How telcos will pay big for NBN failures
AUSTRALIAN broadband providers could face fines of up to $10 million if they leave customers without working internet connections for more than six days under strict new requirements unveiled by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
The rules, which come into force on September 21, will penalise internet companies if they fail to organise alternative internet connections or compensation within three days of an NBN installation, or if they fail to test the download speeds possible over the National Broadband Network's copper connections.
The new regulations follow research from ACMA that showed almost one in six households connecting to the NBN were left without service for more than a week, and close to one in 10 households were without communications for more than fortnight.
Consumer groups welcomed the rules, saying they may stop NBN users being left in "impossible" situations, but a telecommunications industry group flagged that small internet service providers may struggle to meet the requirements.
ACMA consumer division general manager Jennifer McNeill said the new NBN migration rules were designed to ensure Australian internet users were not left without services for extended periods of time.
Under the requirements, NBN service providers must perform a line test to ensure connections are working following installation, must negotiate with consumers to provide an interim service or compensation if a connection cannot be established within three days, and must ascertain the maximum speed that a household's copper connection can provide to ensure consumers are not paying for download speeds they cannot attain.
The rules apply to fibre-to-the-node, building, and kerb connections.
Ms McNeill said ACMA would conduct audits of service providers and use reports from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman to ensure firms complied with the rules, and would seek court-ordered penalties depending upon "the egregiousness of the conduct".
"These rules are very important at the moment as the NBN rollout reaches its peak," Ms McNeill said.
"It will be important for us to act swiftly and decisively take action where there is noncompliance so the industry understands the seriousness of the rules."
ACMA could seek court-ordered injunctions or penalties of up to $10 million for breaching service provider rules, or up to $250,000 for breaking industry standards.
But Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton said while the telecommunications industry accepted the new consumer safeguards, he warned there would be "challenges" due to its September deadline.
"Small providers who may not be readily able to provide mobile interim services are also likely to face challenge to comply with aspects of the new instruments," he said.
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network chief executive Teresa Corbin said the additional rules should be heeded by all internet providers to avoid leaving more consumers in "impossible" situations between their service provider and NBN Co.
"We'll be watching to make sure there is compliance and there is enforcement action taken," Ms Corbin said.
"Ultimately, we want to see that people do have working broadband services and they're not left alone to negotiate that."