Is It Legal For ISPs To ‘Force’ You Onto The NBN?

Is It Legal For ISPs To ‘Force’ You Onto The NBN?
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By most accounts, the National Broadband Network (NBN) is a bit of a dog’s breakfast. The project has been variously described as slow, expensive, unreliable, poorly implemented, unfair, needlessly restrictive and obsolete – and those are just the criticisms we can print.

NBN complaints are up 160 per cent and a third of Australians simply don’t care about the technology at all. Despite this, connecting to the NBN is compulsory, with existing telephone and internet connections switched off to make way for the rollout. Is this legal?

For those who missed the memo, the NBN is not an “opt in” technology. Eventually, everyone will be forced to make the switch, with all Australian households expected to be connected by 2020.

Understandably, this has annoyed many people who are happy with their existing connections – either because they don’t require “fast” internet or because their current solution is superior to the NBN.

Nevertheless, everyone is being forced onto the new network, which often relies on copper-based fibre-to-the-node technology. (You can read an overview of all the services that will be switched off here.)

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If you’re happy with your ADSL2 plan and have no wish to migrate, is it legal for internet service providers (ISPs) to force the issue? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be yes. Most internet contracts contain a clause similar to the one below:

If your plan is no longer available for new customers, we may roll your service over to a different plan which is reasonably comparable or require you to move to any other current plan. We will tell you before this happens.

This doesn’t leave you with much wriggle room – even if it was technically possible to remain on a legacy plan indefinitely. (It isn’t.) While you aren’t forced to stick with the same provider, they will eventually be obligated to terminate your connection to make way for the NBN.

Furthermore, there are currently no statutory obligations for ISPs to connect customers within a particular time frame or respond promptly to complaints. No, really. In short, there is no Customer Service Guarantee when it comes to the NBN.

With that said, if an ISP fails to deliver the broadband speeds that were advertised, they may be liable for damages under Australian consumer law. This explains ISPs’ weaselly reliance on the phrase “up to” when describing their internet speeds. Tch, eh?

Fortunately, the ACCC is finally cracking down on vague and misleading broadband advertising. This should result in clearer speed information moving forward.

But as far as your legal rights go, we’re afraid their aren’t many avenues to resist the NBN rollout if you want traditional home broadband. When the network finally reaches you, your options will be to sign up before the disconnection date or go without telephone and internet. There is no escape.

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Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know in the comments and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.


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