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The ACCC will consider whether Australians are able to access basic broadband plans at fair and affordable prices, as part of an inquiry into NBN wholesale charges launched in October.

The inquiry will examine wholesale prices paid by retail service providers (RSPs), which use the NBN to supply residential-grade broadband services.

The ACCC’s inquiry will focus on prices for basic speed broadband products offering 12/1Mbps and will consider whether regulation is needed to ensure a smooth transition for consumers switching to the NBN from legacy services such as ADSL.

“We have concerns that nbn co’s wholesale pricing has resulted in unfair outcomes for those consumers who have no need for, or do not want, higher-speed plans,” Rod Sims, ACCC Chair, said.

“Most consumers have no choice but to migrate to the NBN if they want to keep their home service active, but are at risk of not being able to obtain a comparable NBN service at a similar price to their ADSL service.”

The inquiry will assess whether nbn co’s most recent pricing offers (in particular, nbn co’s recent changes to its entry level bundle) will allow RSPs to offer attractive retail NBN plans at ADSL-like prices.

The ACCC first raised these concerns publicly in April 2019, after nbn co’s wholesale pricing changes in late 2018 led to the withdrawal of many basic speed retail plans.

The ACCC is also concerned about nbn co’s continued use of discounts to adjust access prices.

nbn co can withdraw these discounts ahead of a notice period that it sets itself. The ACCC is concerned that these arrangements may not be providing enough certainty for RSPs as they develop and promote their retail offers.

“This lack of certainty creates unnecessary risks that may ultimately be passed on to consumers, who may face higher prices, and reduced quality and product offerings as a result,” Mr Sims said.

The inquiry will also look at nbn co’s service transfer and reversal charges. These fees are applied each time an existing service is transferred between access seekers.

The ACCC believes these charges can discourage the efficient use of service transfer processes, impeding competition and impacting consumers.

“We want to hear from interested parties as part of this public and transparent inquiry process,” Mr Sims said.

“Right now, we are approaching a peak period for NBN service activations and mandatory migrations. The window for many consumers to migrate to the NBN without losing their existing fixed line service is closing.”

“We are interested in what changes can be made quickly to promote competition and the interests of consumers, while allowing nbn co the opportunity to grow its revenues, invest in its business and earn an appropriate rate of return.”

The inquiry will allow the ACCC to make a final access determination (FAD), should one be needed, ahead of the expiry of the current wholesale broadband agreement at the end of November 2020.

Any FAD would provide access seekers with certainty about the terms and conditions of the access to the NBN that would apply should they be unable to reach a new commercial agreement with nbn co at that time.

The ACCC has released a discussion paper examining these issues and is seeking views on those and other related issues.

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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