ISPs on notice over broadband speed claims

ACCC wants consumers to have better access to information about expected performance

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says it is concerned that consumers lack clear information about the speeds they can expect from broadband services.

The ACCC has released a discussion paper seeking public input on improving consumer access to information about broadband performance. The organisation said it intended to build on previous work it had carried out on the area, notably its 2011 consultation on the issue that led to it releasing guidance on hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) and optical fibre broadband offerings.

A notable feature of its 2011 guidance was that headline marketing claims should not feature maximum potential speeds (“up to” speeds) but “attainable speeds”.

“The emergence of next generation access networks has further expanded the range of fixed broadband and related services and therefore consumers will potentially need to consider different information in order to make purchasing decisions,” the ACCC’s discussion paper states.

“At the moment, it is difficult for consumers to access accurate information as broadband advertising is not focusing upon speed and performance,” ACCC chairperson Rod Sims said in a statement.

“Consumers are being presented with little information or vague claims like ‘boost’ and ‘fast’, or just pictures in advertising of athletes or animals. Consumers need accurate information about broadband speed and performance so that they can understand if what they are being offered will actually meet their needs.”

The discussion paper states that some ISPs (or retail service providers — RSPs) are marketing broadband products by stating the product specification for the underlying fixed access service (100/40 megabits per second on the top speed tier of the National Broadband Network, for example).

“This might misrepresent the speeds that the retail broadband service can consistently achieve, especially during peak periods when most consumers will want to use the service,” the paper states.

“In other countries, regulators have taken steps to address gaps in consumer information, to minimise the potential for consumers to be misled about broadband speed and to encourage the provision of accurate speed information to consumers.”

The ACCC last year conducted its own three-month broadband performance monitoring pilot.

The three-month pilot covered 90 Melbourne home fixed-line connections. Hardware installed in the participants' premises monitored metrics including speeds, web browsing time, latency, packet loss, video streaming, jitter and DNS resolution speed.

The ACCC said that the pilot showed the feasibility and potential value of implementing a broadband monitoring program and delivered practical experience in running such a program. However, industry was less enthusiastic.

The ACCC is accepting submissions on its discussion paper until 25 August.

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