Watchdog sets March 2021 cut-off for NBN Co, telco cooperation

Involves NBN Co, Telstra, Optus, TPG, Vocus and Aussie Broadband

The competition watchdog has issued a final determination granting authorisation for NBN Co and a group of telco providers to work together until 31 March next year to bolster capacity amid COVID-19 disruptions.

The so-called ‘Special Working Group’, formed at the request of Communications Minister Paul Fletcher in March 2020, currently comprises of Telstra, Optus, TPG, Vocus and Aussie Broadband.

Under the authorisation, issued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the companies can discuss, agree and implement capacity optimisation strategies for the National Broadband Network (NBN), solely for the purpose of responding to the changes in demand on the network resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authorisation, which provides statutory protection from court action for conduct that might otherwise raise concerns under the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, is granted until 31 March 2021, the ACCC said in a statement.

“To ensure there is sufficient transparency over the conduct of the Special Working Group, authorisation is subject to certain reporting obligations. These are the same as those under the ACCC’s interim authorisation granted on 23 July 2020,” the ACCC said.

“The conditional interim authorisation remains in place until the ACCC’s determination comes into effect or the interim authorisation is revoked.  If no application for review is made to the Australian Competition Tribunal, the ACCC’s determination comes into effect on 2 October 2020,” it added.

The ACCC in April temporarily granted NBN Co and Australia's five largest telcos authorisation to form the Special Working Group to keep businesses and consumers connected and supported during the spread of COVID-19.

In January, the Commission issued a draft determination proposing to grant conditional authorisation until the end January.