ACCC pushes for improved broadband speed information for consumers

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is requesting telcos be more clear in the information they deliver to consumers about fixed broadband speed and performance.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has released a discussion paper calling for consumers to be provided with better information on fixed broadband speed and performance, believing it would improve competition among broadband retail service providers (RSPs), and potentially stop consumers being misled and help them make more informed purchasing decisions.

In the discussion paper, the ACCC revealed based on its observations, RSPs have typically been slow to provide information around the performance of their fixed retail services and plans, including speed of service, and have instead focused on prices and download quotas.

However, when RSPs do provide information, the ACCC claimed they are restrictive in their explanations. The ACCC highlighted for instance, when it comes to describing broadband speeds, RSPs use imprecise words such as "quick" or "fast"; similarly when stating product specification for underlying fixed access service speeds they use the words "up to" without further explanation.

It further added that with the emergence of next generation access networks (NGNs), consumers will potentially need to consider different information in order to make purchasing decisions, pointing out there is currently a lack of comparable information about broadband speeds available to consumers to enable them to assess and compare offers made by different RSPs.

In light of this, the ACCC believes its Broadband Performance Monitoring and Reporting (BPMR) Program would help address the issues raised. The monitoring program involves testing services and collating the information so that consumers can compare speed offers and make informed purchasing decisions.

The ACCC first put forward the idea for the monitoring program in September last year, saying it would improve quality and pricing.

"Consumers are entitled to expect clear and accurate information about broadband services," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

"At the moment, it is difficult for consumers to access accurate information as broadband advertising is not focusing upon speed and performance. Consumers are being presented with little information or vague claims like 'boost' and 'fast', or just pictures in advertising of athletes or animals. Consumers need accurate information about broadband speed and performance so that they can understand if what they are being offered will actually meet their needs."

As part of the process, the ACCC is seeking submissions on how information on broadband performance and speed can be improved. Specifically, as part of the consultation, the ACCC anticipates to address eight matters: Network management and monitoring services delivered on NGNs; presentation of speeds information to consumers; peak period demand; premium speed products; prioritisation of network traffic; data sensitive applications and services; managing isolated cases of poor service performance; and mobile broadband speeds and representations. Deadline for submissions is August 25, 2016.

The ACCC said it hopes to release its conclusion on the issues raised in the paper during second half of 2016, and will provide details on the next steps to addressing them towards the end of the year.

Earlier in the month, the ACCC commenced an inquiry into whether wholesale ADSL internet services should continue being regulated in the face of the federal government's National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout, the use of mobile data, and the higher volumes of data being downloaded.

"A number of changes have occurred since the wholesale ADSL service was first declared in 2012, including the progressive rollout of the National Broadband Network," ACCC Commissioner Roger Featherston said at the time.

"This inquiry will assist the ACCC in determining whether continued declaration of the wholesale ADSL service is in the long-term interests of end users."

The consumer watchdog also recently approved Telstra's proposal to vary the NBN migration plan, saying it will provide retail service providers (RSPs) with a longer timeframe in which to migrate customers to the NBN prior to mandatory disconnection.

The migration plan details the process by which broadband and phone customers will be transitioned from Telstra's legacy copper network and hybrid fibre-coaxial network to the fixed-line NBN.

According to the regulator, the varied migration plan will improve arrangements thanks to being based in real-world experience of migration activities to date.