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ACCC gives thumbs up to TPG's NBN fibre-to-the-basement raids

Junior telco may be forced to wholesale services

Australia's Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has to do nothing about junior telco TPG's plans to compete with the nation's government-mandated monopoly telephony network provider NBN Co, but is still pondering whether other telecoms retailers should be allowed to resell services running on TPG's infrastructure.

TPG plans to deliver fibre optic connections to large apartment buildings, and then offer retail xDSL services to tenants. Such plans are controversial because NBN Co is attempting to do the same thing. By moving faster than NBN Co, and cherry picking apartment complexes that offer nicely dense clusters of residents, TPG stands a chance of winning lots of lovely customers, but also disrupting the homogeneity the National Broadband Network (NBN) is intended to provide by making it harder for a single carrier to act in its own interests by restricting access to its networks.

In a statement issued today, the ACCC says it “does not intend to not take any action to prevent TPG implementing its plans”.

The ACCC's reasoning is that TPG isn't making an extension to its services forbidden under current regulations, so should be allowed to crack on.

But there's a sting in the tail, too, as the ACCC also says it “will now conduct a declaration inquiry into whether a superfast broadband access service like the type to be provided by TPG over its fibre-to-the-basement networks should be the subject of access regulation.”

“Amongst other matters, the inquiry will consider whether regulation is necessary to ensure that consumers in TPG connected buildings can benefit from competitive retail markets for high speed broadband services.”

In other words, whether telcos other than TPG can resell retail services using TPG kit.

If the ACCC finds TPG should not be permitted a retail monopoly on premises where it places kit, it is hard to imagine the telco would bother. There's not a lot of profit margin in providing access to rival telcos. Then there's the issue of providing billing interfaces for third-party telcos, which would significantly complicate TPG's life. Don't doubt that third-parties could flood TPG with all manner of finicky requests: poking rivals' wounds is long-established industry practice.

The ACCC isn't saying when it will deliver a decision on whether TPG will be forced to provide wholesale access. TPG has not, at the time of writing, made any public pronouncements on the situation. ®

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