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The ACCC is going to need a standard speed measurement for one ADSL2+

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On Wednesday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) published the submissions to its inquiry into the lower end of the NBN market, launched in October.

Formally dubbed the Inquiry into NBN access pricing, the ACCC is mainly concerned that people cannot get a basic NBN service at the same pricing level as prior ADSL services.

In the real world, this could result in the ACCC mandating a price for a entry-level anchor plan, and the debate is centring on which speed tier it should be set at.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the world of Australian telco is one in which the players create their own realities to promote their point of view.

For instance, just how good was the world of ADSL2+ before the National Broadband Network was created?

While viewing Telstra’s submission, which went on to create a whole new model for NBN to work from and would only lose it a little bit of money, the following chart ran alarm bells, because this is how I remember the world of ADSL. By which I mean, getting over 10Mbps was akin to living on top of a Telstra exchange.


Image: Telstra

So while a minimum 12Mbps NBN plan is far from a world-beater, it’s more than likely able to be better than ADSL — if the line is capable of those speeds.

Enter TPG, rushing in from stage left with an arm full of facsimile printouts to paint a picture of a world I wish I knew.

“TPG submits that most consumers have been using ADSL2+ services that offer effectively unlimited downloads at speeds that are between 12Mbps and 20Mbps and have been paying AU$59.99 per month,” it said.

“As a result, the migration to an NBN12 bundle is in fact making them ‘worse off’.”

But the Teoh company was not done and really got out the extra bright colours to add the final touches.

“For ADSL2+ customers, speeds have been close to 20Mbps for the bulk of customers,” TPG said.

During the start of this decade, I was on a TPG line that would run at 8Mbps on a good day. I would then faint and pass out at the slightest hint of water in the pit. I want to remember the world the way TPG does.

Knowing the attack was coming, the National Broadband Network (NBN) was already armed to smack down TPG’s price talk.

“TPG charges AU$59.99 per month for its unlimited ‘on-net’ ADSL2+ service, which is offered in selected exchanges in metropolitan Australia. However, for its equivalent high-data allowance ‘off-net’ services, TPG charges between AU$79.99 per month (300GB) and AU$99.99 per month (500GB), with no unlimited option,” it said.

NBN is no fan of the mandated entry-level plan, which could see the ACCC name a speed that could be set at a retail price of AU$60, and has stated its plan was based on the former unconditioned local loop service arrangements that the ACCC had moved away from.

“NBN does not support ACCC intervention on pricing of entry-level services because it will create artificial incentives for end users to remain on 12/1 NBN entry-level services that are unlikely to satisfy their changing usage habits as many more devices run concurrently and puts at risk the ability for Australia to realise the full benefit of the investment in the NBN network,” the company said.

“The ACCC has placed over-reliance on the need to replicate a single AU$60 retail price point for entry-level services with unlimited data. There has never been a single ‘entry-level plan’ offered at a single price in the Australian retail market, but rather there has always been a diverse range of retail prices for such services on ADSL/ADSL2+ networks.”

NBN warned that if such arrangements were to occur, it would mean it would be unable to recover costs from 20% of its user base.

“This would render impossible the cross subsidisation required to bridge the digital divide, and undermine NBN’s incentives to re-invest in the NBN network,” it said.

A common thread running through the submissions was criticism of the use of pricing discounts by NBN, which were regarded as unreliable and liable to being ripped away with little notice.

“There is always an end date to the discounts and this date is often changed, compounding the challenge for RSPs in planning and managing costs,” Vocus said.

“For example, the proposed end date of the DBD-R discount was May 2019. To prepare for this change, Vocus undertook significant network and IT development activity only for this date to be extended with little notice to June 2020.

“NBN Co’s approach to pricing creates significant cost uncertainty through shifting goal posts and drives unnecessary operational overhead to implement changes to stay relevant in a competitive market.”

For Vocus, despite the recent pricing changes from NBN, it said it was unlikely to reinstall a 12Mbps plan, and while 25Mbps could be an option with changes, it’s likely to keep its 50Mbps plans as its flagship.

“We do see the value of the new 100/20 speed tier at a more reasonable access price,” Vocus added.

That same tier is being lined up by Aussie Broadband as its new flagship plan.

Telstra, meanwhile, wants 50Mbps as the entry-level anchor at AU$35 a month, with no bandwidth overuse charges and penalties. Australia’s incumbent telco also wants a voice-only product from NBN at a wholesale price of AU$10.

“We are concerned that regulating a low speed (12/1Mbps) broadband plan will encourage customers to take-up low speed broadband, resulting in poor customer perceptions and experience of NBN, and limited achievement of the potential socio-economic benefit,” the telco said.

“The choice of NBN plan for many consumers has been guided by the more readily comparable and known feature — price.”

For a long time, watchers of the Australian telco space has viewed Telstra pointing to New Zealand as a broadband exemplar as a novelty, especially after its hostility to anything it didn’t come up with during the Trujillo-era.

