Australian Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has said that the National Broadband Network (NBN) company has been unfairly criticised by consumers over misleading speed claims being made by its retail service providers (RSPs).
Fifield told a party meeting on Tuesday that RSPs have been promising unrealistic speeds across the NBN, and that these complaints should be "disaggregated" from those being made about NBN itself.
Fifield's statements were in response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) last week publishing a set of guidelines for RSPs to follow when advertising their broadband speeds in order to improve accuracy and prevent misleading claims.
After an enquiry into the matter, the ACCC said 80 percent of consumers consulted want simple, standardised broadband speed information in order to accurately compare packages from different ISPs.
"The ACCC is concerned that the use of vague speed claims is not providing consumers accurate, comparable, or useful information. Four out of five consumers have trouble comparing broadband speeds, and this is causing a high level of complaints, confusion, and dissatisfaction," ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
"Consumers believe they aren't getting what they sign up for, and pay for, when it comes to home internet speeds. It is time the industry met consumer demand for accurate information about broadband speeds so consumers can compare offers and make informed decisions about their internet services."
The report said ISPs should provide accurate information on speeds consumers will likely see during peak times, without referencing wholesale network speeds or theoretical speeds, and disclosing any mitigating factors. It also said information should be comparable between ISPs, and diagnostic systems installed to resolve any issues.
The ACCC will commence a pilot of its speed-monitoring program during 2017.
A spokesperson for Fifield said on Tuesday that the federal government is "supportive" of the program to increase consumer information about broadband plans, but will be looking at the results of the ACCC's pilot.
NBN spoke in favour of the proposal last year, saying it "strongly agrees" that consumers should be provided with better broadband speed information and calling it a "win-win" for both consumers and the industry.
"Network operators are responsible for the performance of their part(s) of the underlying network, and provide relevant information about that network to RSPs. The RSP is then best placed to provide end users with performance information, including service speed, regarding their retail products," NBN said at the time.
"For RSPs and industry, providing clear and accurate information about speed will result in greater customer satisfaction, lower churn, and reduced cost in dealing with dissatisfied customers. It is also an investment which will likely increase brand loyalty and arguably mitigate regulatory risk."
Complaints about NBN's services have been constantly on the rise since the rollout began; the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) revealed in November that consumer complaints about the NBN doubled during 2015-16, up to 13,406 complaints.
"We saw nearly a 100 percent increase in the number of NBN-related complaints this year, but the rate of growth is lower than the growth of active services," Ombudsman Judi Jones said last year.
"Delays in connections to the network, faults including unusable services, and dropout of services were regularly reported, which is of concern."
The TIO said the increase in complaints was "expected" due to the accelerating NBN rollout.
Of all fixed-line complaints, 48 percent pertained to slow internet data speed.
"Consumers told us that slow data speed was the biggest problem with internet services," Jones said.
"New complaints about internet data speed increased by 48 percent."
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) also published research at the end of last year revealing that consumers had found their NBN broadband speeds did not match their expectations.
"The qualitative research showed that residents were unaware that simply switching to the NBN did not guarantee high speed internet (that is, that internet speed would depend on the purchased plan), while a number of businesses complained that the service they received from providers was slow and unresponsive," the ACMA said.
"The report also demonstrates the need for further education on speed choices and prices available over the NBN network, and to explain factors that influence internet service experience -- NBN and RSPs continue to work on this education piece."