Home Business Telecommunications ACCC chief fires broadside at telcos still advertising ‘unhelpful’ Internet speed plans

ACCC chief fires broadside at telcos still advertising ‘unhelpful’ Internet speed plans

The consumer watchdog, the ACCC, has lambasted the telecommunications industry — with the exception of Telstra and Optus — for continuing to advertise Internet plans using what it calls “unhelpful speed ranges”, and referencing off-peak speeds, or failing to provide consumers with any information about the speed of their services during busy hours.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims criticised the industry on Friday when announcing that a UK Internet performance measurement company, SamKnows, has been awarded a contract to undertake the ACCC’s $6.5 million broadband speeds monitoring programme over the next four years.

Sims made his criticisms of telcos when revealing the findings of the ACCC’s initial review of whether NBN broadband advertising has improved following the publication of its industry guidance in August.

The review was aimed by the ACCC to help customers receive clearer information about the broadband speeds they can expect to receive when comparing services.

“We are pleased to report that Telstra and Optus have recently changed their marketing information to provide their customers with comparable information about the typical busy period broadband speeds that they can expect on various plans,” Sims said.

“The remainder of the industry continues to advertise Internet plans using unhelpful speed ranges, referencing off-peak speeds or failing to provide consumers with any information about the speed of their services during busy hours.”

Sims said potential customers trying to compare the Internet services of the various providers could not make an informed judgment about the they would achieve during peak periods.

“We have serious concerns about that and will be considering whether there is potential for misleading conduct that would constitute a breach of the ACL,” he said.

“The ACCC has been very clear with industry about our expectations and consumer needs. Providers should give consumers accurate, understandable, and comparable information about the internet speeds their plans will deliver.”

Sims says consumers switching providers should be asking for the typical speed of the NBN broadband plan during the busy evening period.

The SamKnows company, headquartered in London, competed for the broadband monitoring contract as part of the ACCC’s competitive open tender process.

The ACCC’s monitoring programme will see broadband speeds recorded across 4000 Australian homes over the next four years, and over the first year of the programme some 2000 households will receive testing devices, with the results of the speed tests being reported on publicly by the end of the first quarter in 2018.

“Our Measuring Broadband Australia programme is going to be a real game changer for Internet users and for the broadband market, especially as consumers shop around for NBN services,” Rod Sims said.

“We’ve had more than 8000 households sign up to take part in the programme, and we’re pleased to be launching this in the next month. There will be a huge amount of interest in the results.”

Alex Salter, chief executive of SamKnows, said “We are excited to launch Measuring Broadband Australia. We will work hard to help improve Australian internet performance with accurate and independent data. We thank the ACCC for the opportunity and encourage everyone, consumers and industry alike, to get involved in this important project.”

The ACCC gave no information on SamKnows, but on the company’s Facebook page it says: “Our goal is to be in every home, accurately measuring Internet performance, working towards better connectivity, both locally and globally.

“We believe that access to high-quality Internet connectivity is a basic human right. In 2008 SamKnows began campaigning for clearer information about actual broadband performance and along the way we’ve been joined by hundreds of thousands of consumers, campaigners, ISPs, governments, hardware manufacturers and application designers all over the world.

“In order to improve transparency in broadband performance we created a series of tests that can be embedded into any consumer CPE and devices within the ISP network to build an accurate picture of network performance over time.”

Telecommunications consumer interest group, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, commended the ACCC’s guidance on broadband speed claims, saying it wanted to see all providers adopting the principles outlined in the guidelines so that consumers have clear information about the broadband performance they can expect during peak times.

"We urge all providers to improve their advertising, and note the ACCC’s continuing concern. ACCAN applauds the ACCC’s recent actions against providers who fail to comply with consumer law in this area."

ACCAN also said it was pleased to see the ACCC’s announcement of the successful tender for the Measuring Broadband Australia programme, commenting that complaints about broadband speeds have reached a record high and "there is an obvious need for clear and realistic consumer information on what to expect from broadband services".

"The information derived from the programme should help consumers more easily select plans that suit their needs and we look forward to seeing the published results."

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).