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Regulator to recruit consumers to test broadband speeds

Date

Lucy Battersby

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Monitor while you surf: regulator wants 12,000 volunteers to help it keep broadband plans honest.

Monitor while you surf: regulator wants 12,000 volunteers to help it keep broadband plans honest.

The competition watchdog has revealed details of a proposed in-home broadband speed-monitoring service that it hopes will help consumers choose plans based on speeds as well as price and download quotas.

The plan would give consumers more information about real-world broadband performance and help identify internet providers that fail to deliver advertised broadband speeds. It could include performance on ADSL, cable and NBN connections.

"Service quality between different networks can very significantly," the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s public consultation paper states.

"For example, two internet service providers may offer a plan at the same price point with the same amount of data but if one provider has invested heavily in network capacity while the other has not, the end-user’s experience is likely to be significantly different."

The proposed voluntary testing program, foreshadowed by Fairfax Media this month, would be based on existing programs in Britain, the United States, Singapore and New Zealand. Testing equipment could be installed in up to 12,000 households nationally, depending on how many internet companies and cities are involved. The testing probe would be installed between the volunteer’s modem and their computers and conduct thousands of speed tests daily.

"The hardware monitoring units being used in other jurisdictions do not log private internet traffic and the identity of volunteers is not disclosed to internet providers ... the units require only a small amount of the volunteer’s data quotas," the ACCC paper states.

The ACCC is asking for industry and public comment on the proposal until September 13, including comments on which fixed broadband technologies should be included and how many internet providers should be included.

The regulator has not yet disclosed how it will recruit volunteers.

Consumers do not currently have access to information about speeds and reliability and generally shop for broadband based on price, quotas and advertised speeds.

"The ACCC considers that competition works best when consumers are informed and can make the right choices for their needs. Comparison data would not only serve to help consumers choose the ‘fastest’ or ‘most reliable’ service but would also enable consumers to weigh up their needs and budget to make an appropriate cost/performance decision," the ACCC paper states.

And internet providers would gain information on the actual performance of their network and their competitors’, and help isolate the source of network faults.

"If the ACCC observed poor performance from all internet providers supplying NBN-based services in a specific area, this would likely indicate an issue at the wholesale access level rather than the retailer level."

16 comments

  • All users should be able to access their actual speed,and vendors should only be allowed to charge for the speeds the customers are achieving,and not be allowed to blame the customers system or the exchange or their phone lines or cable or whatever.People should pay only for what they use .Speed wise and quota wise.

    Commenter
    Kane
    Date and time
    August 14, 2013, 5:14PM
    • Good idea but you will pay more that way.

      Commenter
      Dave
      Date and time
      August 15, 2013, 8:46AM
  • Great idea! I've been an Optus customer for a couple of years and live close to Sydney CBD. Despite promising speeds of up to 20mbps, we currently enjoy speeds of 2mbps. Optus says there is no plan to upgrade the infrastructure and puts this down to overloading of the local registry. How they can get away with this I have no idea.

    Commenter
    Fed Up
    Date and time
    August 14, 2013, 5:33PM
    • you know with attenuation and line loss (~4Mb/s) you might be mistaken with megabits and megabytes (8Mbs = 1 MB/s). providers talk in Mbs and OS talks in MBs so you might actually be getting 16 Mb/s (2MB/s) at peak loads (from an AU server or torrent file at full clip) plus ~500kB/s (4000kb/s or 4Mb/s) attenuation.

      therefore 20Mb/s = 2MB/s + 0.5MB/s.

      just checking that out. lots of confusion in the market and sorry if my advice is misplaced. otherwise investigate other options (router, building, splitters) there is a functional reason for the change, not a 'physics' reason).

      Commenter
      lol
      Location
      brisbane
      Date and time
      August 15, 2013, 2:30PM
  • A number of ISPs must be sh*t scared of this type of data being very publicly available. I'm sure that in my area that ISPs (Telstra in my case) claims will be shown to be very different from reality.

    (Puts hand up) I'm a volunteer for a testing unit!!

    Commenter
    Obviousman
    Location
    Nowra, NSW
    Date and time
    August 14, 2013, 9:10PM
    • This would have been really useful over the past decade monitoring copper ADSL2+ plans. Now its a knee jerk useless offering when applied to fibre. The only reason a fibre connection slows down at the moment is because the site someone connects to is supplying the data at a slower rate than the fibre can handle.
      This ACCC 'service' is designed to do one thing, which is just show what they already know (fibre connections are fast and solid). Of course that doesn't stop article's in publications such as this reporting that some individual ran three speed tests from various websites and one of them was a bit slower for some reason.

      Commenter
      Peter
      Location
      Oz
      Date and time
      August 14, 2013, 10:36PM
      • Sign me up now. However, I see a huge opportunity for powerful players to manipulate the figures. ADSL2+ speeds are largely dependent on the distance you are from your local exchange. Sign up a lot of test points close to an exchange and you are guaranteed to get significantly better results than if contributors are more than several kms from their exchange.

        Commenter
        Hugh
        Location
        Outer Melbourne
        Date and time
        August 14, 2013, 11:17PM
        • Very good point Hugh. We are 21km from the Exchange, so we are only getting around 2mbps down and 0.2-0.3mbps up, over the fastest ADSL2 plan available. But then the copper cables in our suburb are 50 years old. 3G from the same location gives 12mbps down and 0.7mbps up, but costs a lot more per MB.

          Commenter
          Central Coast
          Date and time
          August 15, 2013, 9:23AM
        • ADSL2+ speed testing sure, long over due. But for fibre its a non issue, distance from the exchange makes no difference to speeds.

          Commenter
          Peter
          Location
          Oz
          Date and time
          August 15, 2013, 11:36AM
      • I think the plan is a great idea and would certainly like to help in any way I can.

        Commenter
        thepres
        Date and time
        August 14, 2013, 11:24PM

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