NBN voice service rules | ACMA

NBN voice service rules

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has made new rules requiring telecommunications service providers to alert customers connecting to the NBN fibre network about how a mains power failure could affect their voice service.

During a power failure, all services supplied over an optical fibre connection will stop working unless an alternative backup power supply—typically a battery—is installed at the individual’s premises to power the network termination device and a fixed-line telephone.

While most subscribers have access to mobile phones in the case of a power failure, many, especially older Australians, continue to rely on their home fixed-line connection for voice services and, in many cases, other services such as personal medical alarms.

‘NBN fibre consumers need to make an informed choice whether to install battery backup in light of their particular needs,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman. ‘Without reliable safeguards to ensure adequate information is provided to inform that choice, there is a small but real chance that unaware consumers may be put at risk, particularly in an emergency.’

The new rules are designed to ensure that service providers give NBN fibre customers sufficient information during the sales process about how their voice service will operate in a power failure, so that householders can make an informed choice about whether they need battery backup or not.

‘We are confident that the new service provider rules strike the right balance between ensuring consumers have the appropriate information to make an informed choice, while not imposing an unnecessary and costly burden on industry,’ Mr Chapman said.

The new rules complement existing arrangements in NBN Co’s Wholesale Broadband Agreement in respect of the optional provision of battery backup units to premises converting to optical fibre.

Under the new arrangements, priority assistance customers with a life-threatening medical condition will continue to receive a battery backup automatically.

The new rules are set out in the Telecommunications (Backup Power and Informed Decisions) Service Provider Determination 2014, which commences on 2 October 2014.

The ACMA will be working with telecommunications service providers wherever required to oversee the smooth implementation of the new requirements.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Emma Rossi, Media Manager, (02) 9334 7719 and 0434 652 063 or media@acma.gov.au

Media release 49/2014 - 22 August


Power supply and fibre-based networks


The copper lines used in many legacy telecommunications networks are typically powered from the local telephone exchange facility. This allows for the continued operation of the telephone line and the telephone itself in the event of a mains power failure at the customer’s premises.

In contrast, a fibre network (such as NBN Co’s fibre to the premises technology) is unable to carry electrical power to the customer’s premises. The network termination device installed at the customer’s premises—which allows the customer to connect their customer equipment to the fibre network—is powered by the electrical mains network.

If there is a power failure affecting the customer’s premises, services carried over the fibre network will stop working unless there is a backup power source on which the network termination device can operate.

Backup power supply is a service continuity solution that is designed to enable the continued operation of voice services on NBN Co’s fibre to the premises technology for a limited period of time during a power failure. Typically, the backup power supply is provided by a battery installed at a customer’s premises and is connected to the network termination device installed by NBN Co through orders placed by telecommunications service providers (CSPs).

Since 19 December 2013, battery backup units have been installed on an optional basis. Consumer research commissioned by the government in 2012 showed that the majority of consumers considered that the installation of a battery backup for NBN services should be based on consumer choice.

Development and consideration of options for supporting optional backup power supply


In response to a 2013 request from the government, the ACMA has considered regulatory options to better ensure customers are able to make informed decisions about whether they require a battery backup for specified NBN services.

In line with the government’s best practice regulation requirements, the ACMA prepared a Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) setting out a cost benefit analysis of options and a detailed analysis of the regulatory proposal. Following completion of the RIS assessment process, the Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) assessed the RIS as meeting best practice for decision-making and the ACMA as being compliant with the Government’s best practice regulation requirements. A copy of this RIS is available on the OBPR and ACMA websites.

In August 2014, the Authority therefore agreed to make the Telecommunications (Backup Power and Informed Decisions) Service Provider Determination 2014 to impose obligations on CSPs regarding the development and implementation of informed consent and associated document retention processes for optional backup power supply.

In summary, the determination requires service providers to:

>      give the customer sufficient information about what a battery backup service would do and would not do during a power failure, which information can be relied upon by the customer to make an informed decision about whether or not to have the battery backup service

>      give the customer sufficient information to ensure that the customer is made aware of the limitations of the battery backup service (for example, that the period of time the battery would enable the continued operation of the service is time limited)

>      make and retain records verifying that the customer was given such information before entering into an agreement for the supply of a service.

The new rules on CSPs will apply from 2 October 2014. The ACMA will advise industry of the new rules and will work closely with individual CSPs (where required) to assist them in understanding the terms of these obligations and how they can comply.

NBN Co’s wholesale broadband agreement


NBN Co offers access to CSPs through its wholesale broadband agreement. The wholesale broadband agreement is a contract between NBN Co and CSPs that sets out the basic conditions of access to the NBN Co network. The wholesale broadband agreement requires CSPs to obtain and record the informed consent of customers in relation to battery backup for the network termination device installed by NBN Co.

The new rules set out in the ACMA determination complement the requirements of the wholesale broadband agreement by defining core information and record-keeping obligations that enable CSPs to give effect to the informed consent requirement contained in the wholesale broadband agreement.

Customers who require access to fixed-line telephone services during a power failure

 If customers are concerned to ensure that they have access to fixed-line telephone services during a power failure, they should ask their telecommunications service provider about what options are available to ensure continuity of service in a blackout and whether their service is supported by backup power supply.

Regardless of whether a battery backup unit has been installed to power the network termination device installed by NBN Co, customers should be aware that some customer equipment is not designed to work without mains power. For example, many cordless telephones and VoIP (voice over internet protocol) telephones that are connected to the UNI-D port of the network termination device require mains power to operate. Without a separate backup power source, these types of customer equipment will not operate in a power failure even if NBN Co has installed a battery backup for the network termination device.

Customers should ask their telecommunications service provider about backup power supply options for these types of equipment. Additional advice about service continuity matters for medical and security alarms is also available on the NBN Co website.

Last updated: 22 August 2014