Improving the NBN Customer Experience
This chapter examines various proposals for regulatory and practical
changes aimed at improving the end-to-end experience of consumers on the NBN. A
primary point of focus is consideration of proposals designed to give consumers
clearer and more accurate information about NBN services at all relevant points
of contact. These would allow consumers to make better choices about which
service provider and which plan will meet their needs, and ensure that all pertinent
information is disclosed by RSPs in their interactions with customers.
The chapter also examines the need for the introduction of broadband or
service performance guarantees, which would ensure that consumers and other
players in the supply chain have clear, enforceable rights in respect of the
timeliness and quality of their service. The role of the Telecommunications
Industry Ombudsman (TIO) in resolving NBN complaints is also considered, with
suggestions made relating to the scope of the TIO's powers in resolving
nbn has advised the committee that the rollout of its network is now
more than halfway through. Given the significant experience now inside the nbn,
the RSPs, the regulators and the Department of Communications and the Arts (the
Department), the committee believes that many of the common complaints driven
by systemic inadequacies would have been rectified by now.
In previous chapters the committee has referred to evidence about
consumer complaints. They can be grouped as follows:
- The initial connection (Migration Experience):
delays in connection once an area is declared ready for service;
absence of a plan to connect premises that are declared 'Service Class
0' or equivalent;
missed appointments and multiple call backs;
poor coordination between nbn and RSPs;
blame shifting between nbn and RSPs for failure in initial connections;
poor back of house procedures in RSPs for dealing with complaints.
Network Reliability and Network Performance:
loss of service; and
customers not getting the speeds that they thought they were paying for.
Transparency and the Adequacy of Information:
information about network performance at a per premises level;
marketing practices of RSPs; and
awareness of consumer rights and dispute resolution processes.
The committee has heard some evidence from the Department, nbn, and
others regarding attempts to implement measures that will improve the NBN
customer experience. The material before the committee to date indicates that
these measures fall short of what is needed.
Officials from the Department noted the following at a public hearing of
the committee in June 2017:
[nbn] is taking steps to address its engagement with retail
service providers and end users to improve the overall customer experience.
Recently the company announced a restructure where it established two
executives with a customer focus: one focused on residential customers and one
focused on business customers. The company has also established a program
specifically to look at the end user experience to see how its systems and
processes interacts with the retail service providers to improve the flow of
information and the speed at which it can provide connections to end users. The
company has through that process written out to its major retail service
providers, and they have started a series of mutual discussions to look at how
their systems can be redesigned to aim to address those issues that are causing
delays or lack of information for the consumers.
Mr Bill Morrow, Chief Executive Officer, nbn, stated further at the
committee's Sydney public hearing:
We have a company-wide focus on customer experience, so
working with the industry to rectify this is clearly a top priority for the
company. We look at the root causes of issues and identify how we are going to
fix them. In doing so, we look at what NBN is responsible for and what sits
outside of NBN's responsibilities with RSPs or with delivery partners, and of
course we look to collaborate with all of them to help fix the issue and make
this a far simpler, more straightforward process for the end users.
A Departmental official commented in May 2017 that the Department is
taking a coordinating role in attempting to drive change in this area:
Importantly we are looking at developing sets metrics so that
we can accurately report on improvements in customer service at NBN level and
also the retail service provider end... [We] very much see it as our role to draw
together all of the work that has been done at the retail service provider end,
very closely work with the NBN and understand improvements and changes in their
service standards at the NBN end, and work with the ACMA, the ACCC and the TIO
and the sector on where improvements can be made. So there is not a single
approach that we could take that will necessarily solve the problem. It needs
to be industry, government and the NBN working together to resolve the issues.
The committee's recommendations in this chapter are aimed at improving
services and consumers rights for end users of the NBN.
Introduction of broadband service or performance guarantees
As discussed in Chapters 3 and 4, many customers have had extremely poor
experiences during the installation and connection process, as well as
encountering difficulties when attempting to have faults with their NBN service
Several submitters and witnesses suggested that enforceable service or
performance guarantees should be introduced in order to protect consumers
connecting to and using the NBN network. For example, the Regional, Rural and
Remote Communications Coalition submitted:
There are no guaranteed service connection or fault repair
timeframes for broadband services; nor are there any independent reliability
measures. This creates a gap in policy and puts all consumers in a vulnerable
position. Already the lack of service guarantees and safeguards are leading to
complaints, concerns and debates about NBN services. This is more evident for
regional and rural consumers for whom nbn does not offer any guarantees, even
though they may rely solely on nbn services for their communication needs.
In an environment where consumers are passed between retail
service providers and nbn, it is vital that lines of accountability between the
wholesale provider and a consumer are established. In order for consumers to
use and benefit from services, there must be a minimum level of service.
Establishing this would provide the transparency and accountability which is
currently missing. Additionally, regulatory bodies such as the ACMA should have
oversight of the performance of the network and the powers to determine service
levels and rebates when the network does not perform.
