ACCC wants to expand NBN speed guidance to fixed-wireless

The ACCC is consulting on a proposal to extend its NBN speed guidance to fixed-wireless services so that consumers are notified of how cell congestion, line of sight, and distance from towers could impact their service.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has published a review of its broadband speed guidance rules, patting itself on the back for the program's effectiveness while proposing for an extension of the rules to National Broadband Network (NBN) fixed-wireless services.

Specifically, the ACCC wants more information given to consumers on how services may be affected by distance and line of sight to cell towers, as well as fixed-wireless cell congestion.

"If the consumer is connected to fixed-wireless technology, the RSP should check whether the service location is within a congested cell and if so advise the consumer of the forecast upgrade date that the network operator has specified for that cell," the Report on effectiveness of broadband speed claims guidance and consultation on further enhancement: November 2018 [PDF] said.

The ACCC noted that retailers now have better access to information on the likely performance of fixed-wireless services than they had a year ago, when the speed guidance was first released.

"In broad terms, we propose to amend the guidance to apply the same approach to that taken in respect of FttB/N connections, with some changes to reflect differences in these network types and the information that is available to RSPs in respect of them," the ACCC said.

"A potential point of difference is that an RSP might not have access to maximum attainable speed data from the network operator for fixed-wireless connections. If this is the case, an RSP should conduct its own testing of the connection to ascertain this information, or if they are not capable of this, provide clear instructions to consumers as to how they can conduct this test for themselves and report the results to the RSP.

"From that point, an RSP should consider the maximum attainable speed information that it has available and take steps as appropriate."

The ACCC is accepting submissions on questions including whether RSPs need more information to implement the proposed changes for fixed-wireless services; whether RSPs plan to develop separate price, data, and speed offerings for fixed-wireless; and whether the guidance should describe a default method for testing fixed-wireless maximum attainable speeds.

The regulator also attached two models for how retailers can market fixed-wireless products when they do not have access to accurate speed information or the location of the network cell prior to selling a service.

The first model would see retailers only upgrading a fixed-wireless plan from 12/1Mbps to 25/5Mbps when maximum attainable speed and congested network cell information is available; while the second model would involve the RSP selling a higher-speed plan to consumers while clearly advising them that the service may not be attainable under the provision that "actual speeds will be confirmed on activation".

"If the service location is not in a congested network cell and the actual attainable connection speed can deliver the off peak speed (or higher) of the plan selected, it would be best practice for this to be confirmed with the consumer," the ACCC said.

"If the service location is in a congested network cell and/or the actual attainable connection speed is lower than the off peak speed of the plan selected, but higher than the off peak speed of the next plan down (eg a consumer purchased a plan with an off peak speed of 50Mbps, and the maximum attainable connection speed is 40Mbps), the RSP should ... advise the consumer that they are able to move to a lower (cheaper) plan at no cost and allow the consumer to do so. If the consumer chooses to move to a lower plan, the RSP should also provide the consumer a refund to compensate the consumer for the period they were paying for a higher speed plan that they could not receive in full."

If the attainable speed is an entire speed tier lower than that being paid for, the retailer should inform the consumer, provide a refund, and advise them of their maximum speed, as well as advising customers that they may exit their contract without penalty.

Read also: Almost half of NBN users now on 50Mbps or higher plans: ACCC

The ACCC had in August 2017 issued guidance on how broadband providers should package and advertise their fixed-line services along the lines of evening peak speeds in order to improve accuracy and prevent misleading claims.

Included in these guidelines is that 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.

According to the ACCC, MyRepublic, Activ8me, and Skymesh still do not provide typical busy period speed information, which the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) called disappointing.

"ACCAN will be engaging with this consultation, and is particularly supportive of the proposal to extend the scope of the guidance to broadband services provided over NBN's fixed-wireless network where congestion on some cells has caused services to slow to unacceptable levels," ACCAN director of Policy Una Lawrence added.

The ACCC is accepting submissions until December 19 2018.

It is also monitoring actual speeds being delivered across fixed-line services, but has previously said that it would need an additional AU$6 million in government funding to extend its speed-monitoring program to fixed-wireless.

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