“It is notable in this regard that in both the UK and in New Zealand, the regulated broadband anchor product is of a much higher speed than 12Mpbs — 40Mbps in the UK and 100Mbps in New Zealand,” it said.

“In both cases, the regulated anchor also reflects the current most popular basic speed product offered by the regulated entity — which in NBN’s case is its 50Mbps service.”

Perhaps Telstra really does have some contrition for how it acted in the past, which essentially forced the government into creating NBN in order to kill off Telstra’s wholesale dominance.

Elsewhere, TPG’s would-be marriage partner Vodafone wanted 25Mbps to be the entry level, along with ditched the loathed CVC altogether, another common thread among the telco submissions.

Meanwhile, Exetel stood up and handed out some real talk.

“NBN’s pricing (discount, credits and rebates) policies to date have been entirely self-serving with the sole focus of achieving their mandated wholesale ARPU of AU$52,” it said.

“If a basic speed access product has a regulated price applied, NBN will adjust its higher speed NBN services costs higher to ensure it meets its wholesale ARPU target.”

Exetel wants the 12/1Mbps entry-level bundle (ELB) plan extended to all technologies.

“The exclusion from fixed wireless and satellite from 12/1 ELB supply is discriminatory and contrary to NBN’s long term interest,” it wrote.

Ultimately, with the ACCC looking at the lower end of the market, it needs to decide whether to force NBN into offering a voice-only option that would allow it to mandate a 25Mbps or 50Mbps plan as entry level, otherwise it needs to decide if it could do both with the 12Mbps or 25Mbps option.

If the latter options are pursed, and this is probably the direction it is headed, the ACCC is going to run afoul of the “no worse off” clauses.

In such a situation, the central pillar to any determination will be how good it is perceived that ADSL was.

Unlike the volume of Sydney Harbour, London buses, or Olympic-sized swimming pools, the ACCC is going to need an actual measurement.

Otherwise, it will need to argue against those who want to push the idea it was a 20Mbps paradise. Because if that was what we had, we wouldn’t be in this NBN mess to begin with.

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Toyota foils leakers by offering an official image of the 2022 Tundra

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Earlier this week, leaked images were going around claiming to show the next generation 2022 Toyota Tundra. Automakers never like leaks, and often they simply deny that the images are of their vehicle or ignore the leak altogether. However, Toyota used a different tactic when images of its 2022 Tundra leaked, choosing to release an official image of the truck.

2022 Tundra TRD Pro

With Toyota’s move, talk of the 2022 Tundra has moved from the leaked images to Toyota’s official image. However, it’s worth noting that Toyota only offered a single image of the TRD Pro version of the Tundra and offered no details on the truck. Last month, SlashGear posted a review of the 2021 Tundra TRD Pro, highlighting that it was the last hurrah for the current generation of the truck.

However, it does offer a nice opportunity for us to compare the exterior of the 2021 model to the 2022 model. What we see is significant changes on the exterior of the truck. While the overall profile remains virtually the same, the 2022 has a completely new front end that closely resembles the style used on the Tacoma and 4Runner SUV. That means a large black grille with hexagonal openings and bulky Toyota branding on the grille.

It’s unclear if non-TRD Pro versions will have the same front-end treatment. Another interesting tidbit that is easily seen from the official Toyota photograph is that the truck is equipped with an LED light bar underneath the Toyota logo in the grill and what appear to be LEDs underneath the grill on the front black portion of the bumper. The headlights are much smaller and appear to be LED.

2021 Tundra TRD Pro

The truck has modest black fender extensions and rolls on very attractive black wheels. We also note that the truck has integrated sidesteps to make it easier to get in and out. Unfortunately, there’s no indication of what changes might have been made to the interior or under the hood of the truck at this time.

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Ford to purchase Electriphi for integration with Ford Pro services for EV fleets

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Ford has announced it will purchase Electriphi, a California-based provider of charging management and fleet monitoring software for electric vehicles. Ford intends to integrate Electriphi capabilities with its Ford Pro services to develop advanced charging and energy management experiences for commercial users. Many large commercial fleet operators are actively transitioning from combustion-powered vehicles to electric vehicles, and managing charging is a significant challenge.

Ford believes that the acquisition of Electriphi will help spur the adoption of the new F-150 Lightning Pro and E-Transit van by fleet operators around the country and the world. The automaker also notes that the acquisition is part of its plan to invest more than $30 billion by 2025 to enable it to lead in electrification for both commercial and retail customers.

Ford Pro is a new global business within Ford designed to help improve commercial customer productivity and develop advanced charging and energy management services. Charging infrastructure and managing charging capabilities for large fleets of electric vehicles is seen as one of the biggest challenges to the adoption of electric vehicles by commercial users. Ford Pro estimates that the depot charging industry will grow to over 600,000 full-size trucks and vans by 2030.