ACCAN noted that while there are contractual arrangements between RSPs
and nbn (through the Wholesale Broadband Agreement), these 'do not provide a
safeguard for consumers and their services'. It argued:
There needs to be clear lines of responsibility and standards
which set out acceptable levels of network operations and services. Creating
lines of accountability between the wholesale provider and a consumer is more
likely to create a network responsive to consumer needs.
ACCAN argued that the changes required include:
wholesale service obligations setting timeframes for connections,
fault repairs, and network reliability benchmarks;
arrangements to deal with the tension between wholesale and
retail end user obligations; and
incentives to comply in the form of end user compensation,
penalties and wholesale pricing considerations.
Ms Rachel Thomas, Policy Officer for ACCAN argued that these measures
would reduce the ability of nbn and the RSPs to blame shift on customer issues:
So what our service standards recommendation and policy
position relates to is making sure that there are clear standards on each level
and that consumers know what to expect from their service. It reduces that
finger pointing because they will know exactly when the connection time frame
is supposed to happen, what kind of level of reliability they can expect and
how many moments of outages there possibly will be on the service. At the
moment, from a consumer's point of view, that is very vague.
Extension of the existing
Telecommunications Customer Service Guarantee
The existing Telecommunications Customer Service Guarantee Standard
applies to telephone services, and specifies time frames for the connection of
specified services, the repair of faults and the attendance of appointments by
service providers. Customers are entitled to compensation if these time frames
are not met.
Several submitters argued that this guarantee should be extended, or a separate
guarantee introduced, to cover broadband services. For example, the Queensland
The current Customer Service Guarantee for telecommunications
is a standard designed to encourage service improvement and guard against poor
service. Phone companies are required to meet minimum performance requirements
for specified services and compensate customers when these are not met. Similar
guarantees are currently unavailable for broadband services. This situation
needs to be updated to reflect the new telecommunications model that is being
implemented through the NBN.
Better Internet for Rural, Regional & Remote Australia argued that
an updated Customer Service Guarantee should deal with issues including:
minimum data allowances; availability; accessibility; affordability; upload and
download speeds; quality of service; and customer service and repair
A representative of the Department noted in May 2017 that a departmental
review of consumer safeguards in the telecommunications industry is currently
in progress. This review comes in the context of the Productivity Commission's
report to government on the future of the Telecommunications Universal Service
The consumer safeguards review has been contemplated...as a
response to the  regional telecommunications inquiry. It is also
something referenced by the PC's review of the USO. We have a number of moving
parts in this space. Consumer safeguards are seen as probably the last piece
that will consider the entirety of the findings of the USO review and then how
that plays out in an NBN environment. The consumer safeguards review is an
internal department process, but there will be consultation with industry and
stakeholders about how we position a consumer framework in the future to make
sure it is effective and relevant to consumers.
It was noted that the future of the Customer Service Guarantee would be
considered as part of this review:
We expect that [the review] will be done in phases. We are
looking at having short term, medium term and long term. We are ultimately
looking at taking the consumer framework to be as relevant as possible in a
post‑NBN environment. So we are looking at the period of the rest of the
rollout to prepare and gradually implement changes to ensure that the framework
suits the needs of consumers in that environment.
... [The Customer Service Guarantee] will be part of the review
in terms of discussing with consumers, industry et cetera how we make the
protections and the guarantees involved in that CSG relevant in a post-NBN
environment. Is it something consumers value, do we want to take it forward,
and how should it be shaped?
The committee believe that access to affordable reliable broadband
services are essential to participation in modern society and to running a
business. The lack of enforceable rights and protections for consumers is a
significant regulatory deficiency that cannot be allowed to continue. Examples
cited in Chapter 3 show that delays in fault rectification and disruptions to
service can have a significant monetary cost to individual customers and small
business operators relying on the NBN. Businesses and their
representatives have raised the concerns about the lack of business grade
products which would provide service rights and remedies in the business
environment. Customers have found it difficult to resolve complaints; are
subject to onerous requirements in terms of proving economic loss; and have
often been unable to gain any financial compensation.
The committee notes the Department has been reviewing consumer
safeguards in the telecommunications sector for some time. The committee
believes that lack of progress in developing new consumer protections is
leaving business and residential consumers at risk. Appropriate customer
protections must be established for broadband services, including: service
connection and fault repair timeframes; minimum network performance and
reliability; and compensation arrangements when these standards are not met.
The committee recommends that the regulation of broadband wholesale
services be overhauled to establish clear rights and protections for suppliers
and end users of NBN broadband services. This framework should include: service
connection and fault repair timeframes; minimum network performance and
reliability; and compensation arrangements when these standards are not met.
The committee requests that the Department brief the committee on progress in
developing these protections by December 2017.
The committee recommends that nbn and RSPs develop business grade
products specifically designed for the small business market which provide
service guarantees and remedies. The committee requests that nbn and
the Communications Alliance report back to the committee on progress in
developing these products by December 2017.
Role of the TIO in resolving customer complaints
The committee heard evidence from some stakeholders that specific
changes to the role and function of the TIO may enhance the resolution of
customer complaints relating to the NBN.
Capacity for the TIO to play a
'broker' role between nbn and RSPs to resolve complaints
The capacity of the TIO to force nbn and RSPs to meet in order to
resolve complaints was discussed at several public hearings of the committee.
