The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has pointed to ‘confusing or misleading’ broadband speed claims by Australian internet service retail service providers (RSPs), recommending that new measures be implemented to improve clarity for consumers.
In a submission to the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC), the communications consumer peak body suggested that claims made by RSPs in relation to broadband speed and performance are ‘generally vague’.
This vagueness, the submission paper argued, leaves consumers with a greater potential to make poor and ill-fitting choices when choosing a broadband provider and plan.
The submission follows a discussion paper published in late July by the ACCC on how consumer information about broadband speeds and performance can be improved.
At the time, the ACCC called for submissions from industry stakeholders about how broadband performance and speed information can be improved, with ACCC chairman, Rod Sims, saying that consumers are entitled to expect clear and accurate information about broadband services.
“At the moment, it is difficult for consumers to access accurate information as broadband advertising is not focusing upon speed and performance,” said Sims at the time.
“Consumers are being presented with little information or vague claims like ‘boost’ and ‘fast’, or just pictures in advertising of athletes or animals.”
ACCAN’s submission paper, published on 25 August, said that the occurrence of ‘vague’ claims made by RSPs is demonstrated by a high number of complaints to Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) on slow speeds.
“Speeds that are delivered can vary significantly from the advertised level,” the submission stated.
“Additionally, consumers have contacted ACCAN about frustration over services that do not perform to advertised claims, difficulty in identifying problems and getting performance restored to advertised levels, and difficulty in choosing a service.”
The paper also noted that a lack of distinction between ‘broadband’ and ‘Internet’ services is also adding to consumers’ confusion, as does the absence of precise network capacity and planned RSP capacity upgrades indicators.
“Broadband speed claims are often confusing or misleading for consumers with the use of terms like ‘speeds up to’,” ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin, added.
“We fully support the ACCC’s investigation into this issue and urge the Commission to implement guidelines and other measures that will result in clearer information for consumers.”
According to ACCAN, greater information around broadband performance would help consumers compare products and choose services that best suit their needs, and be particularly useful in the decision making process involved in switching providers.
The organisation also suggests that improvements in broadband speed information and transparency are needed to diagnose faults more accurately, and open up a pathway for recourse if broadband services don’t meet the standards expected by consumers.
“ACCAN asserts that consumers should have access to information which helps them compare services and describes how the service will work for them,” said Corbin.
“The proposed Broadband Performance Monitoring and Reporting Program, which aims to test service performance, would also help to support and verify the speed claims made by RSPs,” she added, referring to an initiative first announced by the ACCC in 2013 and trialled in a pilot program last year.
“Information on any prioritisation over the network that occurs should also be presented to consumers."