Telcos “embarrassed” to admit real broadband speeds, says Conroy


news Former Communications Minister Minister Stephen Conroy this morning said Australia’s telco sector was “embarrassed” that it didn’t deliver in reality the broadband speeds it promised customers, and that Labor would “absolutely” support a move by the competition regulator to monitor real-world speeds.

Last week, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission published a 72 page report detailing the fact that it is possible to establish a program to monitor and report to consumers on the quality of local broadband services. However, the regulator noted that it had not yet decided to go ahead with such a program.

In response, the Communications Alliance, the peak industry association and industry self-regulatory body, said such an effort was “unlikely to provide reliable results”, without a very large sample size, and that a rigorous cost/benefit analysis was needed to ascertain whether the projectt was worth proceeding with.

“The growing diversity of access technologies within the NBN multi-technology mix, the need to divide the results by region and the fact that there are more than 400 broadband service providers in Australia may add up to a very expensive solution – the cost of which will ultimately fall on taxpayers or internet consumers,” Comms Alliance CEO John Stanton said in a statement.

“Industry welcomes the opportunity to consult further with the ACCC, but that discussion should encompass the full range of options available to meet the aim of greater transparency around broadband performance. Options such as crowd-sourcing, which has been used in the US, existing over-the-top measurement tools and other less invasive schemes should be looked at.”

“We need to ensure that if a monitoring program is introduced, it is cost-effective, produces reliable data and takes account of the fact that there are factors beyond the control of service providers that can influence the results.”

However, speaking outside the Senate this morning, Senator Stephen Conroy — former Communications Minister and currently Shadow Defence Minister — said the telco sector was embarrassed about its real-world speeds.

“Absolutely,” Conroy said, when asked whether Labor would support the ACCC’s initiative. “I think there is nothing more important than being able to get the speed you pay for. When I was the Minister I supported the ACCC launching it.”

“The industry totally opposes this. The industry has always been embarrassed that it hasn’t delivered the speeds that it’s promised. So the ACCC should insist that it is part of the monitoring process so that Australians will know that what they’re paying for is what they get – because Mr Turnbull’s copper network can’t deliver the speeds that he’s promising.”

Conroy said it wouldn’t “shock” him if there was no funding for the ACCC’s proposal provided by the Government, and if the industry actually teamed up with Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to hide the “true speeds” that Turnbull’s version of the National Broadband Network would deliver, with its Multi-Technology Mix featuring the technically inferior Fibre to the Node and HFC cable technologies.

“It’s been resisted by the industry and Malcolm Turnbull should stand up and say we will have a system where Australians will know whether they’re getting what they paid for,” said Conroy.

Although I have my doubts about the ACCC’s initiative, I have to say that I think Senator Conroy has struck a nerve here.

The Comms Alliance’s fairly strong response to this relatively innocuous initiative by the ACCC indicates that the industry doesn’t want to have its performance objectively monitored. And the strong debate around the highly generalised rankings provided by Netflix shows that the telcos are sensitive about this topic.

Would Australia’s telcos be “embarrassed” if the actual performance of their networks was outed through this kind of scheme? There is no doubt that some would be — not all broadband providers in Australia have allocated appropriate contention ratios to their networks. And time of day also appears to matter regarding congestion — the HFC cable networks are notorious for slowing down when Australia’s workforce returns home after 5pm, for example.

And Conroy’s right — this issue will increasingly come up as Turnbull’s MTM mix is deployed. The sheer variability of the performance delivered through the FTTN and perhaps the HFC cable networks will ensure this.


  1. Would Australia’s telcos be “embarrassed” if the actual performance of their networks was outed through this kind of scheme?

    It depends on where the ACCC targets. If it’s outside of the POI, it’s missing half of the equation.

    I’d like to think if they (it’s weird that ACCC is suggesting this, and not ACMA?) do monitor, that it’s BOTH within and external to, the NBN. Because if ISPs are going to be summarily rated on performance (which is a bit comical given the entire “up to” nature of MTM) then so should NBNco.

    An interesting footnote, is that we still do not know what the maximum planned footprint is, for FTTN. No-one is stating what the line lengths will be, conveniently ignoring the single biggest factor that will affect it. I’d very much like to see that answered. Soon.

  2. the problem is easily solved by applying the same pricing profile used for FTTP, you only pay for the speed delivered

    • That is the pricing model that should be used, but what you’re suggesting doesn’t “solve the problem”, in fact, they would need the ACCC to actually determine the line speeds first to then be able to charge the customer based on the speed they get.

    • In a FTTN model, such a pricing structure is implausible.

      Speeds cannot be guaranteed by the supplier, so why would or could they be by the retailer? It’s as simple as that.

      Worse, how does a retailer manage 25 versions of the exact same plan, based entirely on the connected speed? This is just as equally implausible.

      It’s shooting the messenger; I’m not convinced there’s any value in that.

      • It makes sense to me. If they only get paid by the speed of the link don’t you think it provides a real incentive to provide a better more reliable link speed?

  3. It’s a little naïve to think that you’d pay for the speed delivered. These guys are in business to make money. They’re not going to reduce prices if your internet is slow and it’s unreasonable to expect them too.

    However, if you can see that TPG is slow and Bigpond is fast in your area, then there’s going to be a tonne of customers moving away from you and when masses leave, it’s going to majorly hurt their pocket. The flip side will be similarly to when everyone went to Telstra 3G and their speeds started crawling along instead of being nice and fast.

  4. I think exposing the fault logs and maintenance is far more important to kill off FTTN completely.

    • There is no “killing off FTTN”. It’s going to be deployed. There is no reversal.

      The coalition of the willing (both LNP and Labor) are going to stick with MTM; regardless of any cost blow out. People are tired of waiting; apart from some occasional bleating – it’s a dead argument.

      There’s no political gain from taking NBNco back to basics. Even Labor has now worked out, there’s no going back. Turnbull is nothing if not cunning and conniving; his model is very much designed to force an outcome.

      What you propose is entirely supplier related auditing, however. An entirely different beast. Something I would expect in any government run enterprise, no? Sadly, me either.

      • Best case we might see an increase in the fibre footprint area under Labour again but there will be FTTN and HFC regardless of who’s in power for a large part as we’re stuck with the MTMess.

  5. This is Conroy and Lemay at their finest. No facts, just slagging off at the enemy after they lost the political debate. The words bitter and twisted come to mind.

    • Wow nothing changes, as usual adding absolutely SFA to the conversation. *golf clap*

      Of course the conversation (topic) is about speeds delivered or lack thereof. So guess which network would have delivered and which doesn’t?

    • The words that come to my mind is “Value for the Consumer” it’s the consumer that’s been forgotten in this whole NBN debacle.

  6. You want your 100Mbps guaranteed at full speed 24/7?
    Sure thing – that’s $17.50/Meg x 100Meg = $1,750/month, just for the wholesale, EX GST rate of the NBN CVC component, not including the NNI, AVC, backhaul, co-location, ASR9K depreciation, IP transit and a bit of margin for the ISP to pay their staff charges.
    If we legislate comparing ISPs based on real world speeds being delivered, there is only one way for prices to go when everyone is forced to pay an arbitrary, set in stone usage charge of $17.50/Mbps to NBNCo, and that is up.
    Be careful what you wish for.

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