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Telcos fight attempts to independently monitor broadband speeds

The telco industry is fighting attempts by the competition watchdog to independently monitor broadband data speeds, claiming the program will be costly, ineffective and drive up prices. Instead it wants to write its own guidelines and is launching a education package on what households should do to improve speeds.

However, consumer groups argue Australians have a right to know what kind of data speeds each provider actually delivers, particularly on the national broadband network.

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC] wants $6 million in next year’s budget to roll out a monitoring scheme that collects daily data samples of every internet provider on different technologies. Chairman Rod Sims has previously called it “a really important consumer issue that we are currently getting a number of complaints about”.

At the moment consumers on standard copper-based ADSL connections cannot choose their speed and have to rely on best-endeavours by their telco. But on the NBN consumers can pay more for faster speeds, but only receive those speeds if telcos buy enough capacity. An ACCC pilot program found some telcos were not purchasing enough capacity and speeds dropped dramatically during busy periods.

Chief executive of industry peak body group Communications Alliance, John Stanton, said the ACCC is “putting forward a flawed proposal that cannot produce rigorous, publishable, comparative information”.

There were many factors outside a telco’s control for companies to predict speeds, he said, such as the number of customers using the network, the number of people in a household and whether they use a cable or WiFi connection, distance from the exchange, and capacity on undersea cables.

Optus’ submission to the ACCC states it is too difficult for telcos to give accurate performance guidance because “mass residential broadband services are provided on a best-efforts basis and performance can be variable and uncertain”, particularly over long distances on the copper network.

While Optus supports independent monitoring, it wants the ACCC to focus on the “components of a service with the [provider’s] control”.

Chief executive of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network [ACCAN], Teresa Corbin, said Australians were sick of being sold internet services that did not meet their expectations.

“The thing is that people are being sold products by being told ‘this is going to be better than any thing you have ever had before’,” she said.

But consumers often found speeds did not improve by changing providers. Only telcos know when they – not the consumers – are responsible for slow speeds, Ms Corbin added.

“We would prefer that the ACCC do [the monitoring] because it would be linked to their compliance and enforcement approach,” she added.

The CommsAlliance submission said describing “attainable” internet speeds was as difficult as predicting car travel times on a busy road. It also argued consumers were more concerned with price and download limits than speed, and that prices would increase if telcos had to deliver the speeds they advertised.

CommsAlliance, which represents companies like Telstra, Optus, AAPT, and Vocus, also blamed video streaming services like Netflix for an increase in complaints about data speeds to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

“… An ADSL service that the user has long perceived to be performing satisfactorily may become perceived to suffer from slow speeds because of nothing other than the greater demands being placed on it by the consumer – prompting a complaint to the TIO”.

Chief executive of Internet Australia, Laurie Patton, said sign up rates on the NBN may be slow because people have heard speeds were slower than ADSL. The monitoring scheme would help work out if the slower speeds were due to the customer’s equipment, NBN Co’s network, or the telco’s stinginess with capacity.

He supports an independent scheme that would monitor speeds on fibre-to-the-node connections.

A spokesman for NBN said take-up was not slow and that 1 million people had signed up out of 2.2 million available fixed connections.

“Demand for nbn is strong in available areas, we are now connecting 20,000 new services a week. In the fixed line footprint, we see take-up of approximately 60 per cent after 12 months availability, which is close to the target of 73 per cent at disconnection,” the spokesman said.

A program similar to what the ACCC proposes is currently being rolled out in Canada, with the communications regulator set to publish company-specific results later this year. A preliminary report found all the telcos met or exceeded their advertised speeds.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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