Friday, October 24, 2008

Consumer broadband performance issues


In keeping with one of the recommendations of the Caio review, that there should be greater transparency about the nature of consumer broadband services, it does seem that awareness of broadband performance (above and beyond headline speed issues) is growing, both amongst consumers and on the supply side too.

Here's what the Caio review recommended in this area:

"Mandate transparency on network capacity management policies. Ofcom have already instigated action to ensure there is greater transparency over actual performance, after criticism of some of the claims made by ISPs regarding their ‘up-to’ speeds, which did not match those experienced by consumers. A published statement of policy by each service provider could have the further effect of turning the general lack of satisfaction over speed into a competitive force.

The objective of this would be twofold:
  • it would create some pressure on ISPs to upgrade their existing capacity even though, as explained in Part 2.3, this is likely to be directed to backhaul in the short term;
  • maybe more importantly, it might help providers and consumers to value (and price) differences in quality of service. Some ISPs might opt to offer lower prices, but with constraints in capacity for certain applications or in ‘peak time’; others might guarantee higher capacity but charge a premium.

A clearer and more transparent communication on effective available speeds should also raise awareness regarding this aspect and favour players who undertake early investment in NGA. As such, it might act as catalyst for further investments.

In the ongoing negotiation of revisions to the EU Regulatory Framework, a power to require transparency of traffic-shaping policies is being proposed. This report recommends that the Government supports its inclusion in the revised Framework, which Ofcom could then implement in due course."

More on EU regulatory developments here:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7637215.stm

To quote from the above:

"The EC's Universal Service Obligations (USO) demand that all citizens who want them should be able to get access to basic telephone services.

It covers the production of a telephone directory, availability of payphones, specific measures for people with disabilities or those on low incomes and fixed phone access for local, national and international voice calls.

The obligations also include a clause demanding that the fixed line be of sufficient quality to "permit functional internet access". In the UK this has been interpreted to mean a line that can support a dial-up speed of 28.8 kilobits per second."

Clearly any new USO needs to focus on bandwidths higher than this, but that's an issue for another post. Back to my original point: Virgin Media seems very keen to ensure its 50Mbps service is recognised as a premium service and has criticised some broadband speed tests, saying they are often inaccurate. See:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7669713.stm

...though perhaps of more interest is this quote from later in the same article:

"(Virgin Media) recommended tests such as that devised by broadband comparison site SamKnows...The SamKnows kit has been adopted by Ofcom and attracted thousands of triallists keen to test out the system."

The SamKnows tests are very detailed (see link in an earlier post), so not very accessible to a lay audience, but a distillation of some of the main findings would articulate the key differences between service providers' offerings. This could also help to provide the differentiation between standard and premium services from the same provider I mentioned in my previous post?

Though perhaps most helpful for the education broadband community, do these developments have the potential to clarify once and for all the differences between consumer broadband services and connectivity provided through local authorities and RBCs?

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