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ACCC Pauses Inquiries Into NBN, Reveals Its Preliminary Recommendations

The ACCC has announced that it will pause both of its NBN inquiries in order to allow the communications sector to focus on its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the ACCC has temporarily suspended its two NBN inquiries, the commission has published papers on their current assessment of the two issues, and indicated what actions they may take once circumstances stabilise.

Interestingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed NBN Co to move towards solving some of the problems raised in the inquiries.

“NBN Co has recently allowed access seekers to boost their capacity on the network by up to 40% at no extra cost for three months, which does temporarily address a key concern we have regarding NBN access pricing for basic services,” ACCC Commissioner Cristina Cifuentes said.

NBN Wholesale Service Standards Inquiry

The first inquiry, which commenced in November 2017, was related to NBN wholesale service standards, which sought to determine whether wholesale service standards on the NBN are appropriate and whether these standards should be subject to regulation in order to improve customer experience.

The investigation was launched after a high number of consumer complaints were made about poor NBN experiences. Under the ACCC’s proposed framework, NBN Co would provide a daily rebate for delayed connections and unresolved faults (rather than a one-off rebate) and new rebates for underperforming services.

The ACCC has also proposed that the NBN appointment rebates that have already been missed be increased to $75 and that these be entirely passed on to customers by retail service providers (RSPs).

NBN Access Pricing Inquiry

The second inquiry, which commenced in October 2019, was looking into NBN access pricing. It was aimed at fair and affordable pricing for basic 12/1 Mbps NBN services.

In 2018 many consumers had the option of moving their service to the NBN on a like-for-like price and product basis, but changes the NBN Co made to its wholesale pricing led to the withdrawal of many cheaper, lower speed NBN retail plans. This change has made it considerably more difficult and expensive for consumers to move their broadband service to the NBN.

The inquiry noted that RSPs and consumer groups generally supported the establishment of an entry-level broadband offer to ensure that consumers would not be worse off from the mandatory move to the NBN.

“As well as benefitting consumers on entry-level plans, we believe our proposed access arrangements will stimulate more competitive prices for higher-speed NBN plans,” Cifuentes said.

“We will also consider other measures to reduce uncertainty over the wholesale price changes that access seekers could expect over time, which can result in higher prices or reduced quality and product offerings for consumers.”

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