Telco body wants industry to lead on broadband speed claims

Communications Alliance suggests that it should take charge of guidance for retail service providers

Communications Alliance should develop guidelines for retail service providers (RSPs) about making broadband performance claims, the telco industry body has argued.

The document would effectively replace an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) paper that currently guides RSPs’ claims about the broadband performance end users should expect from a particular service.

The recommendation was made by Communications Alliance and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) in a joint submission to an ACCC consultation on broadband performance information.

The ACCC last month launched a discussion paper seeking input on improving consumer access to information about broadband performance. The consumer watchdog said it is concerned that consumers lack clear information about the speeds they can expect from broadband services.

The CA/AMTA submission argued that the ACCC’s previous guidance on broadband speed claims has restricted the information that RSPs can offer to consumers.

The 2007 ACCC document says that Internet service providers should “avoid using hypothetical speeds in headline claims describing a service and in the names or titles that ISPs give to particular plans”. “ISPs must be able to substantiate stated maximum or ‘up to’ speeds as being achievable by users of their services,” the document states.

Because of the wide range of factors affecting broadband performance, including end user networking equipment, distance from the exchange, the location of content, and number of concurrent users on shared infrastructure, “it is unrealistic for ISPs to accurately describe likely broadband performance on a customer-specific basis, thus making it impossible to make any precise claim about data transfer rates,” argues the CA/AMTA submission.

RSPs “are best placed to communicate information to consumers about the broadband performance they can expect to receive, including taking account of the wide range of factors which can affect the actual performance achieved,” the industry organisations argued.

However, it adds that the two organisations “also recognise that there is a need for some guidance to be provided to RSPs about the language used in discussing broadband performance with consumers so there can be a level of common understanding.”

A Communications Alliance Guideline would be the most effective tool “because the industry is in the best position to interpret the technical parameters, keep the guidance up to date with changes in technology, and ensure that it is workable.”

In its submission, advocacy organisation Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said that broadband performance claims by RSPs “are generally vague”.

ACCAN said that “further guidelines to RSPs to improve advertising practices, with standardised comparable templates for consumer use, would be beneficial for consumers”. The organisation said it backed the ACCC’s Broadband Performance Monitoring and Reporting Program.

The program has included the ACCC installing broadband performance monitoring hardware in 90 Melbourne homes as part of a three-month pilot. The ACCC has not made a decision on whether to proceed with the program. Communications Alliance has expressed concerns about the proposal, particularly if it were to be applied to ADSL and mobile broadband services.

Internet Australia CEO Laurie Patton said that his organisation was concerned about the rate of take-up for the National Broadband Network and that a lack of accurate information about broadband performance end users should expect could be a factor.

“Perhaps one of the reasons why NBN is having trouble securing customers is that people are uncertain as to the sort of Internet speeds they are likely to receive, especially given that there have been reports of people moving from their old ADSL service to the NBN and finding their Internet running slower,” Patton said.

“IA has previously called on the government to undertake a review of the NBN so we certainly support the ACCC’s proposed Broadband Performance Monitoring and Reporting Program. I think we’d also want the program to be independent and subject to requirements set down by the government to ensure transparency and accountability.”

“One of the benefits of a monitoring and reporting scheme is that it would once and for all establish the speed differentials between the copper-based FTTN network and the technically superior FTTP network,” Patton said. Internet Australia is critical of the rollout of FTTN, which relies on Telstra’s copper network.

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Tags broadbandAustralian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)

More about AMTAAustralian Competition and Consumer CommissionAustralian Mobile Telecommunications AssociationCommunications AlliancePatton

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