The current Ombudsman, Ms Judi Jones, stated that while the TIO is
working on getting nbn actively involved in resolving complaints, it does not
have formal powers to coerce nbn and RSPs to meet in order to resolve issues.
When asked about occasions where there are multiple parties involved in a
complaint issue (for example, nbn, delivery contractors and an RSP) and
blame-shifting is occurring about who is responsible, Ms Jones expressed the
view that it would be helpful for the TIO to be able to get all the parties
involved in the resolution of the complaint.
In a further response to a question on notice about what the TIO
required in order to better be able to resolve complaints, the TIO stated that
having 'the authority to require all the
relevant parties in the supply chain to cooperate with the TIO and to provide
information to the TIO would assist the resolution of complaints'.
Several other witnesses who gave evidence to the committee agreed with
the proposition that the TIO should be given formal powers to compel nbn and
RSPs to meet in order to resolve complaints. For example, Mr Alex Green from
Mansfield Shire Council stated that in the absence of such a mechanism, it
'would seem to allow the buck‑passing to continue' between nbn and RSPs.
When questioned on whether the TIO's remit should be expanded to allow
it to convene meetings of nbn and RSPs in order to resolve complaints, a
representative of the ACMA expressed the view that in cases where the practical
solution for the consumer is outside the control of the RSP, it may be
appropriate for the TIO to be able to engage whoever is best placed to resolve
the practical problem.
To what degree should nbn be
subject to the TIO scheme?
Under the current operation of the TIO scheme, complaints are only registered
directly against nbn in a limited number of circumstances, namely: where the
complaint relates to nbn's entry onto land to install equipment; and where the
complaint pertains to property damage by nbn.
All other complaints are registered against the customer's RSP. Ms Jones
explained in evidence to the committee why almost all complaints are logged
against the RSP:
The consumer, whether a residential consumer or a small
business consumer, has their primary contract with the retail service provider.
Behind that there will be contractual arrangements perhaps with a wholesaler or
an aggregator, and through that or directly a contract with NBN Co. When we
register complaints we register them against the retail service provider, even
those that may be a complaint about a service delivered over the National
Broadband Network, and NBN Co may have a part to play in it, because that is
where the contractual relationship lies.
The committee heard evidence of cases where the inability to lodge
complaints against nbn had resulted in customers being unable to gain a
resolution from the TIO.
Some stakeholders expressed the view that the TIO should be able to register
complaints directly against nbn in cases where it is responsible for the issues
underlying a complaint. For example, Mrs Kylie Stretton, Co-Founder of Better
Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia told the committee:
[We are aware of the TIO], but unfortunately NBN are not
touchable by them, because they are a wholesaler and not a retailer. A lot of
our members say, 'We'll just ring the TIO.' When they do that and they lodge a
complaint then the retail service provider is immediately slugged with a fine
and it may not always be their fault. It might be NBN's fault, but they are
untouchable by the TIO at the moment. Even though it is a good thing that they
can lodge a complaint, it is not fair on the retail service providers if it is
not their fault and they get a fine because, to us, that is less money that
they have to put towards customer service.
The ACMA has stated publicly that the TIO arguably should be given the
power to make determinations and resolve complaints where wholesale providers
such as nbn are at fault:
Recently, the ACMA has seen an increase in the number of
consumers referred to the ACMA because the TIO is unable to handle their
complaint. Typically, these complaints involve a 'wholesale' provider (most
commonly nbn) with whom the complaining consumer has no direct relationship.
Consideration should be given to modifying the TIO scheme so
that the TIO can deal with complaints across the supply chain.
If the 'root case' of a consumer or small business problem
lies at the wholesale level, it is arguable that the TIO should be able to make
a determination that binds the wholesale level provider (for example, a
determination requiring the wholesaler to compensate the consumer or reimburse
the retailer). Arguably, the TIO should also be able to apportion its complaint
handling costs to the party or parties best placed to resolve the complaint.
Such an institutional change is likely to strengthen the
incentives for wholesalers to address problems promptly even without TIO
At a public hearing in August 2017, nbn CEO Mr Bill Morrow expressed the
contrary view that nbn should not be subject to the TIO scheme in the same way
as retailers are.
Mr Morrow argued that this is because the TIO cannot differentiate as to
which company is at fault in most complaints, elaborating as follows:
It's too complicated to isolate it and say, 'Okay, give us
your opinion on just the NBN bit of this', and I think the TIO recognise that.
They tried to do this, in terms of the fault found or discovered. If a
complaint comes through and they don't know, they send it to RSP X and NBN. It
comes back and NBN raise their hand and say: 'We fouled up on this. We didn't
get out there at the time we told the customer. It's rectified, and we'll be
out there Tuesday to get this sorted.' The TIO can do a check mark and say,
'Okay, that one clearly is an NBN related issue.' But that's the minority of
cases, not the majority; hence the complexity and difficulty in being able to
say, 'We're going to determine NBN Co related faults for a national broadband
network issue' when they can't differentiate.
