ACCC to monitor NBN fixed-line broadband speeds

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ACCC to monitor NBN fixed-line broadband speeds

Long-mulled plan goes ahead, with revisions.

The performance of fixed-line services delivered over the national broadband network will be monitored permanently by Australia's consumer watchdog from July this year, after the government agreed to fund the program.

The ACCC has been looking at introducing a broadband monitoring program since August 2013, much to the ire of the country's telcos.

In late 2015 the watchdog recommended establishing a permanent monitoring program after a three-month pilot of the approach found it could be implemented easily and without too much cost.

The ACCC had proposed collecting performance data from all major fixed-line networks.

But the program - today rubberstamped by the federal government - has been scaled back to focus predominantly on fixed-line services delivered over the NBN.

The ACCC said a "small number" of households connected to non-NBN fixed networks would also be recruited to the program.

The government has given the ACCC $7 million in funding over four years for the program.

It follows models already in place in the UK, US, New Zealand and Singapore.

The program will determine typical speeds on fixed-line NBN services at various times throughout the day, the ACCC said.

“This information will assist consumers in comparing and shopping around, and checking that they receive what they are paying for,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.

“The program will also allow the ACCC to determine if issues are being caused by the performance of the NBN, or by internet service providers (ISPs) not buying sufficient capacity. It will also provide ISPs with independent performance information from which to draw when making speed claims.”

Around 4000 volunteers will provide performance data on their broadband services from around the country. Consumers who sign up to participate in the program will have a small device installed in their home to provide real-time data on the performance of the service.

The data will allow consumers to compare peak speeds. The ACCC said it would start publishing the information later this year.

While the ACCC will be the overall administrator of the program, it will appoint an independent provider to run the program.

Its pilot tests were carried out by global broadband measurement firm SamKnows and communication design and test firm Comdate.

Telco representative body the Communications Alliance has previously argued there was no need for monitoring of broadband services. 

It today said it welcomed the ACCC's decision to focus on the NBN rather then legacy technologies like ADSL.

However, the industry body raised concerns that smaller ISPs would be disadvantaged by the monitoring program by being left "out of the limelight".

The ACCC told industry it intended to limit the program to the five largest players, the Comms Alliance said.

"The ACCC has a dilemma. It can include more ISPs but at the expense of sample sizes and therefore also at the expense of the accuracy and reliability of the published data," the Comms Alliance said.

"Or it can restrict the number of ISPs and risk hurting the smaller players in the market. Or it can blow out the costs of its regime and pile further expense onto consumers."

As part of its ongoing crack down on "vague" broadband performance claims by internet service providers, the ACCC in February published six principles intended to ensure speed claims "aren't misleading under the Australian Consumer Law".

The watchdog said it had found that 80 percent of consumers are confused about internet speeds.

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