Alarming plans for the NBN

The Personal Emergency Response Services Association (PERSA) is worried about the impact that the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout will have on people who are reliant on medical alarm systems. These devices currently work across the standard telephone service that Telstra has been obliged to provide. But all of that will change when we move to fibre.

In this week’s Twisted Wire, Leica Ison, general manager of Product Management at NBN Co, says that there has been a lot of work testing devices across the NBN’s analog UNI-V port. But as PERSA pointed out in its submission (PDF) to the Joint Committee on the NBN, retail service providers (RSPs) are not obliged to offer that port. In fact, they say, the indication is that many will choose to offer services entirely through a data port.

Does this mean that the responsibility for offering a working service for these devices rests with Telstra? After all, they have an ongoing commitment to provide a standard telephone service across the country. “Not necessarily,” said Paul Brook, founder of consultancy firm Layer 10 Advisory. He points out that their obligation does not extend to the quality of the service or the requirement to support devices that hang off the existing phone service.

Is this issue big enough to require some sort of regulatory change? It’s a question I put to Peter Harris, secretary of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and acting chair of the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA). You be the judge of whether this issue is in hand, a storm in a teacup, or waiting to explode.

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