Commission launches consultations on safeguards for consumers moving from copper to fibre broadband

The Commerce Commission is seeking feedback on the consumer protections and proposed process that will regulate when Chorus can stop providing copper-based voice and broadband services in areas where fibre broadband is available.

“As fibre services become available across most areas in New Zealand, consumers are likely to make the switch from copper to fibre, making the copper network more costly for Chorus to maintain. Recent legislative changes will therefore allow Chorus to transition the remaining copper consumers to fibre from 2020,” Telecommunications Commissioner Dr Stephen Gale said.

“There are consumer protections built into this process. To ensure consumers are not disadvantaged, we will be developing a copper withdrawal code that sets out the rules that must be followed before Chorus can stop providing copper services in neighbourhoods where fibre is available.”

For example, the code will require that before the copper service can be withdrawn an equivalent fibre service is readily available at no additional cost to the consumer. Chorus will also have to provide information about available fibre services and give adequate notice of the withdrawal.

Chorus cannot stop providing these copper services until it meets all the consumer protections that will be in the copper withdrawal code. One further component will be a ‘Commission 111 contact code’ that will require retailers to ensure that ‘vulnerable consumers’ have—at no cost—an appropriate means of contacting 111 for emergency services in the event of a power outage.

The earliest Chorus can stop providing copper services will be 1 January 2020 – and only once all the conditions are met.

The Commission wants to hear from industry participants as well as consumer groups on its proposed approach to identifying the areas where fibre services are clearly available and if there are any additional provisions the Commission should include in the copper withdrawal code.

Submissions on the fibre areas process and issues paper close on 8 February 2019.

Submissions on the copper withdrawal code close on 14 February 2019. Cross-submissions on the copper withdrawal code close on 6 March 2019.

The Commission will provide an update on its process for the Commission 111 contact code before the end of the year.

Further information, including the papers released today, can be found on the Commission’s website.

Background

Under amendments to the Telecommunications Act 2001 passed earlier this month, the Commission is required to determine the initial geographic areas of New Zealand where fibre services are available to consumers by 1 January 2020. These areas will be known as specified fibre areas. Once identified as a specified fibre area, Chorus will be able to stop providing copper services in them, eg, VDSL and ADSL broadband and the services it sells to support retail service providers providing voice services.

Traditionally broadband is delivered over a copper phone line. Fibre broadband uses fibre-optic cables directly to the home, capable of speeds much faster than copper.

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