ITEM: Rod Sims, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, told a telecoms industry conference earlier this week that the ACCC has seen high levels of complaints, confusion and frustration about broadband performance. And while broadband service providers blame this on consumers having “unrealistic expectations about broadband speeds”, Sims said that’s at least partly the fault of the telcos themselves – or at least their marketing departments.
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Mr Sims said there was a lack of incentives for retail services providers – such as Telstra and Optus – to compete on performance.
This has led to “vague and unqualified” information being provided to consumers, making it difficult for them to compare apples with apples.
“About 80 per cent of consumer respondents … told us it is not easy to compare the speed of different internet offers when choosing between internet providers or particular plans,” he said.
Sims acknowledged that telcos have been making an effort to educate customers on the kinds of things that can impact connection speeds – such as lots of people getting on the network at once. But that’s not enough. Sims suggested the introduction of an independent broadband monitoring program that verifies connection performance, reliability, etc, and makes it easy for consumers to compare broadband services.
The ACCC has proposed this before, and Australian telcos have resisted the idea, arguing that it’s both expensive and ineffective. But other markets do it, Sims argues, and the general result is better consumer information and more robust competition. If nothing else, a monitoring program could at least determine whether customers could blame their ISPs or the National Broadband Network.
While a monitoring program is a good idea in terms of consumer awareness and comparison shopping, it’s worth noting that the heart of the problem here isn’t speed: it’s the customer experience. The ACCC is getting complaints ostensibly because broadband players aren’t delivering the experience their customers expect – regardless of where those expectations come from or how they’re measured. Customers look at data speeds because it’s a handy reference point, but what they really care about is this: does my stuff work?
That’s the basic and penultimate question in the hyperconnected culture many of us now live in. More and more people have centered their lifestyles and work habits around black glass rectangles that handle everything from basic communications to social events, multiscreen entertainment and home network control. Connectivity is so central to modern life that we’re connecting anything and everything than can be fitted with a chip, a sensor and a modem – toys, cars, guns, cows, whatever – and we’re building services and apps around all of this.
Meanwhile, we’re moving ever closer towards the 5G Virtual Reality Cloud Of Things, where (we’re assured) everything will be connected and everything will work, because once access links get into gigabit territory, the connection speed itself is no longer an issue from the consumer point of view.
And it arguably isn’t now – until the services and apps get sluggish or stop working. That’s when consumers really care about data speeds. If the service works fine, it generally won’t occur to them to check their data rate with a speed test.
Certainly customers do still look at data speeds because that’s how broadband services are marketed and bundled, and that’s what customers are used to. But sooner or later, customer expectations are going to be about QoS/QoE, not the specific speed of the pipes.
Meanwhile, here’s a key difference to keep in mind: when it comes to data speeds, it’s usually the ISPs that set the expectations for customers. With customer experience, it’s the other way around.