Comms Alliance not sold on ACCC broadband monitoring

Costs of national broadband performance monitoring scheme could quickly add up, telco industry body says

An Australian broadband performance monitoring regime should be subject to a "rigorous" cost-benefit analysis before implementation, according to telco industry body Communications Alliance.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) today released a report on a broadband performance monitoring pilot program run under its auspices.

The three-month pilot covered 90 Melbourne home fixed-line connections.

Hardware installed in the participants' premises monitored metrics including speeds, web browsing time, latency, packet loss, video streaming, jitter and DNS resolution speed, the ACCC said.

Since 2013 the ACCC has examined the potential creation of a broadband performance monitoring regime that could provide consumers with information about the quality of connections delivered by ISPs, wholesale access networks and different broadband technologies.

"Competition in the retail fixed broadband market in Australia is limited by an asymmetry of information between RSPs and consumers on service performance," states the ACCC report on its pilot program.

"This asymmetry of information also exists between RSPs, who have information about the performance of their own networks, but not their competitors’ networks. As a result, the lack of information about broadband performance: diminishes the likelihood of RSPs competing on service performance; increases the likelihood that consumers may be misled about (or misunderstand) the quality and capabilities of their service; and limits a consumer’s ability to select the most appropriate service for their needs.

"The prospects for competition in the retail fixed broadband market would be improved by addressing this information gap."

The ACCC said that the pilot showed the feasibility and potential value of implementing a broadband monitoring program and delivered practical experience in running such a program.

"The ACCC's experience of conducting the Pilot Program provides further confirmation that an ongoing [fixed broadband performance monitoring and reporting] program in Australia is a viable option that should be pursued," the report states.

"The ACCC believes a broadband performance monitoring and reporting program would promote competition and consumer outcomes by providing transparency over the quality of broadband services," ACCC chairperson Rod Sims said.

"As the NBN rollout progresses, providing transparency over the performance of the monopoly network provider will be particularly important as retail service providers (RSPs) will be dependent on NBN Co for the underlying network capability.

"In this regard, visibility over any network-based performance issues would help identify whether any bottleneck issues in the network are attributable to RSPs or the network provider.

"In addition, it is also important for consumers to have information about how different broadband products perform when choosing the option that’s best for them."

The ACCC is yet make a decision on whether to proceed with an ongoing broadband monitoring program.

Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton sounded a note of caution on the ACCC's report.

Stanton said that without a significant sample size that can represent a cross-section of all Australian broadband users, the methodology of the pilot program was unlikely to provide reliable results.

"The growing diversity of access technologies within the NBN multi-technology mix, the need to divide the results by region and the fact that there are more than 400 broadband service providers in Australia may add up to a very expensive solution — the cost of which will ultimately fall on taxpayers or internet consumers," Stanton said in a statement.

"Industry welcomes the opportunity to consult further with the ACCC, but that discussion should encompass the full range of options available to meet the aim of greater transparency around broadband performance."

Stanton said that options such as crowd-sourcing data, over-the-top tools to measure connection programs and "other less invasive schemes" should be looked at.

The ACCC's pilot relied on a hardware probe which was installed at end users' premises and simulated real-world user behaviour.

The government has engaged in a limited form of broadband data crowd-sourcing with its MyBroadband service.

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