[The saga continues – see previous episodes starting with Ten Eggs – Ed]
We have a responsibility:
“for ensuring that consumers of broadband services are appropriately protected and informed”,
“transparent information around the speed most likely to be achieved . . . . should also be available to consumers before a contract is entered into.”
With those brave words the Telecoms Regulator in Ireland reported on a pilot project designed to discover just how difficult it is for broadband customers to be sure what it is they are being sold and what performance they can expect.
There are, of course, umpteen reasons, excuses, conditions, escape clauses and, for sure, a few honourable exceptions where some customers get almost exactly what it says on the tin.
And this was just a limited pilot project – so there’s ample wriggle room around sample sizes, the duration of the exercise, the customers’ own incompetence, the variable load on the system, unreasonable expectations, school holidays and, of course, the weather.
What they found was hardly surprising. What they think they can do about it is altogether more difficult.
So we know that:
- rural areas are relatively poorly served,
- some fixed lines work better than wireless (including mobile),
- upload speeds are important,
- low latency is increasingly essential, and
- fully-fibred connections beat super-slow copper and fibre/copper combinations hands down.
More than that we know that we don’t know enough, but, curiously, most customers have come to expect poor service and only between 19 – 23% would say they were not satisfied. Blessed are they who expected very little.
But what’s to be done?
The Regulator has a 4-point policy plan around:
- Transparency for Consumers (Business and Household)
Consumers should be able to compare different broadband offers from different providers in order to choose between them – in regulatory-speak, ‘make informed choices’.
- Consumer Education
Apparently we should all learn more about physics so that when we buy rubbish we know we are buying rubbish – even if the adverts suggest otherwise.
- Contractual Commitments
Contracts should state how bad the service can be – though minimum service levels should not be set so unreasonably low as to provide an easy get-out clause for slack performers.
- Market Information
There should be more of it.
And the bottom line?
We should have great sympathy for any regulator of a market that specialises in services that are not honestly marketable.
This Regulator notes, “it has powers with respect to transparency and in relation to contracts and minimum quality of service and will consider how best to use those powers to achieve the best outcome for consumers.”
We should marvel at such restrained tolerance.
Meanwhile, like most comms regulators, the banner of Technology Neutrality is held high. Well it sounds sort of fair, doesn’t it?
Surely ‘tis only reasonable to ensure a continuing freedom for connectivity providers to under-deliver in the profitable cause of sweating the assets they inherited from the pre-digital dark ages?
In any other sector, governments would intervene in their national interest. Advertising Standards bodies would see red. Trading Inspectors would rule against such local economic blight and outlaw such short-term get-rich fixes.
Why do we suffer this tendency of the telephonic tribe to serve up technological cul-de-sacs?
Why countenance their demands for subsidies from the public purse?
Do they, do we, imagine there is no alternative?
But, hey guys, that’s the market hand these regulatory bodies have been dealt.
And, if it’s not their job, who now will shift the infrastructure into 21st Century gear?