The federal government has announced it would grant $7 million to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for the watchdog to start monitoring the performance of Australian broadband.
The scheme has been launched just as the NBN is starting to roll out en masse in urban areas and debate escalates about whether retail service providers are buying enough capacity for real-life performance to satisfactorily match speed promises made in their marketing.
“This program will see the ACCC test and report on the typical speed and performance of broadband plans provided over the NBN,” said ACCC chair Rod Sims. “This information will assist consumers in comparing and shopping around, and checking that they receive what they are paying for.”
The four-year program will see hardware devices attached to the fixed-line broadband connections of 4,000 households to record speeds at various times during the day. After a testing provider is appointed, monitoring will begin next month with statistics starting to be published in the second half of this year.
With end users often blaming the NBN for performance issues, the responsibility of retailers to buy enough wholesale capacity from the national network is coming into focus — and the ACCC’s monitoring program is aimed to make the retail service providers more accountable in this regard.
“The program will also allow the ACCC to determine if issues are being caused by the performance of the NBN, or by internet service providers (ISPs) not buying sufficient capacity. It will also provide ISPs with independent performance information from which to draw when making speed claims,” Sims said.
The ACCC chair also criticised the current retail broadband market for lacking sufficient information and not matching up suitable products according to consumer needs.
“This improved transparency will help these consumers exercise choice as next generation services are rolled out, including on the NBN.”
The consumer watchdog previously ran a pilot broadband monitoring program and published the results in 2015. The full-blown monitoring project follows similar efforts by regulators in the United Kingdom, United States, Singapore and Canada, which the ACCC said had measurably improved retailer transparency in those markets.
Complaints about broadband speeds to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman increased 48% in 2015-16, which made it the single most-complained about issue during that year.