Fast sell broadband to be investigated

THE Federal Government has urged the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate whether Telstra and Optus have broken the law by selling pricey NBN access for speeds they knew couldn't be achieved.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has also given ACCC boss Rod Sims the green light to recruit thousands of households for a massive broadband monitoring program that will reveal the reliability and actual speeds households are getting on different providers' most popular plans.

In a letter sent to Mr Sims last week, Senator Fifield said retailers of NBN services knew the technical capability and congestion level for each line they offered for sale, so it was concerning that some may not have disclosed realistic broadband performance to their customers. It was potentially misleading, he said.

The letter then refers to a series of complaints about Telstra and Optus before requesting the ACCC investigate whether the retailers have been "delivering the broadband speeds they offer to affected end users, and whether their practices are consistent with their obligations under the Australian Consumer Law”.

One of the complaints the Minister's letter raises is by Perth man James Ioppolo, who bought Telstra's "super-fast” NBN package touting download speeds of up to 100 Megabits per second. He sometimes gets just 0.2Mbps.

Mr Ioppolo said the poor performance wasn't just Telstra's fault. The NBN Co bandwidth charge was too high, so retailers weren't buying enough, leading to the congestion problems he and tens of thousands of others experience every evening.

"There needs to be an end-to-end investigation,” Mr Ioppolo, a software developer, said.

But Senator Fifield told News Corp Australia: "Retailers should be providing what they need to provide to give effect to the undertakings they've made to customers.” And the NBN Co bandwidth charge was coming down, he added.

A Telstra spokesman said it wasn't aware of the letter but would "play a part in the ongoing industry conversations on the matter”.

An Optus spokeswoman said it didn't make speed guarantees and each speed tier it offered was "not indicative of the speed that customers will experience at all times”.

It's understood the ACCC's response to the Minister's request will be partly based on what emerges from the new broadband monitoring program, which Senator Fifield will formally approve today.

As first revealed by News Corp Australia last month, the ACCC will shortly seek about 4000 volunteers prepared to have a probe attached to their modem or router to track dropouts as well as downloading, uploading and streaming performance.

Recruits' data is likely to be turned into quarterly reports comparing the three most popular speed packages - 25, 12 and 100 Mbps - offered by providers including Telstra, Optus, TPG and iiNet.

Meanwhile, Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Judi Jones yesterday said she would meet with the Minister in two weeks to discuss his request for improved broadband complaints reporting. Senator Fifield told News Corp Australia he wanted consumer gripes about retailers and the NBN split to improve transparency and accountability.

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