Mr Morrow did state, however, that in the minority of cases where it is
clearly established that nbn is responsible for the cause of the complaint, nbn
should take responsibility for paying the TIO costs associated with that
dispute, rather than the RSP paying those costs as is current practice.
Current independent review of the
It was noted during the committee's inquiry that the TIO is currently
undergoing an independent review, in accordance with legislative provisions
that require a review of the TIO every five years.
The review is being undertaken by an independent consultancy firm and is considering
various issues relating to the TIO's role and powers, including:
the effectiveness of the TIO's complaint resolution processes,
systems and resources;
the effectiveness of the TIO's approach to systemic issues in
improving telecommunications provider practices;
the adequacy of the TIO's authorising environment (including the
legislative framework and the TIO's Constitution and Terms of Reference); and
the effectiveness of the TIO's engagement with government,
regulators, consumers, industry and other stakeholders.
The TIO published an issues paper relating to the review in May 2017,
and has received 22 submissions to the review. The report of the review was due
to be provided to the Ombudsman by 29 August 2017.
Proposed changes to TIO terms of reference
On 23 August 2017, the TIO announced proposed changes to its terms of
reference. These changes would:
reflect the legislative requirement for carriers and
intermediaries in the supply of telecommunications services (such as
aggregators) to belong to the TIO scheme;
strengthen the obligation on members to provide information
requested by the TIO in order to resolve a complaint; and
strengthen the obligation on members to cooperate with TIO
In relation to the provision of information, the proposed changes would
make it clear that the TIO can obtain information from any TIO member in
relation to a complaint, not just the RSP against which the complaint has been
Similarly, the changes to the cooperation provisions would ensure that
the TIO can require members other than the RSP against whom the complaint is
made to cooperate with the TIO's decisions and recommendations, in cases where
the TIO considers the other member needs to take action to resolve a complaint.
Timeframes for complaints
resolution and role of the TIO
The committee is particularly concerned at the length of time taken to
resolve some complaints and get NBN services working properly, especially where
this delay has a monetary impact on small businesses or presents a health and
safety risk for households. All parties involved, including nbn, RSPs and the
TIO, must improve their focus on resolving issues as quickly as possible.
The committee notes that the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code,
an enforceable code administered by the ACMA, does not currently specifically
require consumers to be made aware of the TIO scheme when they lodge an
internal complaint with their RSP.
The committee considers that bringing this information to customers' attention
at the time of lodging a complaint with their RSP will ensure that RSPs do
their utmost to resolve complaints speedily.
The committee recommends that the Telecommunications Consumer Protection
Code be amended to require that customers lodging a complaint with their retail
service provider are specifically made aware of external dispute resolution
options including the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman at the time they
initially lodge the complaint.
Role of the TIO in resolving
The committee agrees with the TIO's stated view that is should be given
the authority to require all relevant parties in the supply chain to cooperate
with the TIO and provide information to the TIO in order to resolve customer
The committee agrees further, that the TIO should be able to require
representatives from nbn, RSPs and any other relevant parties to meet together
or otherwise cooperate in order to resolve a customer complaint, in cases where
the TIO deems this to be necessary. This position appears to be broadly
supported by the ACMA.
On the question of whether nbn should be fully subject to the TIO
scheme, the committee considers that there is no compelling reason why nbn
should not be subject to the scheme in cases where it can clearly be identified
as the party at fault for a customer complaint. While in many cases it is not
possible to attribute fault in this way, in the minority of cases where this
attribution is more straightforward, the TIO should have the ability to
register complaints directly against nbn, with nbn then responsible for paying
the fees associated with that complaint.
The committee notes the current independent review of the TIO now taking
place, and notes further the proposed changes to the TIO's Terms of Reference
released in August 2017. Any changes implemented to the TIO's Terms of
Reference and operations must specifically ensure that it has the ability to
require all relevant parties to meet in order to conciliate and resolve
complaints, where the TIO deems this to be necessary.
The committee recommends that the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
be empowered to compel any relevant parties to a complaint to meet together or
otherwise cooperate in order to facilitate the resolution of that complaint
within a set reasonable timeframe.
The committee notes that there are significant inadequacies in resolving
customer complaints, notably lack of direct access with nbn and a gap in the
knowledge of available avenues for complaint and dispute resolution. Noting
these issues cross wholesale and retail providers there is a need for a single
agency to provide this information to ensure uniformity and consistency of
message and advice.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government direct nbn to
clearly identify the complaint handling process for consumers, including:
complaint resolution processes and timeframes, and internal and external
complaint escalation processes. This information must be provided by nbn in a
way that meets Australian Government accessibility guidelines.
Misleading information provided to customers and consumer education
A key theme emerging in evidence to the committee was the need for
better information to be provided to customers at every stage of interaction
with the NBN. Specific issues examined included the information provided by
RSPs in their marketing and signup processes, as well as what general
information about the performance of NBN products is available to promote
Information provided to consumers
in marketing materials and at the point of sale
Several proposals were raised with the committee that would seek to
prevent misleading information being presented to consumers by RSPs, in
marketing in their NBN products and during the signup process.
