ACCC’s broadband monitoring plans put on ice

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ACCC’s broadband monitoring plans put on ice

Updated: Model released regardless.

An attempt by the consumer watchdog to introduce performance monitoring of fixed broadband services looks unlikely to get up, despite the ACCC releasing a position paper outlining the details of the proposed program.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been considering implementing a program that would give consumers visibility of the performance of fixed broadband networks to inform their purchase decisions since last year.

It spent the period from December to March engaging in closed-door discussions with industry stakeholders to get input on design and implementation issues after publishing an open letter on its plans in October.

The agency yesterday released a position paper on the proposed scheme, despite initially saying it would only do so if the program was to go ahead.

It revealed in the paper no decision has been made to implement the program.

Any future decision to proceed would hinge on the availability of funding, and the program itself would not commence before 2015 even if it were to go ahead.

The ACCC did not provide detail on its comments before the time of writing.

Nevertheless, the paper canvasses the objectives the program would seek to meet if implemented as well its specifications.

The ACCC would seek to provide visibility over the performance of fixed broadband services to give consumers independent and reliable information on which they could base purchase decisions, and additionally encourage service performance competition between retail service providers (RSPs).

The rollout of the NBN was a key driver behind the ACCC’s proposal, the commission said, as higher potential service performance brings with it a greater risk of consumer detriment if expectations are "created and not met".

“The multi-technology mix being adopted by NBN Co will arguably increase the need to manage consumer expectations as performance may vary between technologies.

“RSPs have an important role to play both in terms of how they construct and market specific offerings to consumers and in terms of their wholesale capacity provisioning decisions.

However, RSPs are dependent on their access provider (whether NBN Co or another network operator) for the underlying network capability and as such the ACCC considers it important to provide visibility of any network-based performance issues.”

- ACCC broadband performance monitoring & reporting program paper

The proposed program would collect performance-related data from a representative sample of consumers of all major fixed broadband networks, the ACCC said, and would aggregate and analyse the data based on geography, access network, and RSP, to provide distinguish between performance issues caused by the network rather than the RSP.

It would also provide greater clarity over the performance of individual RSPs, the ACCC said.

“A decision by an RSP to either provision sufficient network capacity to meet end-user demand, or provision more limited capacity to reduce costs, would be clearly reflected in test results, particularly through peak-time metrics.”

A monitoring program would solve the problem caused by the current “lack of independent and reliable information on broadband service performance”, according to the ACCC, which is “preventing full consumer engagement in the competitive process”. 

Update 4pm: ACCC general manager of infrastructure Michael Cosgrove told iTnews the regulator was waiting for more clarity around the future of the NBN before attempting to apply for funding for the monitoring program.

"We first want to see what comes out of the Vertigan review before determining whether to go ahead," he said.

"We've made clear we think an important part of the rationale relates to the performance of the NBN, and at the moment the Government is undertaking a cost-benefit analysis and a review into appropriate regulation for the NBN."

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