Ford Pro expects to have over $1 billion in revenue from charging by 2030. Ford’s full-electric E-Transit van is currently scheduled to begin shipping later this year, and the F-150 Lightning Pro will begin shipping in the spring of 2022. Electriphi had a team of over 30 employees, and the software they developed is designed to simplify the electrification of fleets, save energy cost, and track critical metrics like the real-time status of vehicles, chargers, and maintenance services. Ford expects to close the acquisition this month at undisclosed terms. Ford Pro will begin for customers in North America, but it will launch in Europe later.

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2021 Volkswagen Jetta Review: Sober Value

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Volkswagen would probably call the 2021 Jetta “pragmatic,” and rationality certainly is the name of the game for one of the most affordable cars on the market right now. A mainstay of the compact sedan segment since 1979, the Jetta always promised a balance between the playful Golf and the grown-up Passat. These days, though, the Jetta may have matured a little too far.

Much as with the Golf in the US, VW has pared back the Jetta configurations to a single engine. In fact it’s the same engine: a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, with 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The cheapest 2021 Jetta, the S trim from $18,995 (plus $995 destination), comes with a six-speed manual. So, too, does the $22,795 Jetta R-Line.

Otherwise you get an eight-speed automatic, with front-wheel drive across the board. In the case of my 2021 Jetta SEL Premium – the swankiest Volkswagen offers – it pushes pricing to $28,045 plus destination. Part of that is the Cold Weather Package, which is $500 on lesser trims, and the equally priced Driver-Assistance Package.

All Jetta get LED front and rear lights, and R-Line and above upgrade the 16-inch alloy wheels to 17-inch versions. SE and above have heated side mirrors and a panoramic power sunroof. SE and above get dual-zone automatic climate control and heated front seats; cars with the Cold Weather Package have a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats. Only the SEL Premium has actual leather upholstery, though.

On the safety side, automatic post-collision braking is standard across the board, while SE and above get forward collision warnings with emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts. SEL and SEL Premium cars throw in adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assistance.

The Jetta may have the same engine as the 2021 Golf, but the end result still feels fairly different. The Golf has, of course, near-sublime chassis tuning, and is altogether more eager with its 147 horses. Even with the same platform underneath, the Jetta plays things a little more grown-up. It’s surprisingly zippy from a standing start, easily pulling away, but corners see more body roll and the steering is dialed in light.

I suspect that’s what Jetta owners like, though, and certainly it’s a relaxed and unchallenging experience from behind the wheel. The Jetta GLI promises a few more thrills, thanks in no small part to its active damping, but this regular car is unlikely to get your heart rate up.

The same could be said for the cabin, which is dark and sober enough that you could assume Volkswagen is going through its goth phase. Matte black plastics sit alongside gloss black plastics, and the sprinkling of dark silver trim around the clusters of controls isn’t enough to lift the interior out of its somber monochrome.

The switchgear feels good, but the rest of the plastics are only middling, and all the button blanks around the transmission shifter are a reminder that even in SEL Premium form you don’t get a huge number of toys. The 8-inch touchscreen on SEL and SEL Premium trims now runs MIB3, a newer version of VW’s infotainment system; S, SE, and R-Line cars get a 6.5-inch touchscreen and the older MIB2. So, too, the two highest trims pack the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, with a screen replacing the analog gauges.

MIB3 is clean and easy to use, though VW’s graphics don’t stray from the pallid aesthetic of the rest of the interior. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a wireless charging pad, and both SEL and SEL Premium cars get a 400 watt Beats Audio system with eight speakers and a subwoofer. There’s a surprising degree of bass from that, along with two USB-C ports.

Where the Jetta does stand out – including against the Golf – is in economy. The EPA says you’ll get the same 29 mpg in the city, but highway driving is rated for up to 39 mpg (versus the Golf’s 36 mpg) for a single point advantage at 33 mpg combined. In practice, it’s not difficult to meet those figures either, not least because the Jetta doesn’t especially encourage profligate manners behind the wheel. Highway driving in particular feels tuned for steady plodding rather than anything approaching urgency.

Practicality tips things back in the Golf’s favor, with the Jetta offering 14.1 cu-ft of trunk space versus its hatchback cousin’s 17.4 cu-ft. Still, it feels bigger than that, there’s a 60/40 split rear seat, and adult passengers back there only had a slight dip in headroom to complain about. A four-year/50,000 mile warranty is a little more generous than what many in the category are offering.

2021 Volkswagen Jetta Verdict

I’ve said it before: VW’s attentions seem to be on its electrification strategy and the ID range, and that leaves cars like the 2021 Jetta out in the shadows. The compact sedan isn’t a bad car, just an unmemorable one, and the problem there is that it finds itself with competition that rival automakers are taking a lot more seriously.

The new 2022 Honda Civic Sedan, for example, is similarly priced but has a fantastic cabin and is more rewarding dynamically. The Mazda3 has beguiling looks and is far more enjoyable to drive than the Jetta. There’s not really anything objectively wrong with Volkswagen’s car, and those on an extreme budget might find its lesser-equipped trims appealing, but even those who think of their vehicles as appliances will find more to appreciate elsewhere.

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