ACCC principles on broadband speeds
marketing and related issues
As noted in Chapter 1, in February 2017 the ACCC released a set of six
principles to guide RSPs in informing consumers of the speeds that they
typically deliver on their broadband plans. The principles are as follows:
should be provided with accurate information about typical busy period speeds
that the average consumer on a broadband plan can expect to receive.
network speeds or theoretical speeds taken from technical specifications should
not be advertised without reference to typical busy period speeds.
about the performance of promoted applications should be accurate and
known to affect service performance should be disclosed to consumers.
information should be presented in a manner that is easily comparable by
consumers, for example by adopting standard descriptive terms that can be
readily understood and recognised.
should have systems in place to diagnose and resolve broadband speed issues.
The ACCC's rationale for issuing these principles is stated in its
consultation outcomes report:
The ACCC is issuing these principles as consumers have
limited information and support in identifying broadband plans that meet their
speed requirements. This is raising consumer search costs, inhibiting
competition and feeding into an increasing level of consumer complaint.
In this regard, over 80 per cent of consumers that
participated in the ACCC consultation stated it is difficult to ascertain and
compare the speeds available across RSPs and plans, and that RSPs could assist
them by providing readily-comparable information about the speeds they
At the committee's Canberra public hearing in March 2017, officials of
the ACCC noted that the principles are to be adhered to on an 'opt-in' basis by
RSPs, while noting that the ACCC would take into account a provider's
compliance with the principles in the event that complaints are raised against
When questioned whether these guidelines should be binding on RSPs, an
ACCC representative stated that its approach is to watch the industry's
response to the principles and then consider whether enforcement mechanisms are
[W]e have said to the industry: 'You always ask us for
guidance. We've given you guidance. We've given you principles. We've given you
an opportunity to contribute to those principles. We'll give you guidance, and
then we can make a determination as to in what way we make that guidance
stick.' Whether that is enforceability for a code or another mechanism we will
see, but I want to encourage them, at the moment, to engage in this process,
and premature discussions around enforceability may not do that.
Ms Clare O'Reilly of the ACCC noted that if necessary, the principles
could ultimately be incorporated into the Telecommunications Consumer
Protections Code (TCP Code), which is an enforceable code administered by the
The industry has signed up to a code which covers consumer
protection matters, and one of the requirements of that code is that an RSP has
to provide a customer information statement at the time of purchase or at the
time that a consumer is looking to purchase a particular service. That customer
information statement has to be consistent across all industries so you are
comparing apples with apples, and it includes such things as price and the
central elements of the service that is being offered. The TCP Code is up for
review this year and, although it is under the Australian Communications and
Media Authority, which is our fellow regulator, the ACCC obviously has an
interest in how that code is developed and in making sure that it includes
things that have changed since the last code review.
We understand that NBN matters are to be included in that
code. They are not at the moment but they will be... [O]ne of the things we
would be looking for is that the principles we have announced are incorporated
in some way in that code. That code is enforceable, and I suppose that is the
advantage: it is proactive; it tells RSPs about the standards and behaviours
that are expected. With the [Australian Consumer Law] we have to wait for a
problem to arise before we can take action.
Representatives from the ACMA confirmed for the committee that
the TCP Code is being reviewed in the second half of 2017.
Ms Jennifer McNeill, General Manager Content Consumer and Citizen Division at
the ACMA, told the committee that the review may lead to changes in the TCP
Code to address NBN‑specific issues:
We have been reflecting very carefully on whether [the TCP
Code] is specific enough to deal with the NBN issues that consumers are
confronting. As a regulator, it's generally, in our view, preferable to have an
approach which is focused on objectives and delivering outcomes than necessarily
looking at technologies or particular incidents or events such as the rollout,
which will have a limited duration. If we can put in place lasting and relevant
protections that apply, irrespective of the technology, irrespective of how the
NBN is delivered, then that is obviously a better thing to do.
When asked about the recent guidance issued by the ACCC, an official
from the Department stated that it will be very useful in terms of helping the
industry respond to the current issues being faced, and that the Department's
expectation is that the guidance will be adhered to by the industry.
Further ACCC guidance released in
On 21 August 2017, the ACCC released detailed industry guidance on
implementing its six principles concerning the marketing of broadband speeds.
It outlined four key imperatives for RSPs, which are that RSPs should:
indicate, in their plan descriptions and when marketing broadband
plans that they supply over the NBN, the speeds at which the plans typically
operate during the busy evening period;
in order to assist consumers to readily compare plans, adopt a
standardised labelling system (basic evening speed, standard evening speed,
standard plus evening speed and premium evening speed) that indicates a minimum
'typical busy period speed' for the plan;
take steps to provide remedies to those customers that cannot
obtain the speeds at which their selected plan typically operates due to their
particular network connection. This may include taking steps to deliver the
speeds promised under the plan, providing billing refunds and reductions,
supplying a more appropriate plan and/or offering to those customers the option
to exit the contract without penalty; and
for services supplied over FTTB and FTTN connections, where there
is clear potential for some consumers to not receive typical plan speeds, RSPs
should include clear and prominent disclosure in product descriptions and
marketing, and give point of sale or post sale information and assistance to
The ACCC noted that its guidance would be reviewed in 12 months to
ascertain whether it has been effective in addressing consumer concerns.
