Telco groups support improved broadband performance and speed information

While ACCAN simply approved of better broadband performance information for consumers, AMTA and Comms Alliance have recommended that a new guideline be established by industry itself.

The Communications Alliance, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) have all published submissions supporting the proposal that consumers be provided with better information on fixed broadband speed and performance.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) a year ago suggested monitoring broadband services in an effort to encourage competition between broadband retail service providers (RSPs) and aid consumers in making more informed purchasing decisions.

"We fully support the ACCC's investigation into this issue, and urge the commission to implement guidelines and other measures that will result in clearer information for consumers," ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said on Monday.

"ACCAN asserts that consumers should have access to information which helps them compare services and describes how the service will work for them.

"The proposed Broadband Performance Monitoring and Reporting Program, which aims to test service performance, would also help to support and verify the speed claims made by RSPs. Information on any prioritisation over the network that occurs should also be presented to consumers."

ACCAN's submission [PDF] stated that more information on RSPs' broadband services is needed in order to compare products, enable fault diagnoses, and seek recourse when a service does not meet expectations.

"Further information made available to consumers on the speed and other performance claims of service providers should, ideally, meet these objectives," ACCAN concluded.

"Also, in providing such information, the emphasis does not need to be on measuring exactly the technical performance of a service but via comparative standardised reporting ... ACCAN believes that both information on the broadband service (average speed and peak speed) and the internet service (information related to network peers and connections) needs to be presented to consumers.

"Furthermore, information on any [traffic] prioritisation that occurs should be presented to consumers."

In a joint submission [PDF], Communications Alliance and AMTA agree that while more information on broadband speeds should be provided to consumers, it is questionable as to how this could be achieved realistically.

"Industry strongly believes that it is important to focus on principles, given that it is not realistic to make deterministic statements about speed and performance for individual customers," the joint submission said.

"The market and technologies are also highly dynamic. Any attempt to prescribe a solution will quickly become outdated and there is a real risk that any prescriptive approach would stifle innovation in the industry.

"In this regard, most industry participants remain deeply sceptical as to whether the ACCC's proposal for a broadband quality monitoring regime in Australia would achieve its objectives."

AMTA and Comms Alliance added that for smaller ISPs, adhering to such a regime could have anti-competition effects.

As such, the two bodies recommended that Comms Alliance create an industry guideline on broadband performance in collaboration with the telco industry, the ACCC, AMTA, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the Department of Communications, and ACCAN.

"We think it is important that the new guideline should be based on technically sound principles and communicate information on the range of relevant factors (not only access network speed) that contribute to a customer's broadband performance experience, noting the many factors outside the direct control of the RSP but still important for the consumer's overall experience," their submission explained.

"We are suggesting that the new guideline could effectively replace the ACCC's existing information paper ... the industry guideline will reaffirm industry's commitment to consumer protection and customer service, make a significant contribution to improving the representation of broadband speeds, and assisting consumers to be better informed and make better judgments when purchasing a new broadband service or having difficulty with the performance of an existing broadband service."

In July, the ACCC released a discussion paper on the matter, calling for submissions on its proposal, saying RSPs are slow to provide performance information such as speeds and instead focusing on download quotas and pricing.

"Since late 2013, the ACCC has consulted on the possible introduction of a fixed broadband performance monitoring and reporting program in Australia. We have looked at the technical and commercial aspects of such a program, and anticipate this work will be published in the near future," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in September last year.

"A broadband performance and monitoring program would promote competition and consumer outcomes by providing transparency over the quality of broadband services that are on offer to consumers. Consumers need this information to help them select the most appropriate service for their needs, and to confirm they are likely to be getting the service for which they are paying."