Teresa Corbin, CEO of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network CEO (ACCAN) has presented to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network. Corbin highlighted some significant issues with the NBN project and is calling on the government to take action as hundreds of thousands of people are either significantly inconvenienced or are left behind as the network's deployment continues to lurch forward.
In addressing the committee, Corbin said Skymuster, the satellite service being deployed in rural areas, is meeting with some resistance as potential users hang onto ADSL and alternative fixed wireless options that customers feel are good enough. With no incentive to switch, they're hanging on to older technologies. She also noted the management of off and on peak data and the SkyMuster Fair Use Policy remain complex and confusing.
Citing complaint numbers to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, Corbin said some action needs to be taken to improve the NBN wholesale service standards. Corbin said "Significant increases in complaints to the TIO and failing services show existing arrangements are not working. Consumers should be compensated which a schedule of payments if standards are not met".
One of the big issues ACCAN highlights is some consumers are lost between the gaps of current universal service obligation arrangements and Telstra’s commercial interests. ACCAN says it appears Telstra is removing the option of ADSL services and copper voice services in fixed wireless areas meaning many communities on the fringe of the FTTN footprint using ADSL will suffer as NBN Satellite services are switched on and ADSL is phased out.
“ACCAN is concerned that hundreds of thousands of households will lose services with the failure of NBN fixed wireless and satellite not meeting current broadband requirements. Removing ADSL further affects them with them relying on expensive mobile alternatives," said Corbin.
ACCAN has made a total of 13 recommendations to the standing committee, through a submission they made in mid-April. Those recommendations include an increase in data allowances for Skymuster users and the appointment of a director with regional, rural and remote experience or expertise to the board of nbn co.
Here are the chief areas of concern in ACCAN's own words:
SkyMuster services are now offered at similar prices to those in the NBN fixed line and fixed wireless footprints with significant increases in peak and off peak data allowances reflecting actual usage. This has been very welcome, however, uptake is slow and customers need to be informed of service availability and service options. Some customers in the satellite footprint are happy with ADSL and alternative fixed wireless providers and there is no incentive to switch. Pressing issues include managing data across peak and off peak times and the SkyMuster Fair Use Policy remains complex and confusing. Businesses in the SkyMuster footprint are still waiting for delivery of long-awaited business plans.
While ACCAN is hearing some positive reports about NBN fixed wireless services, still significant congestion at network levels are affecting customers along the Eastern seaboard, Tasmania, Perth and Darwin. We are hearing from many customers who are frustrated by this experience.
‘We have concerns about poor customer relations from nbn about congestion and delayed upgrades and due to this lack of information, customers have tried switching providers and spending hundreds of dollars to have technicians advise them there is nothing they can do.
There are no refunds in place for periods when service hasn’t performed at it should.
Consumer confidence in the NBN is further eroded with RSP’s selling services in areas with congested towers.” added Ms Corbin.
Wholesale service standards
The fixed wireless situation shows why there is a need for NBN wholesale service standards. Significant increases in complaints to the TIO and failing services show existing arrangements are not working. Consumers should be compensated which a schedule of payments if standards are not met.
Future capacity of satellite and FW
ACCAN also has concerns about the ability for both the fixed wireless and satellite technologies to serve as the network Statutory Infrastructure Provider to all consumers in their current footprints. Without investment and reconfiguration, it is unlikely that either network could meet universal consumer needs now or into the future because they would not perform adequately if there was a higher take up rate.
Future of ADSL
Some consumers are falling through gaps between the current USO arrangements and Telstra’s commercial interests as it appears Telstra is removing the option of ADSL services and copper voice services in fixed wireless areas. The many communities on the fringe of the FTTN footprint using ADSL will suffer as NBN Satellite services are switched on and ADSL is phased out. The NBN alternative is a degradation of service to these customers.
“ACCAN is concerned that hundreds of thousands of households will lose services with the failure of NBN fixed wireless and satellite not meeting current broadband requirements. Removing ADSL further affects them with them relying on expensive mobile alternatives.
It is imperative that the government take the lead on developing an ADSL Future Service Strategy which examines and addresses these issues. This must be done in consultation with consumers so that communities can have confidence in future broadband service delivery.”