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ACCC seeks greater role in NBN oversight

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has proposed changes to the Special Access Undertaking (SAU) NBN Co lodged with the watchdog last year.

The SAU will govern NBN Co's wholesale pricing and operations as the sole wholesaler for the National Broadband Network (NBN) for the next 30 years.

The ACCC said that while the pricing structures put forward in the SAU in its current form are not objectionable in the short- and medium-term, in the long-term they may need adjustment. As a result, the ACCC's draft decision (PDF) has proposed that the SAU include a role for the organisation to periodically review pricing.

Its states that aside from pricing structures, the SAU does not give "sufficient weight" to the interests of RSPs and other bodies seeking access to the network.

"This could have subsequent implications for the prices paid by, and quality of services provided to, consumers," the ACCC stated in its draft decision.

Along with amendments that make explicit a role for periodic reviews of pricing structures by the ACCC, the organisation is proposing removal of a number of non-price terms from the scope of the undertaking, allowing the ACCC to hand down separate rulings on these issues.

The ACCC said its proposed amendments would offer a combination of certainty for access seekers and flexibility over the decades that the SAU would be in effect.

"[Absent] regulation NBN Co could, if it chose to, provide fixed-line services to all retailers at high prices and of a low quality of service -- retailers would have no choice but to accept NBN Co's offer, because there will be no fixed-line alternative to the NBN," the ACCC stated in its draft decision.

"It is therefore essential that the right access settings are established for the NBN so that the potential pitfalls of monopolies -- high prices, inefficient investment and poor service quality -- are minimised."

While the ACCC has noted some aspects of the SAU have "merit", such as the 'modular' design of the SAU which allows some matters to be 'locked in' for different periods of time.

But ACCC chairperson Rod Sims said that the ACCC's is "not satisfied that the SAU meets the relevant criteria for acceptance."

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and NBN Co have both welcomed the draft decision from the ACCC.

NBN Co said the draft decision sets out a "clear path" for a final SAU.

NBN Co lodged its revised SAU in September last year after the ACCC suspending its assessment of NBN Co's initial SAU, which garnered fierce opposition from telcos for a lack of flexibility over pricing.

The ACCC released a consultation paper in November last year seeking comment on NBN Co's SAU.

The ACCC may issue NBN Co with a formal notice in May to change the SAU following feedback on the ACCC's proposed changes.

If NBN Co amends the SAU within a set timeframe, a new SAU will not be required to be lodged.

The ACCC is required to make a decision on whether to accept or reject the SAU within six months of NBN Co lodging the SAU with the ACCC, which will be 19 July, 2013 for the revised SAU.

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU


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