Monitor while you surf: regulator wants 12,000 volunteers to help keep broadband plans honest. Photo: Louise Kennerley
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."