Achieving the right balance with our wholesale service standards

NBN Co will always work closely with retail service providers (RSPs) and the broader telecommunications industry with the aim of improving customer experience.

That’s why we have been having important discussions with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) as part of the ACCC Wholesale Service Standards Inquiry since November 2017.

This inquiry – which included RSPs and other industry parties – looked at NBN Co’s current wholesale service standards and identified some opportunities to implement further improved service standards for NBN Co’s wholesale customers.

Today, we’re pleased to have reached agreement with the ACCC on a suite of new measures, including measures that strengthen NBN Co’s performance commitments for connections, fixing of faults, and attendance at appointments.

NBN Co and the ACCC have agreed to a voluntary undertaking – including changes that will be offered equally to all of NBN Co’s wholesale customers by way of an offer to vary their Wholesale Broadband Agreement.

This will offer improved wholesale service standards which we anticipate will be for the benefit of homes and businesses.

Holding ourselves to higher standards

It has always been our aim to constantly improve and get better over time.

The most significant change under these voluntary measures will see us introduce a new rebate for missed appointments.

This means that whenever we miss an appointment for a connection or fault fix, RSPs will receive an automatic rebate of $25.

Another significant change is that we will now automatically pay the existing $25 rebate for missed connections and fault repair timeframes to our wholesale customers in 100 per cent of instances (up from 90 per cent target), subject to standard exclusions in the WBA.

These changes are coupled with commitments by RSPs to take reasonable steps to pass-on a fair value benefit of these rebates to affected homes and businesses.

NBN Co has also committed to increasing transparency on the performance of the Fixed Wireless network.

These monthly updates will form part of the company’s monthly progress report which includes metrics between NBN Co and service providers related to customer experience.

Understanding our commercial arrangements with RSPs

The nbn broadband access network is a key part of fundamental change to the operation of the telecommunications market in Australia, designed to improve retail-based competition, leading to price and service improvements for consumers.

The creation of nbn™ access network means the network wholesaler doesn’t sell directly to retail consumers.

While RSPs now have equality of access to services and pricing on the nbn™ network, the challenge is ensuring good end-user experience because there are handoffs in responsibility for different parts of the end-to-end service between NBN Co and the retail service provider. 

This complete change in the market means that the regulations covering the telecommunications market have also had to undergo fundamental change.

NBN Co itself has been at the forefront of this change, voluntarily setting out for industry and the regulators the broad regulatory framework under which it would operate and offer its services on fair and equal terms to all RSPs.

This was done through a Special Access Undertaking (SAU), first lodged with the ACCC in December 2011 and further developed over two years of consultation with industry. It was accepted by the ACCC in December 2013, and will be in operation until 2040.

The principles established in the SAU are brought to life through a commercial agreement NBN Co has negotiated with its customers called the Wholesale Broadband Agreement (WBA).

We are currently up to the third version of the WBA, which sets out the specific details of the products NBN Co supplies and the prices it charges.

The WBA is a suite of documents running to hundreds of pages that cover all aspects of the NBN Co service offering. The WBA contains the description of services, how they will operate, be connected and be fixed, the target timeframes for connection and repair, processes for handling complaints and dealing with disputes, billing, credit policy among others.

It also sets out the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that NBN Co has signed up to, after considered and collaborative negotiations with customers, the rebates it is liable to pay if it doesn’t achieve its SLA targets, and compensation available for significant service failures.

Each version of the WBA has been negotiated on commercial terms with RSPs, conscious of the state of the network at the time. Over time, as the nbn network has become larger and more mature, NBN Co has been able to offer better terms and conditions to RSPs.

However the nbn access network is still less than two-thirds built, and we continue to evolve and address challenges such as the introduction of new technologies – the introduction of  Fibre-to-the-Curb six months ago is an example.

It took NBN Co and our customers nearly two years to negotiate the third WBA, and just about from the time it was signed in November 2017, work started on improving it in the fourth WBA.

It is in NBN Co’s interests to work closely with RSPs to ensure customer experience is as good as possible.

We need to sell quality services that meet the expectations of homes and businesses if we want to remain the network of choice, especially in the face of competition from other networks and services.

Looking to the future

We will continue to talk with our customers - the RSPs - on how we can do better in the future.

Even before we completed the construction phase of the rollout, we had turned to the question of how end-user experience could be improved, while not having control of all the levers, but by working more closely with the RSPs and understanding more deeply the factors that are within our control and that impact that experience.

This is just one more stage in our development as a maturing and customer-focussed organisation.