Thursday, 08 March 2018 01:33

Lack of guarantees with NBN services puts consumers at risk: ACCAN Featured

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Australia’s peak advocacy group for communications consumers, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, has raised concerns that consumers currently do not have guarantees in relation to connection, reliability and repair timeframes for broadband with services through their retail service provider and the National Broadband Network (NBN).

According to ACCAN, consumers may have no choice in the network that services them as NBN is, in effect, a monopoly, and without guarantees their services are put at risk.

ACCAN’s concerns are raised in its submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) inquiry into NBN wholesale service standards.

“It is important that minimum connection, repair and reliability standards apply. While consumers deal directly with retail service providers it is important that incentives and accountability measures apply to the body responsible for delivering each element of the end-to-end services,” the ACCAN says.

“Therefore, it is important that minimum connection, repair and reliability standards apply. While consumers deal directly with retail service providers it is important that incentives and accountability measures apply to the body responsible for delivering each element of the end-to-end services. Consumers currently do not have guarantees in relation to connection, reliability and repair timeframes for broadband and this puts their services at risk.”

According to its submission, the ACCAN says that while there are legal consumer guarantees over the provision of services, there is little case law on how these might work in practice in telecommunications.

The ACCAN cautions that without a clearly codified framework, it is difficult for consumers to enforce their rights.
 
”While consumers may have some success asserting their rights at the retail level under contract or the Australian Consumer Law, this is much more complicated at the wholesale level. Improved consumer protections policy is required to adequately manage the tension between wholesale and retail performance,” the ACCAN suggests.

“ACCAN believes existing wholesale service standards do not achieve this and do not adequately protect consumers. The Wholesale Broadband Agreement (WBA) is an agreement between NBN and its retail customers (e.g. Telstra, Optus and TPG), and its focus is on network management rather than consumer demand.

“Creating lines of accountability from the wholesale provider to the retailer and thence from the retailer to the consumer is more likely to create a network responsive to consumer needs,” the ACCAN says.

The ACCAN warns that the significant increase in complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (41% in 2016/2017), specifically complaints about the NBN (159% in 2016/2017), and the fact that the top issues are connection delays and unusable services, “demonstrates that the current arrangements are not working”.     

According to the ACCAN, for an obligation to be sustainable, it should provide for a level of network service which realistically balances consumer need with the technical and resource limits of the network.

“The obligations should deliver a baseline level of adequate service to individual consumers. These should include:

a)    Customer service standards that set timeframes for:
•    Fault rectification
•    New connections
•    Existing connections (where infrastructure is in place), and
•    Appointment keeping.

b)    Reliability measures consisting of agreed independent performance benchmarks for network availability to encourage overall high performance across urban, regional and rural/remote geographies, that ensure end users experience a high level of network connectivity. These need to be targeted to address the severity of impact of unreliable services and include metrics such as the:

•    Number of minutes that a customer is without services in a year
•    Number of times a customer’s supply is interrupted per year
•    Duration of each interruption, and
•    Number of momentary interruptions per customer per year.

c)    Interim migration targets consisting of:

•    New connection timeframes (legacy service in place)
•    New connection timeframes (no legacy service in place)
•    Appointment keeping, and
•    Enhanced fault rectification for services that were disconnected in error.

“Using these measures, network reliability can be improved by identifying areas for remediation which are causing significant consumer detriment,” the ACCAN concludes.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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