No one likes sitting around waiting for a technician who never arrives or for downloads to finish on a congested network, but the good news is you might soon get paid for doing so.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has announced it will require NBN Co to give more cash back to customers for late or missed appointments, unfixed faults or poor service in a draft of new terms regulating the service standards.
Proposed changes include increasing the rebates for missed appointments from $25 to $75, introducing a new $20 monthly rebate for services that underperform, increasing how much the NBN pays for late connections and repairs, and charging it late fees daily rather than as a one-off fee.
The ACCC has been consulting with retail service providers (RSPs) on how to improve service on the National Broadband Network.
The rebate changes are designed to target the issues its found cause the most trouble and establish a new baseline level of service customers can expect from the NBN.
“We have heard longstanding concerns from consumers about how frustrating, inconvenient and costly these issues can be,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said on Tuesday.
“The new arrangements are designed to give NBN Co more incentives to lift its service standards to RSPs, which should, in turn, improve service to NBN consumers by reducing instances of missed appointments, delayed connections and unresolved faults,” he added.
The ACCC said retail service providers would be required to pass these rebates on to you, but it doesn’t actually have the power to enforce this requirement.
An ACCC spokesperson said the Commission “has proposed that NBN Co’s wholesale contracts require retail service providers to provide missed appointment rebates to be passed on to consumers”.
But late connections and faults would be more of an expectation than a requirement.
The telcos are regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority but the ACCC said it will work closely with ACMA to ensure customers benefit.
The rebates could be delivered through something other than a simple cash rebate though, and potentially take the form of added value like modems that work on the mobile network to keep you connected if the power goes out.
The telcos could also simply keep the rebates and say they’re using the money to deliver better service.
According to the Competition and Consumer Act, the ACCC has the power to command NBN Co to provide the retail service providers who buy wholesale access to the national broadband network to sell onto their customers a quality and reliable service, and fix any problems with it in a timely fashion.
Reacting to the announcement, NBN Co expressed concern the changes won’t solve the issues, and could actually cause new problems.
“We are concerned the draft determination will not drive the right improvements in customer experience and could lead to unintended consequences,” an NBN Co spokesperson said.
“NBN Co has every incentive to improve service levels for customers. It’s in our best interest for customers to join the network as early as possible, stay connected, and ultimately take up higher value services over time.”
The problem for NBN Co is that not enough people are connecting.
While more than 10.2 million homes and businesses are already able to connect to the national broadband network, so far only around 6 million have.
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Older Australians and those on lower incomes have been a recent focus for NBN Co, who are aiming to educate them about the benefits of joining the network and introducing cheaper plans to make it more affordable for them.
The company said it plans to use the upcoming negotiations on the wholesale broadband agreement with telcos to discuss changes and said it will be “taking into account” the issues raised by the ACCC as well as the “operational and commercial needs of all parties”.
“NBN Co is committed to working with the industry to improve customer experience and will always work constructively with the ACCC to help achieve this,” the spokesperson said.
The ACCC’s recently released Measuring Broadband Australia report found roughly one in every eight NBN services were underperforming.
Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said the ACCC’s proposed rebates could “only be described as a humiliation for the Morrison Government”.
“Australian taxpayers have spent $51 billion on a network that could be subject to regulatory fines for not delivering basic speeds, and it is extraordinary that the ACCC has felt the need to propose such an extreme step,” she said.
SCARED TO SWITCH
The proposed rebates come as new data from consumer comparison site Finder suggests more than 500,000 households who are fed up with their telco are scared of switching providers for fear their service will get even worse.
A further 12 per cent said they had put off switching because it was too much hassle.
Finder tech expert Angus Kidman said the rebates might go some way towards helping.
“People are reluctant to switch a lot of the time, they hear the stories, it takes ages to connect and didn’t get any faster. [Rebates] should help because it creates a clear incentive for the NBN to get organised,” Mr Kidman said.
But even those who are reluctant to switch will have to do so eventually, since the existing networks will soon be phased out
“Eventually they will have to do it, they won’t have a choice … a lot of people aren’t aware that’s how it works
Customers have 18 months to switch to the national broadband network once it becomes available in their area.