ACCC eyes broadband speed tests

ACCC eyes broadband speed tests

Summary: The Australian competition watchdog is considering keeping tabs on the broadband speeds available in Australia.

TOPICS: Telcos, Australia

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is contemplating bringing in a broadband performance monitoring system that would report back the types of speeds available across Australia.

The competition watchdog is looking to follow in the footsteps of regulators such as Ofcom in the UK, as well as the FCC in the US, the IDA in Singapore, and the New Zealand Commerce Commission in developing a monitoring system that would report back on the standard of broadband services in Australia. This would initially include ADSL and hybrid-fibre coaxial services, but could be expanded out to cover the National Broadband Network (NBN) as more customers migrate to the network.

The ACCC noted in its discussion paper (PDF) for the proposal that as the NBN rolls out, and demand for high-end download and upload speeds increases, the actual achievable speeds will become much more important to customers.

To date, the ACCC said, Australia's internet service providers (ISPs) have largely relied on price, download quotas, and headline speeds in order to sell their services, but the speeds achievable can vary differently based on the ISP.

"Two ISPs may offer a plan at the same price point with the same amount of data, but if one provider has invested heavily in network capacity while the other has not, the end user's experience is likely to be significantly different with each ISP," the ACCC said.

By the ACCC providing data on the speeds achievable through that ISP, the commission said it would allow customers to make a more informed decision about choosing which ISP to go with, and at what price. It would also allow the ACCC to hold ISPs to account for claims made in advertising about the speeds they can achieve.

The ACCC has a history of targeting the telecommunications industry over misleading advertising claims, and has taken several ISPs to task over misleading advertising, including TPG, Optus, Dodo, and iiNet.

While the prospect of even more lawsuits and fines from the regulator might be a deterrence for ISPs to get on board with the proposal, the ACCC said it could also offer real-world data for the ISPs on how their services compare to competitors', and allow the ISPs to advertise based on the ACCC's test results.

"This would draw out an extra-competitive dimension in addition to price and download quotas," the ACCC said.

The reporting would also give ISPs a better idea of when there is an issue on the network if they're reselling a service such as a fixed-line service with NBN Co or Telstra or a mobile service through Telstra, Optus, or Vodafone.

"In some cases, the ACCC could use test results to 'triangulate on' an issue with an access network. For example, if the ACCC observed poor performance from all ISPs supplying NBN-based services in a specific area, this would likely indicate an issue at the wholesale access level rather than the ISP level," the ACCC said.

Such a reporting system would also hold a network operator to account for the claims made to its retail customers, according to the ACCC.

The proposed method of gathering the data would be through hardware monitoring units installed on the devices of the end users, most likely between the router and the person's home network, with the ACCC specifically pointing out that the technology would not record private internet traffic.

The ACCC has proposed collecting data on upload and download speeds, packet loss, latency, jitter, DNS resolution rates, DNS failure rates, and webpage browsing speed.

To ensure that the user's service remains the same, the software would only be run when the customer is not using their connection.

"The testing equipment would require minimal electricity, and would likely run tests only when the user is not using their connection (testing units deployed internationally can conduct tests in very small 'connection inactive' windows such as between clicks when a user is browsing the internet)," the ACCC said.

This probe-based testing method is what is being used in the UK today, and the devices currently run around 14,000 tests per day.

The ACCC has said that including mobile broadband testing in the trial would "significantly increase the costs" of implementing the testing program, and has proposed that the tests be limited to fixed broadband in the short term.The ACCC has said that while Australia's four largest ISPs — Telstra, Optus, iiNet, and TPG — would cover 90 percent of the fixed-line market, the commission would be willing to test out the services of any ISP where it could get a sufficient sample size.

The location of the customers that would be brought on to the test has been left open for discussion as part of the proposal, but the ACCC has suggested that there could be anywhere between 1,000 and 12,000 users involved, depending on the number of ISPs and locations included in the test.

The ACCC did not propose how often it would report the data, but suggested that bi-annually or annually would provide a high level of detailed commentary, and, in the interim, the ACCC could release monthly or quarterly performance reports.

The proposal has not been greeted warmly by the Communications Alliance, the organisation representing telecommunications groups in Australia. The group's CEO John Stanton said he will be making a submission to the inquiry, but said it would be expensive for something consumers can already do themselves.

"There is a wealth of broadband speed tests available today on the internet — consumers can test the speed of their connection in a matter of seconds at any time of the day or night," he said in a statement.

"As the ACCC itself points out, the group of volunteers needed to run a scheme along the lines it proposes would have to be large and diverse enough to be representative — potentially making for a very expensive exercise for Australian taxpayers."

The guidance to ISPs would make it "virtually impossible" for providers to talk about the speeds attainable on their services, he said.

The ACCC is accepting submissions on the proposal until Friday, September 13, 2013.

Topics: Telcos, Australia


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • download quotas . . .

    "download quotas"

    . . . should be made illegal. I'm sorry, I hate bandwidth caps. Broadband providers in the USA don't do such a thing, and I recently switched to a cell provider that doesn't.

    I use Steam to download games, I have Windows set to download updates automatically, I play World of Warcraft, and I also like to watch YouTube. So it's not unusual for me to be using well over 20+ GB of data in some months, easily.

    Australia may be the land down under, but does that really mean it has to be the land with backwards technology?

    The future is not going to revolve around being cut off from the rest of the world at some arbitrary number.
    • USA providers are moving to download quotas too

      Cobra, US providers began in 2012 to cap downloads, and this is one of the most complained about aspects of comms in the USA right now. When only a few users maxed out their service it was not a problem, but now everyone is using more data and providers have to cover their costs.
  • Great idea ACCC

    Surprised you didn't think of it earlier, really...
  • ACCC should also monitor its 121-POI cost imposition

    The ACCC's November 2010 decision to force 80 regional and 40 metro Points Of Interconnection on the NBN's optimal 14-POI design is something whose effects on competition and end user cost should also be monitored.

    Two redundant POIs in each capital city meant that small providers (telcos or other services like health or security companies) could lease cheap metropolitan fibre to connect to a POI for the entire State. 121 POIs forces providers to lease additional access from a new class of aggregator before they can compete with the likes of Telstra and Optus.

    The ACCC decision was anti-competitive, reducing the number of providers who can sell to regional areas, unless they charge more to cover the higher access cost. This makes it bad for customers, too. The ACCC should monitor the overheads which its 121-POI decision has imposed on smaller retail service providers, and use this evidence to determine whether to hand back the network architecture design to the engineers.
  • download quotas should be outlawed

    they only exist in this country where the ISP's can get away with it. Countries like America - you buy your speed and that's it. Usage is not clocked. The ACCC should study this and report to the Federal Government to outlaw this practice. It's akin to the software Price hike we get in Australia. They large companies are using us to subsidise their overseas investments.
  • Misleading advertising?

    How about out and out fraud by companies like Optus who sign you up and assure you that your account will have a mythical high speed pack getting you 100mbps downloads, then when you complain youre only getting 2mbps, they tell you they know nothing about that, and subsequently throttle you down to dialup speed as punishment for daring to question their monopoly.

    Yes. I said it. Monopoly. I live in a central western suburb of melbourne. 15 minutes out of the centre of the city. Only -one- company does cable internet. Telstra wont come near us. And for reasons that i can only assume have a lot to do maximising profit with minimum service, the nearest ADSL exchange to me, is 500 metres away...... but doesnt serve my street. My street is served by another exchange 4.5 Km away. So ADSL2 is out. Cable im getting around .05% of the service i pay for, and wireless data is EXTORTIONATELY priced.

    This is getting beyond a joke.