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Slow burn

If ISPs can't provide fast internet, they shouldn't advertise it.

While I am now completely dependent on my mobile phone, the very technology that makes this possible was unimaginable when I was a kid.

In contrast, I remember the thrill of visiting the manual telephone exchange where my aunt worked, and wishing I could play with the lines that the operators used to connect calls. Much later, I remember the excitement of getting a home phone with buttons rather than a dial.

Fast-forward to the mid-90s and the internet arrived – first at work and then at home, with the wonders of dial-up Ozemail (thanks Malcolm!). This soon brought my first experience of bill shock, due to excess data usage. While I cut back on web surfing, it was still a bit of a mystery whether I'd be in trouble from month to month.

Much has changed since then, but some things have stayed the same. Negotiating internet services is still just too hard.

It's impossible to know what sort of internet service you'll get until it's actually connected. Want to use your internet service to stream movies? Don't bet on it.

On my local Facebook group, one of the most common questions people ask is which internet service provider is best, but they rarely get a clear answer. It seems to depend on which street you live in, or even which house in that street.

If you're not happy with the speed of your connection, you need to spend hours on the phone, working through whether the problem is with your home Wi-Fi network, the modem, your phone line or the local exchange – with no guarantee that your problem will be resolved.

You'd hope that the NBN would make this better, but that's not always the case.

If you have a speed or connection problem with an NBN service, there's now yet another player in the buck-passing line – Nbn™, the government organisation building the network. CHOICE members have told us about spending weeks in limbo while Nbn™ and their internet service provider (ISP) argue about who is responsible for a fault.

Observing the growth in complaints in this area, the ACCC has suggested consumers need better information on broadband performance, floating the idea of a broadband monitoring service to gather data on the actual speed of broadband connections.

ISPs oppose this push, saying that consumers have unrealistic expectations about speed. We say that if they can't provide fast internet, they shouldn't advertise it.

This situation just isn't good enough. Good quality internet is now essential to daily life, in the same way as fixed line telephone services once were.

Where consumers don't get what they are paying for, problems need to be resolved quickly. And with the increased costs that come with NBN services, consumers have a right to expect more.

Alan Kirkland, CHOICE CEO
Twitter: @AlanKirkland