INQUIRY NEEDED: Pat Conroy is calling for an ACCC investigation into problems with the NBN rollout in the Hunter.Federal Member for Charlton Pat Conroy has asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate the problematic rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN)in the Hunter Region.
Mr Conroy wrote to commission chairman Rod Sims on Wednesday asking the watchdog to look into issues associated with rollout and the response of internet service providers. The ACCC has a role in the regulation of the NBN and thecommunications sector, as well as consumer protection.
“There are two issues here, one is the NBN rollout and how it has been handledand the other is the way individual customers have been treated by their service providers,” Mr Conroy said.
“The ACCC is a well-resourced, aggressive regulator thathas the power to undertake inquiries and can significantly affect corporatebehaviour.”
The introduction of the NBN in the region, one of the first to receive the controversial fibre-to-the-node technology,has been beset by problems. Delays haveleftsomecustomers stranded for monthswithoutinternetconnectionand others experiencing slower or only marginally better internet speeds than their old connections.
Frustration has also arisen due to buck-passing between service providers and NBN Co, with consumers often caught in an endless loop of unresolved calls to customer care centres.
On Monday, Mr Conroy told federal parliament that an accidental disconnection due to NBN work in the Edgeworth area had left vulnerable sick and elderly people without landlines for up to several months. He said some service providers had then used the opportunity to pressure older customers into signing up to inappropriate NBN packages.
“I have heard from elderly residents who have been sold tablet devices despite having no idea how to use them, who have been offered large data plans despite their internet usage being minimal and who have been sent self-install modem systems with little instruction on how to connect them, when all they asked for was a telephone line,” he said.
One of Mr Conroy’s constituentsconfirmed to the Newcastle Herald that he had been without a phone line for more than two months following the accidental disconnection. The pensioner said he felt pressured into signing up for an NBN package while negotiating to have the phone reconnected.
“It is something we were going to have to get eventually, but I did feel like they were holding a gun to our head,” hesaid.
Mr Conroy said people calling his office with NBN complaints had been reduced to tears or enraged by their experiences.
“I fear retail service providers are struggling with the number and nature of complaints about the NBN,” he said.
“It is clear to me that the network cannot be rolled out nationally in this current form.
“That is why I think theACCC should look into the issues, using the Hunter as a template, because we are reallythe first area copping the full fibre-to-the-node approach.”