Australian telcos promise to be better NBN helpers

Just like they always promise to stop having rubbish customer service

Faced with an escalating crisis of consumer dissatisfaction over the National Broadband Network rollout, the federal government called an all-hands meeting in Canberra at which everybody promised to do better.

No, really. In an environment so toxic the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is reiterating its decade-old “don't lie about download speeds” warning, and in which nbn™ and retail providers are at each other's throats, the government's latest intervention delivered pretty much nothing.

The confab, convened by the Department of Communications on Monday, didn't actually issue T-shirts, but it may as well have because they would at least have been a tangible outcome.

Having gathered together the Communications Alliance, nbn™, the “big four” carriers (Telstra, Optus, TPG and Vocus), the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the ACCC, here's the key “announceable” from the day:

'The industry has committed to tackling the key migration issues for consumers, including confusing information, handballing customer complaints, lead times for connections and rescheduled appointments.'

Oh, and there's a “ministerial CEO forum”, meaning Telstra's Andy Penn, Optus' Allen Lew, TPG's David Teoh, and whoever is in charge of Vocus at any given moment (currently Geoff Horth) can come back in three months and announce how well they're working together.

There's absolutely no doubt that Monday's meeting had sufficient clout and clue to identify the biggest problem now confronting nbn™ – a tariff structure that might have looked OK in 2009, but is now years past its use-by date.

Behind closed doors, the ACCC might even confess that requiring 121 points of presence nationwide was a bad idea that made it expensive for retailers to provide a national service – but not change the decision.

The other deliverable from Monday? After four weeks' consultation, the Department of Communications was able to publish a new Migration Assurance Framework.

Apparently, the old Framework, published in February 2016, needed spit and polish “to reflect the NBN multi-technology environment” (by which time the MTM was a three-year-old political promise formalised in 2014).

At the time of the 2013 federal election, fibre fans hoped forlornly that the NBN would swing votes.

In 2013 the network had yet to impact any significant number of Australians. That's not going to be the case by the time the next poll rolls around in 2019 by which time a great many voters will have active NBN connections.

If the government wants to avoid many of those customers making the NBN an election issue, it needs a lot more action than it's managed so far. And given Australian telcos perennially shabby service, it can't expect much help from the sector. Perhaps they'll send T-Shirts. ®

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