ACCC appoints SamKnows to monitor NBN speeds

SamKnows will be monitoring fixed-line NBN speeds for the next four years, while the ACCC has said only Telstra and Optus have made changes to their advertising based on its guidance in August.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Internet performance monitoring company SamKnows has been selected to monitor fixed-line National Broadband Network (NBN) speeds, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has announced.

The AU$6.5 million speed-monitoring program will take place across 4,000 premises over the next four years. Starting with 2,000 homes in the first year, the results of the speed tests will be reported publicly by the end of Q1 in 2018.

"We've had more than 8,000 households sign up to take part in the program, and we're pleased to be launching this in the next month," ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

In June, the ACCC had put out the call for voluntary participants in the speed-monitoring program, through which it will install hardware to collect real-time data on speeds being experienced by users throughout the day.

The program will enable the ACCC to determine which provider is responsible for any speed or congestion issues -- NBN's wholesale network or retailers that have not bought sufficient connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) capacity.

The government had announced in April that it would be providing AU$7 million in funding over four years from July 1, 2017, to ensure that the ACCC is able to implement the NBN speed-monitoring program.

SamKnows was selected following an open competitive tendering process, the ACCC said, with the company's CEO Alex Salter saying it will "work hard to help improve Australian internet performance with accurate and independent data".

According to the ACCC, Telstra and Optus advertising for NBN services has also improved following its industry guidelines provided in August.

Under those guidelines, the ACCC said RSPs should advertise the speeds typically experienced during "the busy evening period", and utilise a labelling system outlining the "typical busy period speed" in the categories of basic evening speed, standard evening speed, standard plus evening speed, and premium evening speed.

The basic evening speed category applies to 12/1Mbps services; standard evening speed involves 25/5Mbps services with 15Mbps minimum speeds during typical busy periods; standard plus evening speed is for 50/20Mbps services with a minimum busy period speed of 30Mbps; and premium evening speed is for 100/40Mbps services with a minimum of 60Mbps.

"Telstra and Optus have recently changed their marketing information to provide their customers with comparable information about the typical busy period broadband speeds that they can expect on various plans," Sims said on Friday.

"The remainder of the industry continues to advertise internet plans using unhelpful speed ranges, referencing off-peak speeds or failing to provide consumers with any information about the speed of their services during busy hours.

"The ACCC has been very clear with industry about our expectations and consumer needs. Providers should give consumers accurate, understandable, and comparable information about the internet speeds their plans will deliver."

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) welcomed the ACCC's appointment of SamKnows and it providing an update on results of its broadband speed guidance.

"Complaints about broadband speeds have reached a record high and there is an obvious need for clear and realistic consumer information on what to expect from broadband services," ACCAN said.

"We want to see all providers adopting the principles outlined in the guidelines so that consumers have clear information about the broadband performance they can expect during peak times.

"ACCAN applauds the ACCC's recent actions against providers who fail to comply with consumer law in this area."

Telstra had last month been forced to compensate around 42,000 NBN customers for not providing them with the speeds advertised in their plans.

According to the ACCC, between September 2015 and November 2017, the telco had offered and promoted "Super Fast Speed Boost" plans across both its Telstra and Belong brands for speeds of 100/40Mbps; however, the ACCC said that limitations on some customers' fibre-to-the-node (FttN) and fibre-to-the-building (FttB) connections prevented them from being able to attain these speeds.

Telstra CEO Andy Penn this week described the process of signing up NBN customers going forward, given it cannot tell what speeds a particular premises will see until it is connected.

"We will provide a customer with a plan of say 25 megabits per second download. If they're on fibre, we'll offer them a speed boost because there's a fair chance that they can get that sort of speed. If they're not, if they're on copper, we will not offer them the speed boost," Penn explained.

"Where a customer does buy a speed boost, what we then do is we actually check once it is connected that the customer can receive effectively what we promised, and if they can't for whatever reason -- and that would be a technology issue, maybe there's a long piece of copper or maybe there's an issue with the copper or something along those lines -- we'll offer to give the customer the opportunity to effectively choose not to have that speed boost."

Citing concern over rising consumer complaints, the ACCC last month announced a public inquiry into NBN's wholesale service standard levels to determine whether regulation, including resolutions for consumers when wholesale standards are not reached, is necessary in order to improve customer experience.

NBN's wholesale service standard levels are presently set out in its commercial agreements with RSPs, and include performance and operational objectives and targets for NBN's services; requirements for when service levels are not met; and the framework under which RSPs can claim rebates or compensation for their customers when NBN fails to meet its service levels.

The announcement followed the ACCC publishing its Communications Sector Market Study: Draft report [PDF], which said "immediate measures" are needed to address consumer complaints.

The commission's report had pointed to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) research on NBN migration issues, and said it would be proposing to examine NBN's service standards, particularly in regards to "incentives in place along the supply chain".

Also needing investigation is the "allocation of responsibility" for faults between NBN and RSPs, the regulator said, along with whether there are incentives for repairing faults and compensation for consumers.

NBN is also currently dealing with the wholesale pricing model through consultation with retailers on CVC, which the ACCC declined to step into, saying an industry-led decision would be preferable.

However, its draft report said it would "consider exercising our regulatory powers where this would support these market outcomes being realised sooner".

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