Fixing NBN requires tougher rules and stronger watchdog, parliamentary report finds

By James Oaten

A federal parliamentary report has called for an overhaul of how NBN Co is policed, citing regular concerns about the performance of the National Broadband Network and compensation for customers.

Key points:

• The report warns a tougher approach is needed to ensure NBN Co meets minimum performance standards
• Some Coalition members including committee chairwoman Sussan Ley were angered by the findings
• NBN Co says it is already changing the way it operates to help customers
The Joint Standing Committee report was released today, warning a tougher approach was needed to ensure NBN Co met minimum performance standards.

It recommended new regulations be introduced, so the company would bound to “service connection and fault repair timeframes,” achieve “minimum network performance and reliability” and provide “compensation” for customers when such benchmarks are not met.

The report also calls for the industry watchdog, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, to be able to compel NBN Co to resolve internet problems when it is responsible for the outage.

Customers frustrated by lack of policing

Alex Gershenzon was looking forward to being connected to high-speed broadband, but the switch over to the NBN forced the Melbourne resident to struggle for three months without any connection.
“We’ve had no internet, no home phone and no real prospects of anything being connected,” he said. Dr Gershenzon complained to his service provider, but the company could not do anything more than ask NBN Co to investigate. He also went to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, but this did not resolve the matter.

“It appears NBN has absolutely no-one to answer to,” Dr Gershenzon said.

“My impression is they’re just trying to tick off the boxes and connect as many people at whatever cost they can. And allocate no resources to problem resolution and customer support.”

Shortly after the ABC raised the matter with NBN Co, Dr Gershenzon’s internet was fixed.

“NBN identified an IT issue preventing Mr Gershenzon from connecting to a retail service over the NBN network,” an NBN Co statement said.

Calls for tougher policing of NBN

The new report comes after members of the committee, which is stacked in favour of Labor and the crossbench, spent 12 months touring the country and listening to customer complaints.

“The evidence that we’ve been getting from businesses, from households, is the rollout is not going well,” committee member and Labor MP Stephen Jones said.
“There are problems with the initial installation, problems with unreliability in the network and massive problems about how you get your problems fixed.”

“Get more teeth into the ombudsman and process so that when something does go wrong you know you’ve got a tough cop there who is going to help sort those problems out.”
The report has been well received by internet advocates.

“It’s important the Government listens to the committee and updates the codes to ensure the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman has the power to act to protect the consumers,” Mark Gregory from RMIT said.

Stricter rules will mean higher cost

The report has angered some Coalition members, including the committee chairwoman Sussan Ley, who handed down her own dissenting report.
“Labor’s report calls for more bodies, more regulation and of course, Labor being Labor, more cost,” Ms Ley said.

Ms Ley’s dissenting report emphasises the need to meet a rollout deadline, as well as emphasising the importance federal agencies have in keeping retail service providers in check.

“The reason for [many] complaints often is nothing to do with NBN and everything to do with retail service providers who are overpromising underdelivering,” Ms Ley said.

NBN Co said it welcomed the report, and added it was already changing the way it operated to help customers.

“We need to maintain the balance of getting broadband to people as quickly as possible, while minimising these problems,” a spokesman said.

“No large-scale construction project has ever been problem-free.”

 

Original article appeared on 29 Sept 2017 in ABC

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