Broadband trials hold regional ISPs to account

Providers must deliver on advertised speeds as part of Federal Government test of consumer Internet access

Regional Internet Service Providers will be made more accountable for delivering advertised broadband speeds following a Federal Government test of consumer Internet access.

The three-month national test, confirmed by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), is being run alongside but separate to the Internet Content Filtering pilot which began last December. It follows consumer complaints received by industry groups that some ISPs had failed to deliver on advertised Internet speeds and had too many connection failures.

But industry experts say it is unfair to “point the gun at ISPs” because there are many technical and competitive factors out of their control such as contention rates that can severely reduce the broadband speeds at a customers’ doorstep.

The national test involves 40 ISPs under the department’s Australian Broadband Guarantee (ABG) program across the country, and used Enex Testlab network hardware.

Internode managing director Simon Hackett said minimum threshold requirements do not exist outside those subsidised under the ABG, but added ISPs are governed by strong legal requirements under the Trade Practices Act to “fully inform consumers who buy something about the limitations in what they are buying”.

“Telstra Wholesale based ADSL services, in particular, are indeed suffering some problems in some geographic areas due to apparent under-investment by Telstra in backhaul - something that in practice Internode (and other users of Telstra Wholesale ports) clearly can't directly influence other than by selling services on their own (uncongested) infrastructure where we can (and obviously where we can, we do that),” Hackett said in an emailed response.

“Those congested Telstra service areas also impact BigPond retail customers equally, meaning that Telstra do tend to ultimately fix them, if only for their own retail customers' sake, with our wholesale services benefiting from the same upgrades automatically.”

ISPs under the ABG are subject to Enex testing of “the average data speed of their services and also their network availability”, according to a DCBDE spokesperson. Providers must “deliver an average of 60 percent of the specified peak speeds for a defined ‘threshold’ service (currently 512/128kbps) at least 75 percent of the time”, and must reach 99 percent network availability over a quarterly period.

The government will use the Enex eMetric boxes for further tests if the trial is deemed a success.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) last year voiced concerns about customers receiving far less broadband speeds than those advertised by providers.

"The ACCC is concerned by companies over-promising and under-delivering the speeds available on mobile and wireless internet, particularly in the context of network upgrades and increasing wireless internet subscriptions," ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said in a written statement.

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