ACCC upbeat on support for broadband speed monitoring program

Hopeful of positive response from government to proposal

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says it is “hopeful” of an announcement “in the near future” about government funding for an ACCC broadband speed monitoring program.

The ACCC has put forward a proposal to government based on a three-month 2015 pilot it conducted in Melbourne. The pilot involved installing hardware in the homes of volunteers, allowing a range of broadband performance metrics to be collected and collated.

The ACCC is “hopeful of some positive response to that in the future”, Michael Cosgrave, executive general manager for the ACCC’s Infrastructure Regulation Division, told a Friday hearing of parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network.

A procurement process for the program would be likely to take three or four months, Sean Riordan, ACCC general manager, industry structure and compliance, told the hearing. That means that if the government includes funding in the May budget, a program could potentially be running before the end of the year.

Riordan said that the ACCC estimated that a four-year program focussed on end users connected to the National Broadband Network would cost around $7 million.

“We would look to construct the volunteers into reporting classes such that we could then generate reports that could then show performance by different access technology, by different RSP [retail service provider], different geographic regions,” Riordan said.

“The data, provided that we’re successful in recruiting that spread of volunteers, would give insights into a range of different policy issues plus giving an insight into how RSPs perform comparatively and could also give a good sign-posting as to where issues may be systemic to the access component and more specific to an individual RSP,” he told the committee.

Industry has previously been lukewarm on the proposal.

Cosgrave said that the ACCC believes there’s a “public policy argument” for a performance monitoring scheme to be established by an independent body rather than industry participants.

““That will give you an assessment by a public body based on one methodology as opposed to potentially a range of different methodologies being rolled out by different carriers and people potentially making use of material in ways that seek to maximise their commercial opportunities on the NBN,” he said.

Telstra plans to publish its own NBN performance data.

Communications minister Mitch Fifield indicated earlier this year that the government was examining the outcomes of the ACCC pilot.

The ACCC last month released guidance for RSPs on making claims about the performance of their broadband offerings. The ACCC said that wholesale network speeds, or theoretical speeds based on the technical specifications of a particular technology, should not be advertised without reference to typical busy period speeds.

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