The Week: Complaints and Privateering

Encouraging Story of the Week was the news released by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) that complaints about telco customer service have continued to fall. The December 2013 quarter so the lowest level of complaints in six years. There was a 6.7 per cent drop on the previous quarter, which is enormous.


The ACMA insists that this improvement reflects the implementation of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code in September 2012, and we can see no reason to disagree. Probably the most important TCP provision relating to the new results is the data usage alerts. From September last year all major telcos were required to provide SMS alerts once certain usage thresholds have been reached. 

Aldi Mobile

Just a heads-up that Aldi mobile, an MVNO operating on Telstra's Next G network, has reduced the data value of some of its plans. This is in keeping with general moves within the industry. 

Aldi's top tier $35 plan, which previously provided 2.5Gb of data, now only provides 1Gb of data. (From memory, there was a time when it provided 5Gb.) This is a considerable decrease in value, especially as Aldi, like most resellers, rounds up data usage in each session to the nearest Mb.

They have also altered their stand alone data packs to $30 for 3Gb. Apparently new plans are on the way.

National Broadband Network

National Broadband Network topic of the week is the likely privatisation of NBNCo, which has seemingly become a question of 'when' and not 'if'. The answer, according to some, is 'soon'. The response of many is merely to sigh.

Malcolm Maiden in the Sydney Morning Herald even went so far as to break down precisely how the privatisation will go down. It is hard to quibble with his arguments, which are plausibly anchored in considerations of the current government's ideology and the recent appointment of Bill Morrow as CEO of NBNCo.

Morrow most recently oversaw Vodafone's LTE network deployment, which may not have resurrected the telco completely, but has certainly re-energised an operation whose flesh was beginning to mortify. He isn't the kind of guy you bring in unless you want to get quick results. 

Maiden's quick take is that:

  • Greenfields deployments will be handled by the private sector (as they were before, with very limited success);
  • Telstra and Optus HFC networks will be acquired, and sold to people as acceptable high-speed broadband;
  • NBNCo's two satellites will be sold to private operators, with capacity leased back;
  • A similar thing will be done with NBNCo's fixed wireless towers.
  • FttN deployment will be sped up. It is currently under intensive trial in partnership with Telstra (which some see as a first step towards Telstra taking over the entire shebang).

It's all looking deflatingly familiar. Most Australians, according to a recent survey, are opposed to the NBN privatisation, and for very good reasons. Privatising the NBN, especially at this point, would likely result in precisely the stagnant regulatory mess the network was created to remove.

As George Santayana so presciently said: 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to recreate another vertically-integrated privately-owned telecommunication monopoly not unlike the one the country has laboured under for over a decade.'

Recall also that this is going on even as NBNCo, the Communications Minister and Telstra argue that other commercial providers shouldn't be allowed to compete with the NBN on an infrastructure level.

NBNCo's interim CEO Ziggy Switkowski last week declared that TPG's plan to connect 500,000 high-value customers to FttB threatened the NBN's financial security. Now he has insisted that it has also jeopardised the (re)negotiations between Telstra and NBNCo (the outcome of which Minister Turnbull has previously waved away as a fait accompli). Switkowski of course oversaw the final privatisation of Telstra (T2 and T3), so one assumes he know what he's talking about.

It turns out competition isn't always a good thing, especially when it devalues a public asset that the government is determined to sell.