What will the ACMA’s new NBN protections mean for consumers?

Alex Kidman 21 December 2017 NEWS

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The government body will oversee strict rules around service and repair quality for disgruntled consumers on the NBN.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has announced tough new rules for NBN providers after a significant rise in consumer complaints relating to both service quality and connection issues. Specifically, for the three-month period prior to 30 June 2017, the ACMA noted that

  • 55.7% of all network-related complaints were about service quality (faults and speed)
  • 44.3% of network-related complaints were about connection issues

The timelines in which complaints were handled was also a significant issue, with the ACMA noting that the average fault complaint took up to 19 calendar days to resolve, while connection issues took up to 28 calendar days to fix.

Worst off were customer complaints about shifting from existing broadband and telephony services over to the NBN, where on average it took up to 45 days for customers to have legacy services transferred to the network.

"Industry co-regulatory arrangements are not serving consumers well in a number of important areas. As a result, the ACMA will make new mandatory rules to require telcos to improve their performance in these areas," said ACMA Chair, Nerida O’Loughlin.

What are the new mandatory rules?

As per the ACMA, the new rules will do the following:

  • specify the minimum information that telcos must provide about their network services before they sign consumers up
  • specify minimum standards for telcos’ complaints-handling processes and a requirement for telcos to report their complaint numbers to the ACMA so that changes can be monitored
  • require telcos to "line test" new services on the network to ensure that lines are working and that faults are identified early
  • require consumers to be reconnected to legacy network services, if that fallback is needed until their new network service is successfully connected

Providers will also be required to provide consumers with network-specific information in a standardised format detailing all relevant issues when migrating to the network.

That should make it easier to understand your NBN connection, in the same way that mobile providers have to provide a simplified critical information summary for mobile plans, but it also should make it easier to compare NBN plans when shopping around for a new NBN deal.

The ACMA has also signalled that it is aware of issues with connection quality as they relate to the quality of NBN modems supplied to end consumers. While it's not making modem quality part of the new rules right now, it is significant that it's proposing to further explore hardware quality issues to determine if regulation is required.

What happens if my ISP breaches the new rules?

Unlike industry codes, which are fundamentally agreement levels, the ACMA's regulations have the potential for significant bite, with civil penalties ranging up to $250,000. If an ISP breaches a service provider rule, the penalties are even stiffer, with court imposed fines that can range up to $10 million.

When will the new rules go into effect?

The ACMA intends for the rules to undergo consultation commencing in early 2018, with full enforcement from 1 July 2018.

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