NBN maybe possibly might release speed database, perhaps

CEO confident RSPs will make details available, otherwise he will (possibly)

NBN chief executive Bill Morrow says the company is prepared to publish details of the theoretical maximum speeds achievable for households — possibly.

During a briefing earlier this month on the company’s Q1 results, Morrow said that the company would consider publishing its speed estimates.

However, in an appearance yesterday at a Senate Estimates hearing the CEO reiterated that he didn’t believe that NBN would have to — and that he wasn’t even sure if, legally, the company would be able to.

Labor has previously pushed for the company to release its data on the estimated theoretical maximum speeds for households.

NBN has faced renewed scrutiny over the issue after a number of major telcos have revealed plans to refund customers for selling ostensibly high-speed services to households with connections that were incapable of delivering the expected performance

The maximum achievable speeds for premises connected to the National Broadband Network with technologies that rely on copper wiring — particularly fibre to the node (FTTN) — can vary greatly. With FTTN, factors such as the distance from a node and the quality of the copper can affect speeds.

As a wholesaler, NBN doesn’t offer services directly to the customers; instead it sells services to the retailer services providers (RSPs), which offer broadband services to end users on the new network

NBN provides its customers — the RSPs — with two different indications of speed potential for FTTN connections.

Before a service is sold to a consumer, the RSP is provided with a theoretical speed range that NBN thinks a particular end user might be able to achieve.

Once an order for a broadband service is placed and a modem is installed in a home, NBN can conduct a sync rate test that Morrow said gives a “fairly accurate view” of the maximum speed a line is capable of. That is the test NBN advises retailers to use when it comes to putting customers “on the most appropriate product for their individual needs,” Morrow said.

The theoretical speed assumptions are produced by NBN as it makes an area ready for service, while sync test results are sent almost immediately to RSPs after a modem is installed, with NBN producing regular reports since it began rolling out FTTN services.

The “theoretical” maximum speed for a line “is just that” Morrow said. It’s based on information collected from Telstra and depending on the accuracy of that data, which includes copper gauge, copper length and impedance, it can often be relatively accurate. “If we have incorrect information then the theoretical will be off,” Morrow said. A sync test provides a significantly more accurate picture and there can often be “considerable variation” between the two.

NBN has warned retailers to be cautious in their communications with customers because the initial attainable speed rate estimate is only theoretical, Morrow said.

NBN has “no red flag” system in place for when a service is ordered for a speed in excess of what a line is likely to be capable of. The CEO said that he reviews reports about the issue and the data is passed on to RSPs.

Morrow said that the reason for not red flagging orders is that the interaction between an RSP and an end user is opaque to NBN.

For example, an RSP may have told a consumer that their line is capable of 45Mbps and given them the choice of purchasing a 25Mbps or 50Mbps service with the caveat that they won’t achieve 50Mbps — or possibly the RSP may have offered a “45Mbps price”.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has “subpoenaed” data from NBN that the company provides to RSPs about attainable speeds Morrow said, adding that he assumes it has been used by the regulator as it cracks down on RSPs over selling and under-delivering on broadband speeds.

The CEO said that NBN needs to avoid anything that could influence RSP competitiveness and anything that could confuse end users about “who their go-to company is for their telephone and their Internet service requirements”. His view is that RSPs should provide speed data to customers.

“I believe that… many of the RSPs agree with that” and that communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield and regulatory bodies are working together “to see what they can do to enforce that of the RSPs,” the CEO said.

There may be confidentially agreements with RSPs preventing NBN releasing the data, Morrow said. The CEO said that he hadn’t asked any lawyers to assess whether there were any legal issues with releasing the data and acknowledged he knew of no RSPs currently providing the data to their customers.

However, he said it was “ridiculous” that people would expect a wholesale company to bypass retailers to provide information to the end users.

“It’s not our responsibility,” Morrow said but added he would “go above and beyond our responsibility if the industry does not respond.”

“I’m confident that they will,” he said. “I’m confident that the current government cares about this. I’m confident that the regulatory bodies are investigating what’s necessary.”

“Only if they don’t and only if we are not violating any laws or agreements will I publish that information. But I will,” Morrow said.

“I do not intend right now to publish anything about that information – I will monitor what the government and the regulatory bodies do, I will monitor what the RSPs do and if necessary and I’m allowed legally from a contractual point of view I will publish information,” he said.

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