Home Telecoms & NBN NBN Co accountability pledge by Labor if it regains power
Michelle Rowland: "over time, we've come to understand that both mobile networks and fixed-line networks are complementary rather than substitutes." Michelle Rowland: "over time, we've come to understand that both mobile networks and fixed-line networks are complementary rather than substitutes." Supplied Featured

The Australian Labor Party has pledged to make NBN Co, the company rolling out the national broadband network, more accountable to consumers if it gets back into power at the next federal election.

Labor Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said during a Sky News interview on Monday that she had spoken at many public forums around the country and when it came to the NBN, the main complaint she had encountered was the lack of accountability of the NBN Co.

"Now this government would have you believe that 9 out of 10 customers who are connected have a great experience," Rowland told interviewer Peta Credlin. "Well, as you would well know..., you can go down to any pub, speak to any number of taxi-drivers for example, and they will laugh you out of town because that is simply not happening.

"We are establishing a policy framework that puts consumers at the centre, not spin. And we are very determined to have a level of accountability for NBN Co that the retailers themselves are already subject to."

She pointed out that retail service providers were accountable both to their customers — through the contracts they sign — and also to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

"NBN Co is essentially accountable to nobody. This level of lack of accountability must end," Rowland added.

She reiterated the party's commitment to having as much fibre as possible in the rollout, a policy it has already publicised. "...we still maintain, and I articulated this view over a year ago, that at the very minimum we should be rolling out fibre at least to the kerb, at least to the driveway, as it's called, because that minimises the amount of copper in the network," Rowland said.

When the NBN construction began in 2009, the Labor Party was in power and it envisaged fibre being rolled out to the premises for 93% of the populace, with the remaining 7% to be connected through either wireless or satellite.

The rollout became a political issue when the Coalition Government that took power in 2013 decided to change the technology used to what it called a multi-technology mix.

The MTM includes fibre-to-the-node, HFC cable, satellite, and wireless, apart from fibre-to-the-premises which is being provided only to new dwellings.

As the MTM plan and the connections provided have come under increasing criticism, fibre-to-the-distribution-point, which considerably reduces the copper lead-in to premises — what the network builder NBN Co calls fibre-to-the-curb — has been introduced as well.

The rollout of the NBN is scheduled to be completed in 2020. The next federal election can be held between August this year and November 2019.

"Now, the government took its time but has since adopted that position for some of Australia. However, we still have large parts of Australia that will be stuck with a copper-based network. So I think the first thing to note is our commitment to maximising the amount of fibre that's in the network," Rowland said.

She pointed out that the rollout had reached the point when the Coalition was in charge of it for longer than Labor. "...people are mightily sick, not only of being treated as political footballs, being bounced between NBN Co and retailers when there's a problem, but they're quite fed up of not having a government that's absolutely committed to them as consumers," she said.

Asked what Labor would to ensure NBN Co was more accountable, Rowland said there had been recommendations from the the Joint Standing Committee into the NBN which suggested that the TIO should have a broader remit. Then there was a call for the ACCC to scrutinise what speeds people were receiving.

"...we currently have a Customer Service Guarantee that essentially applies to Telstra and is limited to voice services, where if you miss an appointment, for example, for a connection or if they miss an appointment to rectify a fault then they are actually liable to the customer.

"There is no such regime that exists in the broadband world. And one of the biggest complaints I receive... is people who take days off work who end up waiting at home for NBN contractors to turn up. They wait a second day and the contractor doesn't turn up. ...I've been at small businesses where they've told me that they've gone for weeks on end without not only a broadband service but a phone service."

Asked about the impending advent of 5G and the possible impact it would have on the NBN, Rowland responded: "...over time, we've come to understand that both mobile networks and fixed-line networks are complementary rather than substitutes.

"But that can change depending on what type of customer you are. We know that around 90% of broadband traffic is actually now carried through fixed-line networks, but it wouldn't take much, just a minor increase of a switch to mobile services, to have a dramatic impact on NBN's bottom line.

"And I think where the NBN is susceptible..., is areas where the network is not up to scratch; those areas, for example, that have fibre-to-the-node, that have that copper-based solution. And where people aren't enjoying the speeds that they paid for, people will more readily turn to 5G and that will have serious implications for NBN's long-term revenues."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

 

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