Government introduces minimum internet speed legislation

Fibre-optic_cable_in_a_Telstra_pit
Picture credit: Bidgee https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Bidgee

The Federal Government this week introduced legislation which would guarantee a minimum connection speed for all internet users in Australia.

The Telecommunications Reform Package (TRP) would require any wholesale broadband provider – referred to as a Statutory Infrastructure Provider (SIP) – to guarantee speeds of at least 25mbps downstream and 5mbps upstream for all users, including those covered only by wireless or satellite, and guarantee the support of voice calls.

Compliance with the new regulations would be monitored and enforced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The regulations would only apply to wholesale providers, rather than retail providers operating on the NBN (such as Internode or Optus). NBNCo will become the default SIP for all properties passed by its rollout, but the Minister for Communications will be able to designate another wholesale provider a SIP where appropriate.

A fact sheet from the Department of Communcations explains, “where a carrier is the sole provider of telecommunications infrastructure in a new development, it could be the SIP and would have to connect all premises in the development and supply wholesale services.”

The new legislation coincides with a report from the Productivity Commission (PC) into the current Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation (TUSO), commissioned by the Government in early 2016.

TUSO requires the designated primary service provider (Telstra) to ensure standard telephone services (including home phones and payphones) are reasonably available to all residents across the country.

Although Telstra have long supported the scheme, a submission from Optus to the Senate Environment and Legislation Committee in 2015 said that the existing TUSO “requires (the) industry to make substantial payments to Telstra for services that could otherwise be invested in more productive technology”.

Vodafone have voiced similar concerns.

The PC report, released publicly on June 19th, says that the TUSO is “past its use-by date”, and that the almost $300 million in Government funding it receives should be redirected towards a newer, wider-reaching, universal service objective.

“Australia’s universal service policy objective can now be reframed to provide baseline broadband and voice services to all premises, while having regard to the accessibility and affordability of these services,” says the report.

Despite TRP effectively absorbing obligations already in place under TUSO, lobby group Better Internet for Rural, Remote and Regional Australia have described the PC recommendations as “a death sentence for the bush”.

Spokesperson Kirsty Sparrow told ABC News that removing the obligation to provide landline service “would be a massive step backwards”.

“We can’t have people having to climb on top of water towers or silos, or going outside to make emergency calls, and that’s the reality in the bush at the moment.”

The TRP legislation comes after months of criticism of the maximum speeds users are experiencing on the NBN verses the speeds advertised by retail providers.

Telstra announced in May that it would refund NBN customers who paid for a speed boost their connection was unable to receive and that they would focus on ensuring customers were given a clearer understanding of what speeds they should expect.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman received 7500 NBN-related complaints between July and December 2016, an increase of almost 120% on the previous year.

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