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ACCC stands by rebate hike for missed NBN appointments

Releases two position papers as it pauses inquiries to let telcos focus on COVID-19 crisis

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has indicated it intends to push on with its efforts to raise the rebate paid by NBN Co for missed appointments from its current rate of $25 to $75, as it presses pause on two NBN-related inquiries.

The decision by the ACCC to stand by the rebate hike, which it outlined in a draft decision on the matter released in October last year for industry feedback as part of its ongoing NBN wholesale service standards inquiry, came in one of two position papers published on 2 April. 

The ACCC moved to outline its views on wholesale access terms currently being considered by two NBN-related inquiries after making a call to pause both inquiries in a bid to let the communications sector to focus more fully on its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two inquiries are aimed at examining both NBN entry-level access pricing and NBN wholesale service standards. The position papers, one published for each inquiry, are aimed at providing the industry with the ACCC’s current views of the nature and direction of any final access determination (FAD) that it may make, once circumstances stabilise, and it continues with its inquiry process.

“We have released the position papers to provide guidance for NBN Co and access seekers if they continue negotiations on new wholesale arrangements, which are due to expire later this year,” ACCC commissioner Cristina Cifuentes said.

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

One of the more notable measures put forward by the ACCC in its previously published draft decision was the move to increase the size of rebates for missed appointments by NBN technicians from $25 to $75 and requiring retail service providers to pass on this rebate to consumers.

Despite some push back from NBN Co over the course of the inquiry, with the network builder taking the view that a $75 rebate would be excessive when compared to the current rebate level, the new position papers indicate the consumer watchdog intends to continue pushing for such a change. 

“In the course of this inquiry, the ACCC has found that NBN Co’s wholesale arrangements on key aspects of service delivery, including connections, fault repairs, keeping appointments and network speed performance lack clear and strong service commitments and appropriate recourse when service levels are not met,” the ACCC’s NBN Wholesale Service Standards Inquiry Position Paper stated. 

“We have found that NBN Co’s service level commitments have either been expressed in terms of ‘best efforts’, have focussed on overall or average performance rather than individual service outcomes, or both. 

“Although NBN Co has shown considerable improvements in meeting service level targets,and in other aspects of service delivery over the course of the inquiry, the focus on overall or average performance can mask instances of poor service outcomes for individual consumers.

“We also found that current arrangements for rebates, which are paid by NBN Co to RSPs when service levels are not met, do not provide sufficient incentive to NBN Co to address individual issues and do not reflect the severity of service level misses. This can lead to poor consumer outcomes,” it said.

The ACCC said in the report that, while it has considered the views of some submitters to the inquiry that the rebate value should be higher, it considers that, on balance, a $75 rebate is high enough to adequately compensate consumer harms while also providing a strong incentive for NBN Co to improve its performance for keeping appointments.

The rebate value is just one several positions outlined in the NBN Wholesale Service Standards Inquiry Position Paper, which also looks at service level measurements and exclusions and service information and reporting.

The ACCC inquiry into NBN access pricing position paper, meanwhile, takes into account the ACCC’s position on matters including connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) utilisation conditions, consideration of a voice-only access product and transfer charges, among other items.