Push for telcos to disclose more information about NBN fixed wireless speeds

ACCC says in some cases NBN retailers should be running fixed wireless speed tests

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission plans to revamp the guidelines for making broadband speed claims that it produces for NBN retail service providers (RSPs), with the ACCC seeking to make it easier for end users to understand the likely performance of fixed wireless connections.

The consumer watchdog in August 2017 released an initial set of guidelines that pushed for telcos to shift away from marketing NBN services based on their theoretical maximum speed. Instead, the ACCC industry guidance called for retailers to publish the typical speeds that an end user could expect during peak usage periods.

In addition, for technologies such as fibre to the node (FTTN), fibre to the building (FTTB) and fibre to the curb (FTTC), which can deliver performance that varies greatly from premises to premises, the ACCC called for the maximum attainable line speed to be disclosed, based on either data from NBN Co or an RSP’s own tests, to the end user. (The ACCC last year compelled Australia's major telcos to compensate their customers for selling them FTTB and FTTN services that had theoretical maximum speeds faster than households' individual lines were capable of.)

The 2017 guidance only covered NBN Co’s suite of fixed-line technologies. The ACCC has now launched a consultation on updated guidance that would extend the document to cover fixed wireless.

“Some services utilising fixed wireless technology may be subject to performance limitations due to the distance or line of sight to the tower or other factors that cannot be easily fixed,” the draft update states.

“In some circumstances, these impacts may be so great that typical plan speed information would not be an accurate representation of the speeds that could be expected on the service.”

“In addition, demand in the busy hours may exceed the installed capacity in some network cells, such that the speeds experienced by consumers located in the congested cell fall significantly below plan speeds,” the document adds.

NBN has acknowledged that some of its fixed wireless sells have suffered capacity crunch. The company plans to spend around $800 million upgrading its wireless infrastructure. As part of a court-enforceable undertaking to the ACCC, NBN Co in September said it would publish a range of data about fixed wireless congestion.

The proposed ACCC guidance calls for RSPs to provide premises-specific information where possible when selling fixed wireless services, including the maximum attainable speeds and whether a household sits within a congested network cell.

“Should network operators not provide maximum attainable speed data, RSPs should take either of the following courses of action,” the document states. “The preferred option is for the RSP to test the maximum attainable speeds of individual connections themselves,” it adds. If that is not practical then an RSP should support consumers conducting their own tests and reporting the results.

The ACCC said in a discussion paper that its assessment is that its initial guidance has had a positive impact.