Monday, 06 April 2020 12:38

Long-term competition in comms sector still a focus as ACCC eases restrictions during COVID-19 crisis Featured

By
ACCC Chair Rod Sims ACCC Chair Rod Sims

The chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Rod Sims says the competition watchdog is focused on the critical role of the communications sector during the current COVID-19 crisis and the delivery of better services while maintaining longer term competition and efficiency in the market.

“Right now, the ACCC is focused on the current crisis and how we can contribute to the delivery of better communication services while maintaining longer term competition and efficiency in the market,” Sims said in a speech to a business summit in Sydney.

“The public health crisis we are currently facing is unprecedented and appalling. It is causing severe disruption for all of us, and is devastating for so many in a range of different, unpredictable ways.

“We all know people who are now unemployed when they never thought this would occur, or who have seen their business shattered. Then we have the unknown level of casualties yet to come from COVID-19.

“Governments are rightfully implementing measures necessary to protect the community, and the economy.

These are testing times for all sectors of the economy. None more so than communications. I have no idea how long this crisis will last. This depends on health issues well beyond my expertise.

“I do know that we must all work together to avoid a savage destruction of businesses, and of human and other capital, without losing sight of the economy’s long-term health,” said Sims.

"During this COVID-19 pandemic, we have all become acutely aware of how important broadband services and connections are if we are to stay productive and engaged, whether at work or, for most of us, at home. And most importantly, at a time when social distancing is mandated, the vital role they play in keeping us connected and getting through this crisis together.

“We are seeing encouraging signs that the (communications) sector is responding well to the crisis,” Sims noted

“NBN data traffic is up 70% during the business hours. There has been a 50% increase in mobile call volumes on some routes and this appears to have impacted a modest percentage (say, 3–4 per cent) of calls.

“Retailers are increasing plan allowances or reducing excess charges to help their customers adjust, and they should be applauded for this.”

Sims says the recent data from the ACCC’s now regular Measuring Broadband Australia test units are also encouraging, showing daytime NBN speeds have not been impacted, and are holding up well on most evenings, “with average NBN speeds in last Wednesday’s busy evening period, for example, were just as good as we saw on an equivalent Wednesday in February, with performance above 80 per cent of maximum plan speeds”.

“It is clear that NBN Co’s temporary boost in network capacity which allows RSPs to increase their capacity on the network by up to 40% at no extra cost for three months is underpinning these encouraging results. We are much better placed while this measure remains in place, so we must congratulate NBN for this move,” Sims said.

“This is not to say that there will not be pain points for individual consumers who were previously having problems, such as some FTTN and fixed wireless customers. And some will need assistance in remotely accessing their work systems or coming to grips with new applications.

“The public health crisis we are currently facing is unprecedented and appalling. It is causing severe disruption for all of us, and is devastating for so many in a range of different, unpredictable ways.

“We all know people who are now unemployed when they never thought this would occur, or who have seen their business shattered. Then we have the unknown level of casualties yet to come from COVID-19.

“Governments are rightfully implementing measures necessary to protect the community, and the economy.

"These are testing times for all sectors of the economy. None more so than communications.

I have no idea how long this crisis will last. This depends on health issues well beyond my expertise.”


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