Finder to the Node: ACCC finally kicks off NBN speed monitoring

Krishan Sharma 6 December 2017

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After some delays, the ACCC is back on course to deliver speed monitoring results while nbn launches a training program with limited appeal.

ACCC delays public release of NBN speed monitoring program

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has enlisted British-based SamKnows to deliver its National Broadband Network speed monitoring initiative, which will see broadband speeds recorded across 4,000 Australian homes and around 2,000 volunteers in the first year.

The ACCC's Measuring Broadband Australia program was expected to deliver its first data this month, but that has been pushed back to early 2018.

The selected households will be provided with a small "Whitebox" device to plug in at home (similar to a home modem). The Whitebox will perform automated tests on volunteers’ home Internet connection including peak and off-peak usage times and is similar to devices used in monitoring programs in the UK, US and Canada.

The program will see the ACCC publish achieved speeds at all hours of the day from major retail service providers versus advertised speeds. The ACCC hopes that by publicising the actual speeds users achieve on the main plans from the major Internet service providers (ISP), consumers will be able to make a more informed choice, while also motivating service providers to pick up their act.

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

“We’ve had more than 8,000 households sign up to take part in the program, and we’re pleased to be launching this in the next month. There will be a huge amount of interest in the results,” Mr Sims said.

The broadband monitoring program is expected to cover a wide range of Internet service providers and fixed line NBN connections including fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) and Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC). At this stage, the program will not test mobile, satellite or fixed-wireless broadband services.

The ACCC also revealed the findings of its initial review into NBN broadband advertising and whether things have improved following the publication of its industry guidance in August where it requested ISPs to advertise typical minimum speeds.

“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,” Mr 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.

“Potential customers trying to compare the Internet services of the various providers cannot make an informed judgment about the busy period speeds they will receive. 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 (Australian Consumer Law),” Mr Sims 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.

“Consumers switching providers should be asking for the typical speed of the NBN broadband plan during the busy evening period,” Mr Sims added.

Last week, Telstra CEO Andy Penn committed to being above the ACCC’s guidelines that say customers should receive at least 60 percent of the maximum Internet speed they have paid for during the peak hours of 7pm to 11pm.

"We have robotic testers in our network to measure customer speeds to ensure we are buying enough CVCs. Our plans are to deliver significantly ahead of the ACCC guidelines and deliver 80 percent of the maximum speed during peak times,” said Penn.

nbn introduces partner program to help ease transition

nbn has kicked off a training and accreditation pilot program that will enable tech companies and consultants who support businesses to receive specialist training for dealing with NBN-related concerns. In addition to training, consultants will have access to support services, which can provide assistance when problems arise.

The pilot officially commenced today with Cisco distributor, Westcon Comstor, IT support franchise Computer Troubleshooters Australia as well as phone and Internet providers Telstra and Vocus. The full partner program is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2018.

There hasn’t been a shortage of horror stories floating around of business owners suffering through a less than smooth transition to the NBN and clearly this move is an acknowledgement of that. To be fair, it is more complex to switch to the NBN as a business in comparison to a residential consumer, where you have to consider multiple impact points like ATMs, eftpos machines, security alarms and video monitoring cameras.

However, this pilot program will only really benefit businesses who have the luxury of hiring external consultants to handle the transition to the NBN for them. It’s not going to do anything for a number of small business owners who typically manage their phone and Internet themselves.

Vodafone NBN launches with backup 4G service in tow

Vodafone’s long-awaited plunge into fixed-line Internet services will begin this week, though its initial launch will be limited to customers residing in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Newcastle and Geelong.

Like a number of other ISPs, Vodafone offers unlimited data plans and the freedom to change speed plans without fees. However, it is also offering its nbn customers a back up Internet service that uses Vodafone’s mobile network for up to 30 days while they wait for their nbn service to be connected. The back up Internet service will also take over in the event of an outage of your fixed-line connection.

Vodafone’s General Manager of Broadband Services Matthew Lobb said the company has taken on board the feedback of hundreds of customers who have trialled the Vodafone nbn experience over recent months.

“Our customers told us they loved being connected to the Internet from day one via our mobile network while they waited for their nbn installation,” Mr Lobb said.

“Based on feedback from our trial customers, we have automated the 4G Back Up service so customers will not have to contact us if they experience an issue with their nbn connection.

“We are taking a sensible and staged approach to the rollout of Vodafone nbn to ensure we get the customer experience right, and we will continue to use our customers’ feedback to help us make refinements.”

It’s worth noting that Vodafone isn’t the first company to offer a 4G service that bridges the pre-activation and outage gaps for its NBN customers. Telstra, for instance, has a similar device in the Gateway Frontier. There are also a number of other modem-routers on the market that enable you to plug-in a 4G mobile broadband dongle from any carrier for sharing throughout a household and seamlessly revert back to a fixed-line NBN connection once it is up and running.

Vodafone nbn plans start at $70 per month for unlimited broadband and include the Vodafone Wi-Fi Hub for $0 upfront. Vodafone is offering the first three months free on two-year contracts.

While it’s almost always a smart idea to opt for a month-to-month arrangement with any ISP as it gives you the freedom to jump between providers if the performance isn’t up to scratch, Vodafone does at least offer a "30-day network satisfaction guarantee" where customers can leave within the first month if they are not happy with the service.

Finder to the Node is a weekly round-up of all the latest news surrounding Australia's complex National Broadband Network from award-winning technology journalist Krishan Sharma.

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