NBN Co has been warned to “expect much higher levels of regulation” this year as the competition watchdog turns its attention to the network builder’s role in the end-to-end NBN experience.
In November last year, the ACCC launched an inquiry into NBN Co’s wholesale service standards, including missed appointments, connection delays and fault rectification.
Industry submissions to the inquiry don’t close for another fortnight, but already the ACCC is indicating it will intervene.
Appearing on the ABC’s National Wrap program yesterday, ACCC chairman Rod Sims indicated NBN Co could expect much higher levels of regulation.
Sims suggested that regulation was likely to come into play “sometime this year”; the inquiry itself is meant to wrap up in December.
Retail service providers (RSPs) representing almost 90 percent of the NBN market have backed the ACCC inquiry, with many unhappy at the service standards incorporated into the latest wholesale contract known as WBA3.
RSPs say there is little recourse for compensation when NBN Co’s contractors don’t turn up or complete work as scheduled.
They are also angry at the way WBA3 was pushed through by NBN Co, with apparently little industry consultation.
The industry rumour mill has swirled in recent months on RSPs’ treatment, and NBN Co was forced to deny to senators recently that it had used coercive tactics to get WBA3 signatures.
The network builder denied it had threatened to withhold services to non-signatories.
“NBN Co is under a statutory obligation to supply services on request from access seekers (wholesale and retail service providers) with very limited exceptions, so it was never open to NBN Co to refuse or cease supplying services as a consequence of WBA3 negotiations,” it said last week.
NBN Co also similarly said it had not withheld marketing rebates provided to RSPs.
“From time to time NBN Co offers marketing rebates/funding for RSPs that delivers incremental NBN orders and revenue,” it said.
“Rebates have not been withheld based on the grounds of WBA3 not being signed.”
Sims yesterday said NBN Co had an image problem that both the network builder and its biggest retail customer, Telstra, would largely have to fix.
“The big issue for NBN Co is I don’t think a lot of customers believe what they’re told now,” he said.
“What we want is companies telling consumers ‘this is what you’re going to get’, and then they get that. Then we’ll know what consumers are willing to pay for that experience.
“At the moment you just can’t tell because there’s distrust and miss-selling.”
Sims argued the ACCC was doing its bit in that regard; crackdowns on Telstra, Optus and TPG last year, as well as marketing guidelines for broadband services, had solved a lot of NBN issues that occurred on the retail side.
He said while it was possible other retailers could end up in court in future, it appeared that most were now adhering to the ACCC standards, resulting in better user experiences.
Now, the ACCC’s focus was on making sure NBN Co upheld its end of the bargain.
“People have to have confidence in what they’re getting so they can make a judgment as to whether they’re getting good things or not,” Sims said.
“At the moment it’s so confused and there’s so much we can do to make it a lot better.
“We’re giving it a good shot.”