The ACCC recognises this is a voluntary and best practice
guide. However, given the significant consumer detriment currently being
reported in relation to these issues, the ACCC encourages RSPs to immediately
implement measures in accordance with this guide, save for those elements of
the guide that are informed by network, which testing may require up to 3 months
Existing ACMA determination on provision
of information to FTTP customers
ACCAN noted in its submission that the ACMA made a statutory
determination in 2014 requiring RSPs to discuss particular information with
customers signing up to a FTTP service on the NBN, including information around
how the customer uses telecommunications services and their options in case of
medical needs and power outages.
ACCAN argued that a new determination is required to ensure that RSPs are
appropriately discussing matters with consumers regardless of which NBN
technology they are being connected to:
As consumers need to order services through an RSP, it is
right that responsibility is on the RSP to inform consumers and ensure they
understand. A code is needed, as RSPs may not wish to do this themselves, as it
may put consumers off purchasing services from them. Requiring RSPs to gain
informed consent across all technologies would ensure consumers receive
consistent advice and can make informed decisions about their services.
Therefore we believe that a determination should be made that requires RSPs to
gain informed consent on all services switching to nbn.
The committee considers that improving the quality, clarity and
timeliness of information provided to consumers about NBN products is critical
to enhancing the overall consumer experience.
The committee believes the principles released by the ACCC in
February 2017 concerning the marketing of broadband speeds, and the
extensive industry guidance supporting these principles released in August 2017
have the potential to improve selling practices in the industry. On their own
they are not sufficient to deal with the problems the committee has identified.
These principles represent voluntary, best practice guidance, and are not
enforceable. Mandated standards are required to ensure all relevant information
is disclosed to consumers.
The committee notes the ACMA's current review of the TCP Code, and
considers that a revised TCP Code should incorporate the broadband speed
marketing principles released by the ACCC together with the matters identified
in this report. This should include specific requirements to ensure that
critical information about the expected speed of services is provided to
customers before and at the point of sale.
In particular, the NBN must provide information about actual attainable
line speed to RSPs on a per premises basis. RSPs must be required to provide
information to the consumer about the actual attainable line speed at their specific
address, both before customers sign up to a service, and by confirming this
information once the service has commenced.
The committee also notes ACCAN's suggestion that an additional ACMA
determination should be made to ensure that relevant issues (not just relating
to performance speeds) are disclosed to customers prior to a service being
purchased, across all NBN technology types. The committee agrees that relevant
disclosure requirements, currently only applicable to FTTP services, need to be
extended to all NBN services, and that the ACMA should investigate whether this
would best be accomplished through a revised statutory determination, or
through updates to the TCP Code.
The committee recommends that the Australian Communications and Media
Authority develop and introduce an updated Telecommunications Consumer
Protections Code that specifically addresses issues raised in relation to customer
experiences with NBN services. This should include mandatory, enforceable
standards to regulate the marketing of broadband speeds, in line with the
recent principles and industry guidance released by the Australian Competition
and Consumer Commission. The updated instrument must ensure that end users have
rights and accessible procedures to enforce those rights.
The committee recommends that the ACMA consider introducing an updated
statutory determination, applicable to all NBN technology types, to require
retail service providers to inform customers of any critical service issues and
line impairments to ensure the customer has understood these issues, prior to a
Broadband Performance Monitoring
and Reporting Program
On 7 April 2017 the Minister for Communications, Senator the Hon. Mitch
Fifield, announced that the ACCC would be implementing a Broadband Performance
Monitoring and Reporting (BPMR) program for fixed-line NBN broadband services.
The announcement by the Minister stated:
The BPMR program will enable consumers to compare speeds
delivered in peak periods via independent reporting of broadband speeds.
Performance information is a key factor for consumers when
purchasing plans from a retail service provider. The Government acknowledges
that this will be vital as demand for data grows.
By collecting and publishing information about the speed and
reliability of broadband packages, consumers will be better placed to choose a
plan that is right for them. It will also encourage retailers to compete on the
quality of their broadband plans.
The announcement noted that the program was being introduced following a
successful pilot program in 2015, and is modelled on similar successful schemes
in the UK and the US. It stated that the ACCC will implement the scheme by sourcing
performance data from around 4,000 volunteer customers of retail service
providers across the country, and that $7 million would be provided to the ACCC
over four years from 1 July 2017 to implement the program.
The BPRM program
At the committee's public hearing in Melbourne on 19 April 2017, the
committee discussed the details of BPMR program with representatives from the
ACCC. Mr Sean Riordan, General Manager, Industry Structure and Compliance,
ACCC, explained how the program would operate:
In very broad terms, a volunteer panel is called for. Those
volunteers are issued with a testing device, which they connect to the modem in
their house. The modem is programmed to generate test signals, which go to a
test server. It does that in a very systematic and programmed manner, so that
at the end of a particular period we have recorded how well the broadband
connection has operated—that is, the speed at which test communications have
been conveyed across the connection and other characteristics like how long the
return path has taken for the communication to go there and back.
