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Australian consumer watchdog indicates US needs active net neutrality laws


(Image: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Rod Sims has said that due to the limited amount of competition in its broadband market, were he responsible for the United States rather than Australia, he would be behind net neutrality laws.

“They often have very limited competition to get your broadband, because the way their structure has evolved, and so it is an issue there,” Sims told a Senate Estimates committee on Thursday.

“My guess is if I was sitting in the US, I’d probably have some active regulation.”

Sims said that the ACCC is keeping its eye on the Australian market, but even though Australian telcos are increasingly bundling extras such as sports broadcasts and quota-free music streaming into their broadband packages, he believes it is not damaging competition.

“We don’t see much evidence of it happening,” Sims said. “We think that if it does happen, people have plenty of other alternatives.”

“We don’t get many complaints on it from various entities.”

Net neutrality was repealed by the US Federal Communications Commission on December 14, and saw the rolling back of rules forcing US ISPs to treat all internet content equally.

Also read: Holding ISPs accountable: Let’s build an app to monitor net bias

In response, a number of states are looking to implement their own net neutrality laws, and a collection of others are involved in suing the FCC in an attempt to block its decision.

Earlier on Thursday, Sims reiterated to Senate Estimates that the ACCC will continue looking at speeds sold to consumers on the National Broadband Network (NBN) versus the actual speeds experienced by users.

“We had problems where retail service providers were selling NBN services that NBN couldn’t deliver particularly on fibre to the node,” Sims said.

“Now we’ve taken we’ve got court enforceable undertakings from most of them, and we will have the rest.

“That’s a crucial change because that now means they’ll only sell what NBN can deliver.”

Along with a new labelling system for broadband plans, Sims said he expected much better behaviour from ISPs this year.

On the topic of whether the NBN needs to be written down to be profitable, Sims said it was too early to make a call.

“You’ve got to keep those options on the table, but we need to see how this plays out. We need to see how our speed claim guidance plays out, our monitoring scheme plays out, the lower NBN pricing,” he said.

“It’s too soon to know whether there needs to be any review of the valuation of NBN, but it’s something you need to keep an eye on as you go out forward.”

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