A RURAL communications coalition is rousing its bush troops using fixed wireless and satellite technology to volunteer for a national monitoring program funded only to determine typical speeds on fixed-line NBN services.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has called on Australians to volunteer to be part of its new Broadband Performance Monitoring Program to measure and compare fixed-line NBN broadband service speeds across the country.
However, the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC) has responded by calling on consumers on fixed wireless and satellite technology to also register to be involved with the ACCC program.
The ACCC program will install hardware-based devices in around 4000 households over four years, including about 2000 volunteers in the first year, to measure typical broadband speeds and performance at various times throughout the day.
The devices will perform remote testing to determine typical speeds on fixed-line NBN services at various times throughout the day.
The RRRCC includes the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, the National Farmers’ Federation, the Country Women’s Association of NSW, the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association and AgForce Queensland.
National Farmers’ Federation president, Fiona Simson, welcomed the ACCC initiative, though the ACCC funding does not extend to fixed wireless and satellite services, “but we firmly believe that it should”.
She said it was disappointing the needs of regional people were not adequately considered by the failure to include fixed wireless and satellite.
“Regional, rural and remote consumers are entitled to the equivalent level of broadband information as their urban counterparts,” she said.
“Having this information is vital to create transparency and accountability about the standard of services provided to people in regional, rural and remote Australia.
“It is telling that even ACCC Commissioner, Rod Sims, has acknowledged the majority of complaints about broadband speeds are from regional areas.
“Today we are making a call to action for broadband consumers, particularly fixed wireless and satellite users, to volunteer for the program.
“By making our voice heard we can highlight the need for broadband performance monitoring for these service, and in turn demand a fair deal for all consumers.”
ACCC acting chair Delia Rickard said Australians spent over $4 billion per year on fixed broadband services and currently many consumers were left angry, frustrated, and dissatisfied by services that didn’t deliver the peak speeds that were promised.
“The volunteers will be helping to produce accurate, transparent, and comparable information about the quality and reliability of the fixed-line broadband services available in their area,” she said.
“This will lead to more competition and better value for money for broadband services.
“Speed information is a key ingredient for consumers, and consumers are entitled to expect accurate information about services they buy.”
The ACCC said the broadband speeds program would also help it determine if issues relating to poor speeds at peak times were being caused by the performance of the NBN or the network management decisions made by the internet service providers.
“The program will allow the ACCC to determine if issues are being caused by the performance of the NBN, or by ISPs not buying sufficient capacity,” Ms Rickard said.
“The ACCC is currently investigating examples of where ISPs may have misled consumers in relation to their broadband speeds and other issues related to consumer guarantees that may raise concerns under the Australian Consumer Law.
“We believe it is crucial that consumers have access to information about the speed and quality of the broadband services they are paying for, especially as thousands of new NBN plans hit the market.
“We aim to be able to identify when consumers are not getting the service they are paying for, and help when shopping around for a new deal.”
More information is available here: Monitoring broadband performance
To sign up, visit: Households wanted to help test broadband speeds. Initial applications are open until the end of July 2017.
On 7 April 2017, the ACCC welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement that it would fund a new broadband performance monitoring program to provide Australian consumers with accurate and independent information about broadband speeds.
The ACCC published a request for tender on the AusTender website on May 30 for an independent testing provider for the program. The ACCC will finalise the volunteer panel around September 2017 in readiness to commence testing and provide its first performance reports by the end of the year.
The volunteer panel will comprise customers from a variety of ISPs over a range of broadband technologies and different retail speeds and plans. The majority of the testing will be on NBN services, however, there will be some testing other next generation services and also some ADSL in the early part of the program.
The program will cost around $7 million to deliver over four years. It will provide consumers with vital information to make efficient decisions in a market where consumers spend over 4 billion dollars per year on broadband services of fixed broadband service, along with the anticipated improvements to competition.
The ACCC’s broadband monitoring program will be similar to established programs in the United Kingdom (link is external) (2008), United States (link is external) (2010), Singapore (link is external) (2011), and Canada (link is external) (2016). Such programs have led to improved transparency of information and increased performance-based competition for broadband services. The ACCC has consulted and engaged closely on the proposed program with industry participants, consumer representatives and other stakeholders since 2013.
The ACCC successfully completed a pilot broadband performance monitoring and reporting program and published a report in 2015.
ACCC finds 80pc broadband consumers are confused
In 2016, the ACCC found that 80 percent of consumers are confused and want broadband speed information to be presented in a simple, standardised format to enable them to easily compare offers. In response to this, the ACCC developed six principles to help guide ISPs on best practice marketing when it comes to broadband speed, including how to make a clear statement on typical speeds consumers can expect during busy hours.
Complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman about internet data speeds increased 48 per cent during 2015-16, making it the single largest issue for consumer complaints during the year.
There are around 13.3 million internet subscribers in Australia, an increase of 4.2pc from the previous year (ABS, June 2016). Fixed line data downloads increased 52pc between June 2015 and June 2016 (ACCC Telecommunications Report 2015-16).
If you have a complaint or personal enquiry about broadband speed claims, contact the ACCC Infocentre or Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (link is external).