In terms of the reports for the BPMR program, the committee was
At the end of [the reporting] period you can then aggregate
up the results and get a view as to what the typical performance was for the
volunteers that were on, say, the Telstra plans, the Optus plans, the TPG
plans, the various focused brands and other key entrants that may come into the
market and take up a significant share of the services. Then that information
can be presented back to the consumers through a statistical model to show
that, in general terms, if you were on that particular plan in the last
quarter, you could have reasonably expected to have received this level of
performance. The consumers can then make a decision as to whether they want to
continue to pay for the top speed service, if that is what they originally
selected, or whether they want to migrate down to a more reasonably-priced
service if they do not think they are getting value out of that higher-priced
service. Or they may shop around the next time their contract is up and think,
'Here's a service provider that looks to have been doing better in their plans
in delivering the speeds to the consumer, so I'll choose that particular
service provider next time.'
In terms of the frequency and nature of reports for the BPMR program,
Mr Riordan told the committee:
What is envisaged is a quarterly snapshot report, which would
give a view as to the typical performance of the key retail plans that are in
the market over the NBN. Our [ACCC's] planning to date has focused on the mass
market of NBN retail broadband plans. We have been looking at the fixed line
technologies, which make up the bulk of those connections. The information...will
be collated specifically to the retail broadband plan, so you might see
statistics or information relevant to, say, the Telstra 25/5 plan, or the Optus
or TPG plan over the specific speed tier so that the consumer will be given a
snapshot of how that service was performing during the quarter.
Further, in terms of publication and access to the reports, the
committee was informed:
You could expect that that snapshot would be placed on the
ACCC's website and you could expect, particularly with the first number of
releases of that, that there would be an appropriate measure released to ensure
that people were aware of its existence.
At the time of the committee's hearing in April, ACCC were preparing
documentation to approach the market:
We anticipate the end of May, early June being the time that
we will formally commence that tender process. We will follow a standard
government procurement process for a contract of that size so it will meet the
relevant publication requirements and the minimum time frames that are required
to allow people to submit their bids. And then we will go through the government's
framework to make sure that a fair process and value for money considerations
are brought to bear in awarding that contract.
ACCC anticipated that from the time of the announcement in April, it
would take three to four months to settle terms with the testing provider:
From that time, it would just be a matter of how quickly the
testing provider could mobilise and issue the testing devices to the
volunteers. At the same time as approaching the market for the testing service
provider, we are also going to approach the market of volunteers to come
forward and nominate, so that we are quickly in a position to filter out which
of those applicants are suitable for appointment to the testing panel, so that
the devices can be issued directly to them at that time.
The request for tender for the testing services was published on
AusTender on 30 May 2017.
In June 2017 the ACCC called for volunteers for the BPMR program.
Stakeholder views on the BPMR
ACCAN expressed support for the introduction of a broadband performance
monitoring and reporting program. It advocated, however, that the program be
sufficiently resourced to monitor all NBN technologies rather than just fixed
The Communications Alliance took a different view, however. Whilst stating
that the program could be potentially useful in providing high‑level
transparency about the performance of different RSPs, the Communications
Alliance raised a number of issues in relation to its implementation:
This project was originally envisaged as something that would
provide consumers with comparative information about the performance of RSPs in
a given location. So, if I was moving cities or suburbs, I would be able to
compare who was the best performing or most suitable ISP for me in that area
before signing a contract with them. The project cannot deliver that. When you
break down the number of probes that the ACCC proposes to have in place and you
divide that by the number of service providers it proposes to monitor—the
number of products and the number of speed tiers—if you do the maths on all of
that, you can end up with the given RSP having only two points of data
measurement in a state for a given technology for a given speed tier. So the
chances of it being able to be used for comparative data in that way are
There are a range of other concerns that have been raised
about the program by industry. One of those was the fear that it could create
an anticompetitive effect, in the sense that a relatively small number of
service providers will be measured by the program and there will inevitably be
a fair degree of public focus on those results and how they would look. Service
providers who are likely to be outside the program have expressed concern that
the limelight will focus on those inside it, and whoever looks good out of
those results will tend to draw customers away from those who might be
performing just as well but are not inside the program.
The committee welcomes the introduction of the Broadband Performance
Monitoring and Reporting Program, but notes that it was successfully trialled
in 2015, and it's likely that a number of problems with the NBN rollout could
have been avoided or identified sooner if the BPMR program had been implemented
earlier. The BPMR program will provide consumers with valuable information when
considering which retail service provider and service plan to sign up for on
the NBN. The committee will continue to examine the implementation of the
program in the year ahead.
The BPMR program will work best in combination with the requirement that
nbn disclose the infrastructure speed capacity of each connection, and with
effective regulation that requires RSPs to disclose their peak/congested
General consumer education issues
The committee heard that the level of consumer education and awareness
in relation to the NBN and broadband issues generally needs to be improved to
ensure that the benefits of the NBN are realised.
