"Final" wholesale agreement a work in progress: NBN Co

Despite publishing its “final executable” wholesale broadband agreement (WBA), NBN Co has conceded that the contract terms will continue to be open for consultation with industry and customers for further development.

The WBA, released yesterday, is the 12-month contract ISPs enter into to sell commercial services over the Federal Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) until the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) approves the network's regulatory structure.

A spokesperson from NBN Co said there would be ongoing consultation with customers with the introduction of a new contract development process.

“It will provide customers and NBN Co with a forum to further develop the terms of the WBA whilst the SAU [Special Access Undertaking] is being considered,” the spokesperson said.

According to NBN Co head of product development and industry engagement, Jim Hassell, the wholesaler will soon lodge its SAU with the ACCC. The SAU will encompass set price and non-price terms and which outlines the wholesaler's commitments to the ACCC and customers.

“If the SAU is approved in less than 12 months, we can also amend the short-term WBA if there is a need to update it to align with the SAU as accepted," Hassell said.

“We are also including a provision in the SAU that should address the concerns of industry regarding recourse to the ACCC, while still maintaining the certainty of our contractual arrangements.

“Where commercial agreement can’t be reached on non-price terms not covered in the SAU, or where NBN Co introduces new prices after the SAU commences, the ACCC can be called upon to settle an outcome. Once the ACCC has made its decision, NBN Co will make the outcome available to all our customers.”

The WBA has been greeted with strong criticism from Optus general manager of interconnect and economic regulation, Andrew Sheridan, who told Computerworld Australia that while some progress had been made, the WBA remained “disappointing” and still failed to address industry issues adequately.

“A fundamental element of the NBN policy is that NBN Co be tightly regulated,” Sheridan said. “As it stands the WBA moves away from this commitment and seeks to limit the role of the ACCC.

“It is concerning that NBN Co intends to press ahead with this version without addressing all of the industry’s main concerns.”

A Telstra spokesperson would not comment on the telco’s specific concerns with the WBA or whether it intended to sign the agreement.

“We are reviewing the WBA and will discuss any concerns with NBN Co,” the spokesperson said.

According to the NBN Co spokesperson, just one “small” RSP has signed the WBA at this stage, while several others have asked for executable copies.

“We will continue to talk with our customers and potential customers about the WBA and any other matters.”

Hassell maintained that the wholesaler had listened carefully to industry throughout the drafting process to create a WBA that suited all parties.

“The Wholesale Broadband Agreement strikes a fair balance between our customers’ need for certainty and the flexibility we need, including to accommodate any further regulatory requirements,” Hassell said in a statement.

“Moreover it provides the certainty telephone and internet service providers require to offer competitive broadband plans to the millions of homes and businesses that will connect to the NBN.”

One ISP that will certainly be signing the agreement is Exetel, according to chief executive, John Linton.

“We are satisfied with what we have scan read because in the time it will be in existence it will not affect anything we, or anyone else, does,” Linton said.

“As any agreement between Telstra and anyone else – it is entirely one sided – but Exetel, as a small telecommunications company has zero ability to influence.

“To us it’s almost entirely irrelevant because an anticipated change of federal government in two years’ time will render any such agreement pointless.”

The release of the WBA follows the fifth and final draft of the document, after which Optus made clear it was still in negotiations around issues including regulatory oversight and service assurance levels.

The telco was initially waiting for the wholesaler to finalise the WBA before it detailed its commercial NBN pricing but opted not to wait after the process quot;took longer than initially envisagedquot;.

Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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