response back from the RSPs that if we decide therefore to go forward with it, it’s going to take us eight to nine months to implement the IT systems to put that in place, and the RSPs have to implement IT systems to make that adjustment themselves, so we’re looking at nine months before we can bring that to market.”
What happens to NBN Co's planned announcement on Monday for a $45 a month fixed wireless service is currently being clarified by iTnews.
However, it appears the new offer will be open to fixed wireless users on either the 25Mbps or 50Mbps tiers, rather than only existing 50Mbps users.
More to come