Various resources are already available to the public in relation to the
NBN and broadband services. For example, the Communications Alliance drew the
committee's attention to an online broadband education package available on its
website, designed to help consumers understand the factors that influence their
broadband, and help consumers to optimise the performance of the service they
ACCAN also provided the committee with copies of consumer information guides it
provides in relation to broadband services.
nbn has recently launched a new national media campaign aimed at raising
awareness about what Australians need to do to before signing-up to retail
services over the network and how to get the best out of their broadband
It has also introduced a consumer guide to the NBN network, nbn's guide to
Australia's new broadband, which is available prominently on the nbn
Ms Teresa Corbin from ACCAN argued that it is important that consumers
are receiving consistent information about these issues in a format that is
I think that no one area should be responsible for all of the
information provision, but what would be very useful is uniformity in the
messaging that gets out there because, at the moment, that is a real problem...
[W]hilst ACCAN plays a role in providing information, we cannot do it on our
own. It is a question of testing things to make sure it is simple enough so
that consumers will take the time to read it. It is not that they will not
understand it; it is more that they feel attracted to give the time to it,
because people are very time poor and while they do not necessarily not want to
know, they just do not have the time to give to it.
ACCAN recommended that to aid with general consumer awareness and
education, a grants program should be established for independent digital
technical support and capacity building.
A role for independent local advisors
on NBN consumer issues
At the public hearing in Perth, the committee heard from Mr Michael
Hendry, the South West Independent National Broadband Network Adviser for
Regional Development Australia-South West. Mr Hendry explained to the committee
the context for the creation of his role:
The creation of this advisory position came from discussions
between the South West Development Commission, Regional Development
Australia-South West and local business organisations. During the early part of
the NBN rollout in the South West, it was noted that some retail service
providers were giving advice that was either inaccurate or incomplete. After
initial discussions, it was agreed that Regional Development Australia would
manage a program to implement the South West independent NBN advisor role for a
period of 18 months, commencing in August 2016...The NBN advisor position was
created as a partnership between the South West Development Commission,
Regional Development Australia-South West, NBN Co, Business South West and the
South West Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The purpose is to provide independent, impartial and accurate
advice on what needs to be considered when transitioning to the NBN, primarily
targeting the small business sector, not-for-profit organisations and the
regional community. Given that many of these people and organisations are
generally time-poor and not tech savvy, this program has provided a much needed
point of contact for all NBN related matters. It has been about providing
people with the right information so that they can make the best decisions for
their own circumstances.
Mr Hendry stated that as the NBN adviser, he is responsible for planning,
coordinating and delivering information to all community segments affected by
To this end, I have consulted with many other like-minded
groups, such as ACCAN, BIRRR Aus, the ACCC, the Telecommunications Industry
Ombudsman and RSPs to ensure an accurate and consistent message....I've developed
a four-page information brochure, which I've provided, to assist people in
asking their provider the right questions. I've planned, organised and
delivered over 100 public presentations to more than 2,500 participants in most
towns of the South West, both business and consumer. I've provided advice to
consumers by phone, email and in person. I've also undertaken numerous
cold-calls on local South West business owners; maintained an NBN advice
website with useful information, brochures and links; participated in regular
Q&A on local ABC talkback radio; and drafted timely press releases to local
media on relevant issues.
At subsequent hearings, the committee sought the view of witnesses as to
whether there may be benefit in having regional independent advisors. At the
Launceston public hearing, Mr Damien Ivereigh, Chief Executive Office, Launtel
agreed that such a person may be of great assistance, particularly in relation
to technical matters.
At the public hearing in Burnie, Mr Rodney Greene, Director, Community and
Economic Development, Burnie City Council, was uncertain that such an
independent adviser would be helpful, noting that people were already
overwhelmed by the number of different companies they had to deal with:
Of course, that allows then for people to blame one another.
Whether that would be resolved by having a key person who can go and be a
mediator between all of these different groups, I'm not sure. It seems that,
when you're trying to give the perception of efficient service delivery but you
have all these different people and you're on the phone to different companies
and it takes days between when you ask for a service to be connected and when
it's finally delivered or when a problem is identified it takes a while to work
out who's actually responsible to fix it, that's where you get some of those
At the Central Coast hearing, Mr David Abrahams, President, Central
Coast Start IT, an industry group promoting telecommunications investment,
noted that his group had already made a similar suggestion to nbn senior
Another thing that we would like to specifically recommend,
as we have directly to NBN Co senior managers, is the instigation of a regional
independent issues agent to take the pressure off the local members and
senators and the flood of complaints and other issues that come through the
door. You could refer them to an independent issues agent that would report
directly to the NBN Co. It would summarise those reports to the local members
and the parliamentary committees so that we create some sort of healthy tension
there and alleviate some of the workload that must be inside these
parliamentary offices. It must be enormous in this regard.
The committee notes the work being done by nbn and other bodies
including ACCAN and the Communications Alliance in order to enhance the level
of consumer awareness and education about the NBN, but on current evidence
these efforts have not been sufficient.
It is clear that this is an area which should be improved considerably.
As such, the Australian Government should consider providing additional funding
to assist raising the level of consumer education about the NBN. This could
consist of grant funding to aid digital technical support and capacity
building, and could also provide funding towards regional initiatives such as
the introduction of local NBN advisory roles.
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