The NBN gets a standard for its quality and complaints handling

Increased consumer protections could help customers get what they're paying for.

Standards regulating the quality of NBN services and how quickly complaints are dealt with have been drafted by the federal government in an effort to curb the overall dissatisfaction with Australia's $49 billion national broadband network.

The new rules will be imposed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) by 1 July 2018, following consultation with the industry.

They come at a time when the national broadband network is under heavy scrutiny over its relatively high cost, slower than advertised performance and ongoing quality issues.

The new standard

In its current incarnation, the standard will require retail service providers (RSPs) – such as Telstra, Optus and TPG – to test the line performance of all new connections in order to make sure the service is working as advertised and that there are no faults.

And in situations where a service cannot be delivered, the retail service provider and Nbn, the company building and reselling the network, will have to work together to make sure legacy internet services are reconnected within a set time frame.

Home owners and small businesses might even gain the power to request a test of their line in order to gain accurate information on their real-world internet speeds – speeds that can end up differing dramatically to what has been advertised.

Other protections defined by the standard include a set time dictating how quickly complaints are resolved, the publishing of complaints lodged against each RSP for every 10,000 connections, and access to network-specific information in a defined format.

Why it's needed: ACMA

ACMA's own analysis found 56% of network-related complaints were about service quality, while a further 44% had to do with connection issues.

Tending to complaints also took a notable amount of time. It took 19 days to resolve complaints about faults, 28 days to resolve connection issues and 45 days day to migrate a customer's voice and data services across to the NBN network.

RSPs aren't stepping up to handle customer issues quick enough, says Nerida O'Loughlin, chair of the ACMA. 

"Industry co-regulatory arrangements are not serving consumers well in a number of important areas," she says. "As a result, the ACMA will make new mandatory rules to require telcos to improve their performance in these areas."

Breaching the industry standard could result in penalties of $250,000, while a maximum penalty of $10 million can be handed down for breaches of service provider rules.

The industry's response

ACCAN, the group representing consumers in the telecommunications industry, says the rules are a welcome gift before Christmas.

"The experience of migrating to the NBN has shone a light on the inadequacies of the current regulatory framework to support the delivery of essential telecommunications services," says Teresa Corbin, its chief executive. "These new rules will ensure that the regulator has better tools to ensure practices of telco providers improve."

An Nbn spokesperson says the company is serious about improving its services.

"NBN Co supports initiatives designed to improve the consumer experience in migrating to and using the network," she tells CHOICE. "[We] remain committed to...working with the industry to implement numerous initiatives."

In recent months the ACCC has launched an inquiry into the quality of the $49 billion wholesale network, taken Optus to court over its NBN processes and signed court enforceable undertakings with Telstra, Optus and TPG. All of which comes after the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman found complaints against the NBN surged by 159% in the course of a year.