The NBN has certainly had to endure its fair share of bad news stories over recent years, as the rollout of the national network ramps up and more and more people’s homes are moved onto it. What should have been an all-fibre rollout, though, was famously changed by the incoming government to what’s called a “mixed technology model” – which threw connection methods into the mix that included Fibre to the Node, Fibre to the Basement and eventually Fibre to the Curb. All are capable of high speeds in ideal conditions – but conditions are rarely ideal when the weak point of these technologies involves copper wiring of varying lengths, placed in variable conditions.
The result, for many people, has been disappointment – it’s not unheard of for the top speed on a FttN connection to be around the 15-20 Mbps mark, which is hardly the super-fast network of the future people had been promised. But that in itself isn’t what caused a widespread outcry from customers – after all, it’s the limitations of those technologies that are directly responsible for any disappointing customer speeds.
Where Internet providers slipped up, as it turns out, was in the way they advertised their plans to customers. Offering a range of speed tiers for their services, providers were happily selling plans – on lengthy contracts in many cases – which advertised speeds “up to 100 Mbps”. That would have been fine for Fibre to the Home connections, where that speed is always attainable and iron-clad guaranteed. But for FttN and FttB, “up to 100Mbps” was a promise that providers simply could not keep (early customer reports suggest FttC is far more likely to reach advertised speeds).
Responding to complaints, the ACCC took action, starting in November 2017 when they knocked on Telstra’s door, asking why the company was selling a “Super Fast Speed Boost” to customers who would never be able to achieve those speeds on their NBN connection. In a landmark move, Telstra agreed to compensate 42,000 customers who’d bought into the “super fast” plans but not gotten the speed they paid for.
This was just the beginning of the story, too – in subsequent months, the ACCC turned its attention to other Internet providers. First, it was Optus (8,700 customers compensated), then TPG (8,000 customers) and iiNet/Internode (11,000 customers). The latest company to fall under the watchful gaze of the ACCC was Vocus, which runs iPrimus, Dodo and Commander, and has identified 3,384 Dodo customers, 1,912 iPrimus customers, and 565 Commander customers who’ll need to be compensated or refunded.
In the process, the ACCC also noted that in many cases, customers weren’t even able to achieve the advertised speed of the slowest possible plan, something that usually has more to do with the provider buying insufficient capacity on the NBN to handle the data demands of their customers. It’s for this reason that you will now find Internet providers advertising plans with a quoted “typical evening speed” – and often not selling plans by numerical speed tiers at all.
So if you’re one of the thousands of customers who were affected by the whole debacle, what can you do? What compensation do you get, exactly, and how do you get it?
Getting the Ball Rolling
For starters, if you’re with one of the affected providers and are on a plan your connection cannot support, you should have received either an email or a physical letter from your provider letting you know. If you haven’t and you think you’re affected, double-check your email first (especially that junk mail folder) and then give your provider a call.
For Telstra customers, the company agreed to a full set of remedies for those affected, including monetary refunds, the ability to change to a more suitable speed plan, and the ability to cancel your contract without penalty and move to another provider. Even if you’re no longer a Telstra customer, they should have been in touch with you by now – a refund may still be coming your way.
Optus agreed to all of the above as well as offering discounted plans to affected customers; they should have been in touch with those affected by March 2nd. TPG also should have been in contact with their customers by March 2nd with an offer of refunds between $10 and $30 per month you were subscribed, as well as the ability to change plans or leave without a fee. iiNet/Internode had until the end of April to contact their list of affected customers, saying that the options available to each customer depends on their plan, but will likely involve refunds or the waving of the contract termination fee. And for Dodo, iPrimus and Commander, you can get out of your contract at no cost or move to a slower plan and get a refund; they should have been in touch by the end of April as well, but later changed the deadline to May 18th.
ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said when announcing the iiNet and Internode undertakings that “fixing misleading claims about Internet speeds during the transition to the NBN is an enforcement priority for the ACCC and we strongly urge other providers to act quickly to ensure their advertising is accurate.”
Needless to say, if you think paying for speeds that you can’t actually receive, you should get in touch with the ACCC via their website – but give your provider a call first. With the entire industry now well aware that the ACCC has its eye on them, you’re likely to find your Internet provider a lot more agreeable about finding a solution that works for you.