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.