The competition regulator is on a collision course with the telecommunications industry over its plan to measure the performance of fixed broadband services.
At the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network’s (ACCAN) annual national conference yesterday, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims called on consumer advocates to lend their support to the proposal.
However, his comments prompted a backlash from Australia’s peak telecommunications industry body the Communications Alliance, which said the scheme would be costly, ineffective, and burden carriers with yet more red tape.
The ACCC has been consulting with industry to develop a model to implement a fixed broadband monitoring program since August 2013.
In a position paper published in June last year, the ACCC said the program’s primary aim was to provide consumers with “visibility” of the performance of fixed broadband networks operated by NBN and its wholesale RSP customers.
“With higher potential service performance comes a greater risk of consumer detriment if expectations are created and not met," the ACCC said at the time.
"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."
Sims yesterday said the ACCC would release a discussion paper on the technical and commercial aspects of the proposal “very soon”.
Competition was being limited by what Sims described as the “asymmetry of information” about broadband services.
“We think that this [monitoring] would promote competition and consumer outcomes by providing transparency over the quality of broadband services that are on offer to consumers," Sims said.
"Consumers need this information to select an appropriate service and to make sure that they’re getting the service they’re paying for."
Such a monitoring program would become even more important as RSPs were expected to market NBN services on the basis of speed, he argued.
Communications Alliance chief John Stanton said the ACCC was yet to make a case for introducing the program.
“In our view there has been no demonstration of market failure or identification of consumer detriment that needs to be addressed through the development of such a broadband monitoring program,” Stanton said.
There were too many factors beyond broadband providers’ control to provide accurate performance measures, including the evolving nature of the NBN multi-mix technology, he added.
“It follows that the ACCC’s performance measurements, and associated reporting, will be subject to the same constraints. It would be an unfortunate outcome if the ACCC’s broadband monitoring program failed to meet the criteria contained within its own guidance,” he said.
Sims said Australia wouldn’t be taking a leading role in establishing such a program. He pointed out such schemes had already been introduced in the UK, Singapore and the US, and Canada was expected to commence with a program next year.
“It’s something that’s happening overseas and it’s going to need broad support if it’s going to get up here. And I’d really urge you to get behind that because it’s going to need a bit of popular support, because there’ll be a range of people who won’t want to see it happening,” Sims said.