ACMA consults on NBN battery regulations

ACMA mulls regulatory framework for NBN backup batteries

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has dismissed industry self-regulation as unlikely to be an effective way of making sure that consumers can make informed choices about backup power supplies for NBN connections.

The power for PTSN phone services over copper is provided at the exchange, so that even when a household suffers a power outage landline telephone services may still operate (providing a standard, non-portable handset is available).

By contrast, the National Broadband Network's network termination unit ("NBN Box") requires mains power to operate normally. When the NBN rollout began, installation of a battery that could provide a voice service over a fibre connection during a power outage at an end user's premises was mandatory. This was to enable the calling of emergency services if necessary even if mains power was cut.

However, last year the then federal Labor government began the shift to making installation of a backup battery optional. At the direction of former communications minister Stephen Conroy, and continued under the Coalition government's communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, the ACMA has been examining how to regulate a process whereby consumers can indicate whether or not they wish to have a battery installed.

"The ACMA must clearly ensure rigorous processes are in place to safeguard end-users by making sure they understand the implications of their choice about a backup power supply," ACMA chairperson, Chris Chapman, said in a statement.

The ACMA consultation paper – snappily titled Implementation of consumer safeguards for optional backup power supply arrangements – puts forward three possibilities for ensuring that consumers are made aware of the issue surrounding the backup power supplies when signing up for an NBN service.

The options are no regulation, an industry-developed set of guidelines or ACMA-enforceable code, or an ACMA-developed service provider determination. The consultation paper states that ACMA's current preferred option is the last of these.

"Under this option, the ACMA makes a service provider determination setting out the process for the informed consent transaction between the end user and CSP and the associated record keeping requirements," the consultation paper states.

"A service provider determination would provide appropriate end-user protection and regulatory certainty because it could potentially be in place between late February and late March 2014."

The ACMA will take submissions on the consultation paper until 20 December.

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