Consumers and SMEs left to monitor their own NBN broadband speeds

SmartCompany, July 31, 2017

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has pledged to get tough on any Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that mislead consumers about National Broadband Network (NBN) speeds.

But how do you know if you’re getting a good deal when you connect to the NBN? How do you know if you’ll be getting the high-speed connection you were promised?

NBN Co is building the infrastructure, with 5.7 million premises now able to connect to the network via fibre, hybrid cable, wireless or satellite. To make that connection though, you have to deal with one of almost 150 listed ISPs.

Customers are ‘confused’

The ACCC’s chairman Rod Sims says we should expect a healthy and competitive sector. But he also says many consumers are “confused about broadband speed advertising” and the industry has been “inconsistent in making clear, accurate information available”.

So it is crucial for the ACCC to ensure that companies do not mislead consumers about the speeds offered by their ISP.

The Australian market is different to that in the United Kingdom, where the regulator Ofcom actively provides accurate information to consumers to enable a comparison of services.

Australia takes a different approach, relying on protections available via consumer law, and encouraging industry self-regulation to provide the right information to the consumer.

The experience you get really depends on a range of factors relating to transmission quality, reflected as speed of connectivity and latency (delays) in exchanging information across the internet. Key factors include:

  • how you connect to the internet router in your house (such as by Wi-Fi or ethernet);
  • the transmission quality from home to the Point of Interconnect (where the ISP’s network connects to the NBN);
  • transmission quality within the ISP network; and
  • transmission quality of the content delivery network.

Measuring the speed of your internet connection

A basic speed test of any internet connection is a measure of the time it takes to transfer a fixed file from a server. The result is usually given in Mbps (Megabits per second).

Many ISPs, such as Telstra, Optus and iiNet, currently provide internet speed tests for their customers.

But speeds measured this way tend to reflect the connectivity from the ISP to the consumer. The speeds you experience in general use can be significantly lower than the “peak” speed advertised by the service provider.

To get a better idea of the real speed of your internet connection you should use another speed testing service, in addition to the one recommended by your ISP.

You should also repeat this measurement at various times of the day and keep detailed notes of any results. Some typical speed tests are:

  • Oz Broadband Speed Test
  • Speed of Me
  • Speedtest.net
  • Testmy.net

Speeds can change over time for even the fastest NBN connection.

Currently most ISPs offer a higher speed for downloading and lower speed for uploading. As many users often download the same content, the network can be optimised to take advantage of this and offer higher speeds.

But users also upload unique content, such as photos to social media accounts or files to cloud storage. This does not have the advantage of scale and thus speed of access could be lower.