ACCC pauses NBN inquiries due to virus


The competition watchdog is providing regulatory relief to the telecommunications industry on two fronts to allow the sector to better respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, its chairman says.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims told the CommsDay telecommunications summit via Zoom the agency paused two inquiries into the NBN last week and also indicated what actions it might take once the crisis is over.

The agency proposed incentives for NBN Co to meet its connection, fault repair and technician appointment commitments – such as a $75 rebate for missed appointments that would be passed along entirely to customers.

The other set out what the ACCC considered “fair, affordable prices” for basic speed internet services for consumers who have to move to the NBN under the government’s forced migration model.

The ACCC wants consumers forced to move to the NBN from ADSL, who do not necessarily value high-speed internet, to have the option of a 12/1 Mbps plan about the $35 level.

“We understand there is great interest in the outcome of these inquiries,” Mr Sims said on Monday.

“However, we feel it is appropriate to suspend them while the sector works to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the surge in demand for online services.”

Mr Sims said the ACCC was providing regulatory relief to allow internet providers co-ordinate to help deal with a surge in network demand as more Australians work from home.

Australia’s five biggest internet service providers and NBN Co have formed a working group to co-ordinate during the coronavirus crisis, he said.

They will be able to share network resources to improve connectivity in particular geographic areas running slowly due to data congestion, and to develop an industry approach to support small business and consumers who might not be able to afford communications services.

The ACCC has authorised a number of businesses including groceries stores and banks to temporarily work together during the crisis in ways that would usually be considered anti-competitive activity.

“These approvals are also short term and can be revoked when the crisis is over,” Mr Sims said.

“There will be a clear line concerning when co-operation among competitors is and is not allowed.”

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