Friday, 16 September 2016 17:10

Internet speed – you don't get what you pay for Featured


COMMENT The age old cry is that “the Internet too slow.” In part that has been exposed by the raft of new AC routers that may be able to connect at up to a gigabit in your network but grind to a halt when it hits the Internet.

The internet speeds offered by telcos, ISPs and RSPs are a theoretical maximum speed – more guidelines really and they are under no real obligation to provide even a fraction of the advertised speed. The vast majority of ADSL connections are heavily contended (bandwidth is shared by other users on the same DSLAM), so when the kids get home, Internet speeds slow even more.

Like any advertised goods or services, you should get what you pay for – a kilo of fruit must weigh a kilo, or there are huge fines for “short weight.” But it seems ISPs are dead against that principle telling the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to butt out.

In fact, the telcos have metaphorically banded together, singing from the same sheet to increase their bandwidth with the competition watchdog suggesting that self-regulation is better – let the fox mind the chickens.

Last year the ACCC implemented a trial to monitor ISP speeds as the start of a crackdown on misleading advertising – it estimated that it would cost $6 million to set up and $1 million to administer each year.

According to “unnamed industry sources,” it is the customer expectation of speed that is at fault – not the ISPs who do what they can given the circumstances. Seen any flying pigs lately?

The ACCC Consultation closed on 25 August, and 20 submissions were received. They are interesting reading especially as it is evident that telcos, ISPs, and RSPs want lots of wiggle room to avoid breaching and being fined under Australian Consumer Law.

iTWire has extracted relevant comments from the larger ISPs. Telstra and Optus have said all is well, and the sky is not falling. They suggested that the ACCC needs to update its guidance on “minimum” speed claims but never mandate specific speeds that must be delivered.

Telstra said, “We think the current ACCC guidance on speed claims needs to be updated so that it provides more flexibility to allow Retail Service Providers (RSPs) to make representations about speed, while also setting minimum expectations about the type of information required to substantiate such claims. The updated guidance should be in the form of principles to be followed rather than specific targets or measurement methodologies to allow for variations across technologies and service offerings and evolution of those technologies and service offerings over time.”

Optus said that increasing regulatory burden on telcos would not lead to better outcomes given the gulf between the “accuracy” required by the ACCC and the inherent limitations in current broadband technology.

“The ACCC’s current marketing guidelines set a high bar resulting in a high level of risk for ISPs advertising speed claims. The guidelines require that any advertised speed must be 'attainable in practice' including during 'peak periods' for individual customers. Given the technical limitations of legacy-based services, where the length of the copper runs and quality of the copper means that performance can differ on a premise by premise basis, it is not surprising that ISPs are reluctant to advertise speeds,” it said.

One has to wonder if the NBN that will eventually wholesale most bandwidth and services to RSPs will be any better. It has already stated that it cannot be held responsible if an RSP has too high a contention level – it provides a guaranteed bandwidth over FttN (Fibre to the Node) and then it is up to the RSP to connect to individual users over copper or HCF cable.

Conversely RSPs would like to shift any blame to the NBN as evidenced by TPG’s response. “There will still be a range of factors that can affect the user experience, including the scaling of the NBN itself, something which is outside the control of the RSP and is yet another element that affects consumer perceptions.”

NBN Co has said it believes the whole industry plays a role in this conversation, and will support efforts to better inform consumers of the factors that can impact on their broadband performance, such as service speed and capacity. Conversely, it has said it is more than capable of delivering guaranteed bandwidth to the node so greedy RSPs that over contend the services will be at fault.

But it does not stop there. A joint song sheet, sorry submission from the Communications Alliance and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) — both telco industry supported lobby groups — agreed that while more information on broadband speeds should be provided to consumers, it is questionable as to how this could be realistically achieved.

"Industry strongly believes that it is important to focus on principles, given that it is not realistic to make deterministic statements about speed and performance for individual customers. The market and technologies are also highly dynamic. Any attempt to prescribe a solution will quickly become outdated, and there is a real risk that any prescriptive approach would stifle innovation in the industry,” it stated.

“In this regard, most industry participants remain deeply sceptical as to whether the ACCC's proposal for a broadband quality monitoring regime in Australia would achieve its objectives. Smaller ISPs, adhering to such a regime could have anti-competition effects,” it stated.

Naturally, the two “highly independent, and unbiased” telco sponsored groups recommended that Comms Alliance creates an industry guideline on broadband performance in collaboration with the telco industry, the ACCC, AMTA, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the Department of Communications, and ACCAN.

Frankly, that is just another stalling tactic that will be buried under mountains of red tape while consumers bleed.

So it is back to the ACCC, and they need to be our friends here. One million dollars seems a paltry annual amount to close this profiteering loophole.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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