There is only one way for consumers to have confidence with the Broadband Product Disclosure regime.

What is it we consider when signing up for new broadband services?

For many, price will be number one.

This can be confusing because it is not always clear that we are comparing services on a like for like basis.

Does a $75 plan from Telecom offer the same services and quality as a $65 plan from Compass?

How do the data caps and overage costs compare?

And what are the actual speeds expected from different service providers?

Then there are plan exclusions and extras that need to be considered.  Too often, these are inconveniently hidden from immediate view.

It is these differences and confusions when comparing broadband plans, that led the government to initiate the development of a regulation framework late in 2012.

TCF-Broadband-Product-Disclosure-CodeThe Broadband Product Disclosure code came in to force on March 1st to address these issues. The code was prepared by the industry under the auspices of the Telecommunications Carriers Forum (TCF).  It is a voluntary agreement for those Retail Service Providers (RSPs) that are signatories to it.

The purpose of the Code is to provide RSPs with minimum standards for the disclosure of information about their Broadband Plans.  Offer Summary documents are expected to enable Consumers to make easier comparisons between different broadband offers.

There are six product disclosure principles that RSPs agree to abide with.

The first is that the information be accessible.  All of the Offer Summaries I sighted were readily accessible.

The second is that they be appropriate, providing the right level of detail at the right point in time.  Again, no issues with any Offer Summary here.

Third is that they be comparable.  All of the Offer Summary documents seen were based on the TCF’s template so were laid out similarly.  However, only one of six RSPs surveyed (Orcon), provided information on bundled services needed for comparability.

Fourth is that the Summary be current.  Only one RSP (Vodafone) dated their document.

Fifth is about honesty: “… providing consumers with accurate and reasonable assessments of how broadband plans are priced, will perform and the technology used”

Sixth is about transparency: “…speak clearly about … features and price…”

Of those six principles, only the first two are clearly complied with.  The next two will be improved on the next iteration of the summaries.

It is the last two principles, honesty and transparency, that I have an issue with.

In part, the code fails on the last two principles because information on broadband performance, including speed, is not yet included.  This is unlikely to be included until the industry sorts out its misleading use of speed tests.

More importantly, by omitting to publish the things that RSPs control – for example contention rates, latency and peering – the principles of honesty and transparency will remain unmet.

It is for this reason of vested interest, that a code prepared by the industry for the industry must not be relied on.  Another reason is that not all RSPs are signatories to the code (Farmside), and not all signatories have yet complied with it (Call Plus/Slingshot).

Of those RSPs that do comply, Telecom and Orcon have comprehensive Broadband Offer Summaries with just a few omissions.  Vodafone’s also has some omissions and not all ADSL plans on offer were covered.

There is only one way for consumers to have confidence with the Broadband Product Disclosure regime.  That is for the government to vest responsibility for monitoring compliance with the code in the Commerce Commission.