ACMA's New Year's broadband resolutions vow to end the NBN blame game

Things should turn around for the NBN in 2018, because 2017 was the year when so much blew up in its face. Long-suffering Australian broadband users received an early Christmas present this week when the Australian Communications and Media Authority unveiled proposed new rules to force internet retailers to lift their game when it comes to hooking up homes to the NBN.

After playing the blame game for years, NBN and Australia’s internet retailers will finally be forced to work together in 2018. Photo: Adam Turner

The long-overdue rules mostly address systemic problems that NBN, retailers and the government have tried to sweep under the carpet for the last 12 months. Under the proposed rules, telcos could face fines of up to £10 million if they fail to properly manage customer migrations to the NBN.

They need to:

  • test NBN connection speeds and check for faults when connecting homes
  • reconnect customers to legacy services if their NBN connection is faulty
  • improve complaint-handling procedures
  • report complaint numbers to the ACMA

Hopefully these changes will also help stamp out strongarm tactics used to coerce Australians into quickly switching to the NBN while sticking with their same retailer. Such behaviour has seen the ACCC drag Optus to the courts[1], with the telco forced to offer bullied customers the option to break their contract and walk away. Consultation on the changes will begin in early 2018, and the rules should be in place by July.

The best news is that the new rules will be directly enforceable by the ACMA, hopefully closing the accountability gap which has seen some Australian homes trapped in limbo with no home phone or broadband for months[2]. Plenty of blame to go around

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Get the latest news and updates emailed straight to your inbox. While these new rules are aimed at retail service providers like Telstra, Optus and TPG, plenty of blame for Australia’s broadband woes lies with NBN and the government.

For example, NBN was slow to acknowledge HFC “false activations”[3] and other connection issues which were leaving homes without broadband. In its pig-headed determination to push ahead with the rollout, heeding the will of its political masters, NBN also refused to concede the need to break the regulatory Cease Sale deadlock[4] with Telstra Wholesale – a Catch-22 which prevented homes returning to their old broadband service while they waited for their faulty NBN connection to be fixed. If you found yourself trapped in broadband limbo you could take your complaint all the way to NBN head honcho Bill Morrow, Telstra chief Andy Penn or Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and still be told it was out of their hands.

Even the ACCC was powerless to act, although behind the scenes it was trying to negotiate a solution. Time for change All parties involved with the NBN rollout have started to change their tune in the last few months and accept responsibility for their failures.

This includes backing down on the Cease Sale deadlock[5], changing the Ready For Service regulations, overhauling the customer migration process and even putting the HFC cable rollout on hold[6] – a frustrating delay yet still a much-needed recognition that all is not well. Don’t let anyone involved with the NBN rollout try to claim the moral high ground, they all knew the system was broken but failed to act until these issues were dragged into the spotlight. Hopefully the ACMA has the clout to rectify many of the issues which have turned the national broadband rollout into a nightmare for so many Australians.

It won’t be smooth sailing in 2018, but things should improve once the blame game ends and all parties are held to account. Signing off With that the Gadgets on the Go blog comes to an end, after ten years[7] it’s run its course but I’ll still be writing for Fairfax every week next year in print and online.

I’ll also continue to cover the NBN on my weekly podcast Vertical Hold: Behind The Tech News[8], where Alex and I probably talked about the trials and tribulations of the NBN rollout more than any other topic this year. It’s wishful thinking, but here’s hoping the NBN doesn’t dominate the headlines again next year as we start to sort out this mess. Have a great Christmas break and best of luck when it comes to escaping the NBN blame game in 2018.

— ends —

References

  1. ^ ACCC drag Optus to the courts (www.smh.com.au)
  2. ^ no home phone or broadband for months (www.smh.com.au)
  3. ^ HFC “false activations” (www.smh.com.au)
  4. ^ Cease Sale deadlock (www.smh.com.au)
  5. ^ Cease Sale deadlock (www.smh.com.au)
  6. ^ HFC cable rollout on hold (www.smh.com.au)
  7. ^ ten years (www.smh.com.au)
  8. ^ Vertical Hold: Behind The Tech News (verticalholdauaudio.libsyn.com)

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