Greens call for ACCC to block TPG's iiNet takeover

Choice laments potential loss of iiNet's consumer advocacy

The Australian Greens have called on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to block TPG's move to acquire iiNet.

The acquisition of iiNet, announced this morning, has the support of iiNet's directors. TPG has confirmed that the iiNet brand will be maintained.

"I will be reminding the ACCC of its obligation to directly prohibit acquisitions which would be likely to have the effect of 'substantially lessening competition in any market,'" the Greens' communications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, said in a statement.

"Competition in Australia’s broadband sector has been painstakingly built up over a period of more than two decades. The ACCC must not sit by and let the sector descend into a feeding frenzy that leaves consumers with no real choice between services."

"After this transaction there will still be a very strong level of competition within the communications market in Australia," TPG general counsel Tony MoffattMoffatt said this morning.

"There's some pretty powerful competitors who are operating in this market and so we consider that, notwithstanding [this] transaction competition is alive and well and we're confident to get through the ACCC process."

The campaigns manager of consumer group Choice, Erin Turner, said the group was worried about the potential loss of iiNet's role as a consumer advocate.

The ISP has had a high profile role on issues such as opposing data retention and Internet censorship, and pushing for a consumer-friendly copyright enforcement regime.

iiNet is currently engaged in a clash with the copyright owners of Dallas Buyers Club, with the ISP indicating it fears customers will be subject to 'speculative invoicing' if DBC LLC succeeds in forcing it to hand over personal details of account holders.

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"The TPG acquisition of iiNet means consumers could lose one of the few advocates they have in the telecommunications industry," Turner said.

"Compared to companies like Telstra, who have clear connections with rights holders like Foxtel, iiNet has taken a customer-focused position in debates around privacy and online copyright infringement. Currently iiNet is in court trying to defend customers from a rights holder that looks as though it wants to bring the damaging practice of speculative invoicing to Australia.

"No consumer should face a quasi-legal demand of thousands of dollars for alleged online copyright infringement and iiNet has been the only telecommunications company to take a strong, necessary stand against the practice.

"With the possible loss of iiNet's role as a consumer advocate, there is an even stronger argument for government to establish sensible consumer protections in cases where people are accused of online copyright infringement. Under the proposed system people face unlimited fines, speculative invoicing and a flawed industry-run complaints process."

"iiNet has been the clear leader in terms of standing up for the interests of its customers in the policy-making context for many years," said Jon Lawrence, executive officer for civil liberties group Electronic Frontiers Australia.

"It would be unfortunate if its acquisition resulted in the business abandoning this important role; however I'm sure other providers are ready to step up to provide this leadership, should that occur."

Vodafone has argued that TPG's acquisition of iiNet would help heighten competition and challenge Telstra in the fixed line telecommunications market.

The ACCC has indicated it is conducting a public review of the proposed acquisition.

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Tags iiNetTelecommunicationsTPGScott LudlamchoiceAustralian Greens

More about Australian Competition and Consumer CommissionElectronic Frontiers AustraliaFoxtelVodafone

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