ACCC taking Telstra to court for reducing customers' NBN speeds without warning

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Telstra is being taken to court over allegations that it reduced the NBN upload speeds for customers of its budget brand Belong, and did so without warning.

Australia’s consumer rights watchdog, which brought the allegations to the Federal Court, says that Telstra made “misleading representations” about the upload speed that almost 9,000 of its customers were receiving. It’s alleged that the false representations were made about Belong’s NBN 100 plans.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says that Telstra moved 8,897 of its Belong customers from a plan that was delivering 100Mbps download speed and 40Mbps upload (NBN 100/40), to a plan that would top out at 20Mbps of upload speed (NBN 100/20).

The migration occurred in October and November 2020, and the competition regulator says that Telstra failed to either notify its Belong customers that their upload speeds had been cut in half, or reduce the cost of their monthly internet bill.

After acknowledging that affected customers hadn’t been notified of the change, Telstra gave around 2,500 customers a one-off AU$90 payment in March and April 2021.

Thousands still paying a premium price

An ACCC commissioner, Liza Carver, says thousands of Telstra’s Belong customers are still being misled.

“We allege that more than 6,300 Belong customers have still not been informed by Telstra that their plan has changed to a lower maximum upload speed, and that Telstra continues to represent to them that the Belong broadband service supplied to them has not been altered,” she said.

“In these circumstances, we are seeking a court order requiring Telstra to pay compensation to consumers who, we allege, did not get the service they signed up for.”

As the matter is before the courts, a Telstra spokesperson would only say that the telco did not accept the allegations. “We don’t agree with the ACCC’s views on this issue and look forward to resolving it. When our communications with some of our customers have fallen short, we’ve let them know and made things right.”

This is not the first time Telstra has found itself in hot water over NBN speed claims. Just last month, Telstra, Optus and TPG were slapped with AU$33.5 million in fines for making misleading statements about maximum NBN speeds.

Telstra was also ordered to pay AU$50 million in penalties for “unconscionable conduct” back in May 2022, when it sold mobile contracts to Indigenous customers that they could not afford, and could not understand due to speaking English as a second or third language.

What you should know about NBN 100/40

The NBN 100/40 speed tier – that’s an NBN plan offering a maximum download speed of 100Mbps and a maximum upload speed of 40Mbps – is fairly uncommon. This speed tier is most useful for content creators, online gamers and anyone who needs to send large files over the internet.

Only a small handful of NBN providers offer NBN 100/40, and if you were looking to sign up, it has an average monthly cost of AU$98.09. By comparison, the much more common NBN 100/20 class – with a top download of 100Mbps and top upload of 20Mbps – will set you back AU$92.03 on average.

The ACCC has been pushing for telcos to be much more transparent about their upload speeds, and recently introduced new rules that will make it a requirement for providers to prominently display their typical upload speeds to consumers.

While the shift to working from home arguably made upload speeds more important to the average consumer, Telstra actually announced it was discontinuing its NBN 100/40 speed option back in September 2021, and automatically moving customers who were signed up to the plan onto its NBN 100/20 offering.

Jasmine Gearie
Ecommerce Editor

Jasmine Gearie is an Ecommerce Editor at TechRadar Australia, with a primary focus on helping readers cut through the jargon to find the best mobile and internet plans for their needs. She crunches the numbers to maintain dedicated guides to the latest phones, NBN and broadband plans of all types, and covers the important telco industry news. She also hunts down tech deals on laptops, phones, gaming consoles and more, so readers know where to buy the products they want for the cheapest prices.