The ACCC has granted interim authorisation allowing NBN Co and five retail service providers (RSPs) to work together to take measures necessary to keep Australia’s telecommunications networks operating effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as support consumers and small businesses adversely impacted by the pandemic.
At the request of the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, NBN Co and Australia’s five biggest retail service providers have formed a special working group, which includes Telstra, Optus, Vodafone Hutchison, TPG and Vocus.
The group will share information, coordinate strategies to manage congestion and take other steps to address significant demand changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the large numbers of people now at home during the day.
The ACCC will be an observer on the special working group.
The five RSPs and NBN Co have also sought urgent authorisation to provide support for consumers and small business customers experiencing financial difficulties as a result of COVID-19. The ultimate aim is to ensure that consumers are able to stay connected to communications services throughout the pandemic.
“Online services and connections are now more important than ever, as Australians seek to stay productive and engaged, undertake home schooling, telehealth and access other services. The ability to do all this will also assist people to comply with increasingly strict social distancing measures,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.
“As it has with a number of industries already, the ACCC stands ready to assist telecommunications providers with approval of any coordinated measures that are urgent and necessary during this crisis.”
Some Australian retail service providers are not members of the special working group. As a condition of the authorisation, NBN Co must quickly inform the ACCC and non-member service providers about any material decisions made by the working group that may affect them.
The ACCC is able to review the interim authorisation at any time.
Having granted interim authorisation for the arrangements, the ACCC will seek feedback on NBN Co’s application. Details on how to make a submission and more information, including the ACCC’s statement of reasons, is available on the ACCC public register.
ACCC authorisation provides statutory protection from court action for conduct that might otherwise raise concerns under the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
Broadly, the ACCC may grant an authorisation when it is satisfied that the public benefit from the conduct outweighs any public detriment.