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Optus’s new boss has taken a swipe at NBN Co, saying the telco gets many complaints for inconsistent service levels it has no choice but to pass on.

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The new boss of Optus has taken a thinly veiled swipe at the federal government’s broadband infrastructure monopoly, saying it gets many complaints for passing on inconsistent service levels to consumers.

Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, who became chief executive at the height of the pandemic in April, told a media briefing on Monday that telecommunications was an increasingly difficult business, which should be a concern to the federal government given the health crisis had highlighted it was a critical service.

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The sector had suffered the loss of global roaming revenues with international travel off the table and returns on investment capital were at historic lows, she said.

“There are headwinds facing our sector and structural challenges which, if not addressed, will hold us back,” Ms Bayer Rosmarin said.

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“It can at times feel like trying to plant a seed on dry ground.

“Structural changes are stripping the sector of profitability at a time of shortening technology cycles, all time high investment requirements and peak reliance on our services.

“The current investment climate is not sustainable and risks holding back the future growth of our nation.”

She called for several policy changes, and top of the list was “getting the settings right on NBN”, of which Optus is a customer.

Optus, owned by Singapore’s Singtel, has previously complained about NBN Co, submitting to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in 2018 that “there is insufficient commercial consequences for NBN Co if it fails to meet service levels”.

“We’re huge supporters of the NBN, but we’re also advocating for change and improvement in the way that we deliver strong customer service consistently,” Ms Bayer Rosmarin said.

“We think that a lot of cost in the industry actually stems from the fact that we don’t always deliver what the customers wants first time and correctly – so we have a large amount of calls, complaints.

“We work in a system that is diminishing profitability, but if we all work together, digitalise some of the NBN services, have stronger SLAs (service level agreements), we think we could remove a lot of that cost.”

NBN Co said more than 50 retail service providers (RSPs) would on Tuesday move to a new two-year wholesale broadband agreement, which many of them and the ACCC had helped develop.

“The fourth iteration of the agreement has been designed to provide enhanced customer service commitments with clearer accountabilities between NBN Co and internet retailers, as well as greater price certainty for retailers and value to customers,” the company said.

Chief customer officer Brad Whitcomb said NBN Co was confident it was “a substantially better deal for RSPs”.

“We hope these refined rules of engagement will drive continuing improvements in the customer experience of the NBN network from connection through to fault identification and resolution, as well as setting service standards that underpin everyday use,” Mr Whitcomb said.

Asked during the briefing if now was the time for Optus to start monetising its huge investments in the high-speed 5G mobile network, Ms Bayer Rosmarin said keeping customers over the long term had been the priority this year so the company had not hiked prices during the pandemic.

The bid to foster loyalty had included offering bill waivers, freezing plans and ceasing disconnections and debt recovery as Australians relied more heavily than ever on telecommunications as they worked from home during lockdowns.

“In support of what our customers have been going through this year, we even came out and said we wouldn’t raise our prices on our mobile services until next year, even though both of our major competitors did raise their prices in the middle of the pandemic,” Ms Bayer Rosmarin said.

“We’ve taken that strong customer advocacy role … and I think that has earned us a lot of goodwill.”

Ms Bayer Rosmarin also confirmed Optus was pushing ahead with its plan to sell about 70 per cent of its “passive” towers, worth some $2 billion, to help fund its rollout of 5G infrastructure.

“Those are not assets from which we derive a competitive differentiation – we still need them, they’re still necessary – but we think that there’s a stronger monetisation opportunity from continuing to access those towers but having the management, the rentals, all that managed by another party,” she said.

Optus announced earlier this month it was buying Amaysim for $250 million. It plans to delist the mobile phone plan provider from the ASX and wind it up in June if shareholders back the deal at an extraordinary general meeting expected to be held in January.

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