New NBN business initiatives help mid-sized firms connect

| November 14, 2017

After criticism of the cost, slow delivery and disappointing network speeds of the much heralded National Broadband Network, NBN Co has announced the launch of a number of initiatives designed to improve the connection, migration and service experience for Australian businesses.

NBN Co claims the rollout is now more than half complete, with around 20,000 new businesses connecting to the NBN every week, and its new business team will work with internet service providers to help the rest of the nation’s smaller firms join the network and reap its commercial advantages. Over 27,000 complaints were recorded by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman in the last financial year and the nation’s medium sized businesses will be hoping NBN Co’s new measures will improve the situation.

Announced by the Rudd government in 2009, and recently criticised by Prime Minister Turnbull as a ‘waste of money‘, the network should help smaller Australian firms offer international services, connect with customers and deliver richer content as well as create opportunities to work from home, drive process efficiencies and lower operating costs. The NBN aims to connect 8 million homes and companies across the country by 2020 to give fast broadband access from both wired networks and phones.

NBN Co’s new business initiatives include an improved connection and resolution process with rescheduled appointments and complex orders given priority and and case managed by NBN Co and the phone and internet provider. Industry engagement will be increased through a new partner program targeted at the ICT industry. The scheme will offer training and accreditation for technology providers and local consultants to educate business customers about connecting to the new network and information about applications which can support their business over fast broadband. Tailored pricing will increase the flexibility of NBN Co’s wholesale business products and a new capped pricing model should increase competition in the market.

NBN Co are also launching a new business education campaign explain how firms can connect and use the network to improve business services such as EFTPOS, ATM and, ironically, fax machines. There will also be a regional business boost with the introduction of wholesale fixed wireless and satellite enterprise products in 2018 to help regional businesses increase efficiencies and access new markets.

NBN Co’s Chief Customer Officer for Business, John Simon admits that “Businesses often require a different level of service, which is why we’ve been developing custom-built wholesale product and service offerings and a targeted communications program in order to make the transition to the new network as smooth as possible. As the rollout continues to scale, we want to enable businesses of all sizes to embrace fast broadband and tap in to a whole range of applications such as high definition video conferencing and cloud-based tools, which were once only in the domain of larger organisations.”

“Connecting a business to the new network may take some time and preparation. With the rollout set to be complete over the next three years, we recommend businesses get in touch with their phone and internet provider as soon as possible to make a plan to move their services over to the new network. The rollout of the nbn access network is one of the most complex and ambitious initiatives to be undertaken in any telecommunications market across the world – we understand there is no silver bullet in improving the experience of people who connect to the network but we’re confident these new initiatives will boost the experience of businesses who sign-up.”

Peter Strong, the CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, welcomed the moves noting that “in recent months, COSBOA has raised a number of concerns from our members with NBN Co regarding difficulties encountered by small business in securing reliable and affordable, high speed broadband services.” He hoped the NBN’s measures would address the problems faced by smaller Australian businesses and said his organisation would continue to work with NBN Co to help small businesses exploit the network’s speed and access benefits to the full.

The news came after the announcement that the Australian consumer watchdog has launched an inquiry into the NBN wholesale service standards after complaints against the service skyrocketed in the last year.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said he was ‘very concerned about the high number of complaints from consumers around poor customer experiences, particularly in relation to customers connecting to NBN services and having faults repaired’ and noted that ‘Many of these complaints relate to matters set out in wholesale service level standards.”

Wholesale service standards are drawn up in deals between NBN Co and the retail service providers, and include performance objectives, operational targets, compensation framework for wholesalers and the action that the RSPs can take if these are not met. The ACCC inquiry will look at the adequacy of these agreements and whether regulation is required.

“One of the main focuses of our inquiry will be whether there are appropriate incentives for NBN Co to remedy service failures, along with the adequacy of compensation available to wholesale customers, to ensure consumers in turn are provided appropriate redress when things go wrong,” Sims said.

“If we identify other changes to aspects of the supply chain that will improve customer experiences on the NBN, we will certainly highlight them. We will consider what wholesale service standard levels are required to improve customer experiences. We also believe increased transparency around service outcomes and clear consequences and redress options where standards are not met, by those best placed to manage the risk, will be important.”

The ACCC will work with the Australian Communications and Media Authority to release a consultation paper in December and accept submissions in early 2018. The ACCC will report by the end of next year and it remains to be seen if NBN Co’s new drive to improve services will businesses will affect its conclusions.