SUBJECTS:  ACCC, NBN and retail service providers transparency about network limitations

PRESENTER: Well it is a common complaint across regional Victoria, stories of NBN Co and phone retailers signing up customers with promises of super internet speeds only to find out they can’t get anywhere near the speeds that were advertised – that’s if the service works at all. Now the ACCC, the consumer watch dog, that it is going to act, to protect customers from paying for services that they do not get. The Shadow Minister for Regional Communications, is Stephen Jones. Stephen Jones good afternoon.


STEPHEN JONES: Good to be with you Nicole.


PRESENTER: What is your reaction to this announcement by the ACCC?


STEPHEN JONES: I put the matter to the ACCC months ago during of the NBN oversight committee. Like you, I was just sick of hearing stories of people who had paid for an internet service, a broadband package, that they simply aren’t getting. They’ve paid for a 25 meg service, and they’re getting 10. Or they’ve paid for a 50 meg service and they’re getting less than 20. If this was any other sector, any other industry, we’d call it for what it was, and that’s false advertising. It’s selling a product that can’t be delivered, and I want the ACCC to crack down on it. I put it to them two months ago, and I’m very pleased to say they have written back to me recently and said they are keen on the idea.


PRESENTER: How are they going to protect customers?


STEPHEN JONES: What I am asking them to do is have the NBN tell retail service providers - that’s the internet service providers, the people we buy our package off – if they know of any problems in their network, which will impair their ability to sell a standard service, then they must tell the retailers. The retailers must tell the customers. We know for example that under the FTTN, the copper to the household parts of the network, once you get about 500 metres from the node, the signal starts to degrade, and they just simply cannot deliver some of those services. So we’re saying if you know you can’t deliver it, you’ve got to be upfront. You’ve got to be upfront with the retailers, and you’ve got to be upfront with the customers as well.


PRESENTER: Why is this such a problem in regional Australia in particular?


STEPHEN JONES: In regional areas where you’ve got FTTN and copper to the household you’re more likely than not to have those long fibre loops because of the distances between properties. In those areas, they are more likely to have service drop out – tenuation is the technical term – that is the further you are from the node, the less likely you are to get a full bottle service.


PRESENTER: Stephen Jones, the providers don’t care. NBN doesn’t care. There is a system where you can ring up and sit on the phone for half an hour, and try and stop yourself from falling into unconsciousness. You can spend days and days trying to chase somebody who will actually have the power to do something, and then never hear from them again. I mean the reality is, these providers have the market sewn up.


STEPHEN JONES: Well it’s a bloody disgrace if that’s happening, and I know it areas, it has been happening. Frankly they should care, because it’s unethical business. But more importantly, it’s damaging their brand. If customers don’t feel like they can rely on the honesty and the integrity of the product, and the company that’s selling to them, everybody suffers in the end. That’s why I say it’s in the interests of the industry overall, but particularly both the NBN and the retailers – they’ve got to be upfront, and there’s got to be more transparency about what can and can’t delivered. I’d like to make lots of political points about the fact we wouldn’t be in this mess if the Government had changed the roll out and the technology mess, but we’re in this situation, and consumers have a right to know what the network can and can’t deliver.   


PRESENTER: Now you’re the Shadow Minister for Regional Communications, you would have been watching with interest the Fairfax journalists going on strike for seven days after management announced it would axe 120 jobs. What’s your reaction Stephen Jones?


STEPHEN JONES: Look, I think this is devastating news for the journalists. I’ve been watching Fairfax’s numbers drop off over the last two years. We’ve getting very close to having newspapers with no journalists. And frankly, who wants to buy a paper without decent news stories? People don’t go out there and buy advertising catalogues, they go out there and buy newspapers, with great yarns in them, with stories about what’s going on in their own region.


PRESENTER: Nick Xenophon says that it’s time to tax Google and Facebook which are vacuuming up all the advertising revenue and not employing one journalist, and actually using the copy from organisations such as Fairfax to post on their pages, and providing no payment for that. Is it time to look at a Google/Facebook tax and is it time to start demanding that those online monoliths start paying for the content that they nick from other organisations like Fairfax, thereby sending them to the wall?


STEPHEN JONES: Look it’s not just Fairfax, it’s all the news outlets, some of the most popular sites and view items on Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms is the stuff that’s originated from professional journalists and their networks. So yes, it is time that we start looking at ways to ensure that the originators of that content capture from of the value when that goes up online or on Facebook, and that they can sell ads alongside it.


PRESENTER: Will Labor support that legislation?


STEPHEN JONES: I’ve been discussing this with some of the news outlets in recent times. We want to have a robust model, which enables us to ensure we can do this right.


PRESENTER: Thank you so much for your time.


STEPHEN JONES: Thanks – great to be with you.