​NBN: ACCC needs to start with itself when addressing dodgy broadband performance claims. Then move on to the nbn company

What even counts as false anymore?

A metaphor for Australia's broadband? (Picture: Ian Bailey-Mortimer, Flickr)

A metaphor for Australia's broadband? (Picture: Ian Bailey-Mortimer, Flickr)

You probably haven’t noticed that the nbn company has been producing some high-budget videos which educate us on the benefits of the National Broadband Network lately. There are many issues with that first sentence thanks to an overwhelming amount of "marketing manipulation" that has been layered upon a whole bunch of political and marketing disingenuity before it and I’ll address this later. But for now we’ll focus on the videos themselves:-

This one talks about the benefits that a Melbourne startup space has experienced since moving into their building. Except it doesn’t. There’s not a single, specific benefit mentioned nor is there a broadband-related application shown. It’s all a “vibe” thing – startup space likes the nbn. Positivity through association – pure marketing spin.

Not that the 500 people who watched this corporate video will likely have cared much. The main issue here was that, at no point, did the video say what kind of broadband the startup space was even using. We had to contact them ourselves to confirm that they were using Fibre to the Premises (FTTP). This then brings up a huge issue; the majority of NBN (or is it nbn?) customers won’t be on FTTP and so none of these benefits (however vacuous they may be) are guaranteed to be available to most customers. It’s not like NBN co (or is it the NBN or nbn company now?) doesn’t know this. If you pause the video, up the quality level to HD, go to full-screen mode, you can see the following disclaimer at the bottom:

“Your experience including the speeds actually achieved over the nbnTM network depends on the technology over which services are delivered to your premises and some factors outside our control like your equipment quality, software, broadband plans and how your service provider designs its network”

It’s like it came out of a male cow. Firstly, that disclaimer is basically saying that everything you saw is not necessarily true. Secondly, yes NBN Co (or the nbn company or whatever it is) is actually calling its own network the “nbn network” now – that’s literally the “national broadband network network.” Thirdly, those circumstances are most certainly within nbn CO’s (or whatever it’s called) control: if they implement fibre – which is entirely up to them unless the government is lying to us – then they can control it.

It’s not like the nbn network is just a mistake made by marketing people in this instance. The following turd of an ad leads with the term and attempts to explain it. Remember, NBN Co spent $700,000 to drop the “Co.” It also dropped any semblance of reasonable meaning while doing so: “nbn” doesn’t mean “National Broadband Network” anymore. It’s just letters. If you’re confused, watch and be educated...

That "explainer" also carries the disclaimer that all of what’s being said isn’t just heavily-spun marketing speak but not-necessarily-true either: “Experiences vary depending on a range of factors including your broadband speed choice, provider and equipment. High speed plans not yet available in Interim Satellite areas.”

There’s plenty more. Here, Luke the tradie talks about the benefits of the nbn network – Skype apparently. It doesn’t sound like he’s used the internet much before and a great deal of the ad is him scrambling to come up with any positive applications whatsoever.

That ad only had 140 views when we saw it. Few people are watching any of them. The price of corporate videos like this is usually $10K - $30K a pop so somebody is doing well - all on telling us about benefits that either don’t actually exist or can be done using ADSL speeds (while being rounded off with a disclaimer saying that they aren’t necessarily available anyway).

So we contacted our local Office of Fair Trading to find out whether advertising benefits, before adding a disclaimer saying that they might actually not exist, comprises, "False advertising." We were referred to the ACCC who eventually got back to us saying that they were just starting to look at broadband advertising claims but that they weren’t necessarily going to address the national broadband network network company’s ads.

But then the ACCC seems to have issues of its own in this space. It’s been looking into something called “Superfast broadband” for some years now. I remember publishing features on Superfast broadband back in 2003. Back then it meant two whole Mb/s download. In Australia, the legal term for broadband is still 1.5Mb/s downloads speeds. It’s a broken term that has subsequently been used by political types to obfuscate and confuse people about broadband speeds.

To people who use the internet, nowadays it would have to mean something significantly faster than 100MB/s download speed as that speed has been available on cable, in Australia, for years. But no. Despite the ACCC mentioning it in September 2014 and November 2015, according to last week's announcement it seems to mean anything over a 25Mb/s download speed – which is what the US’ FCCC defined as the minimum speed for basic broadband speed back in January 2015.

So it’s probably fair to say that our expectations and official definitions of broadband are now very low in Australia.

What it all boils down to is actually the unstated truth – the nbn isn’t a National Broadband Network anymore, it’s mostly a nationwide upgrade of various copper-based networks plus some fibre, fixed wireless and satellite networks which are all joined together in one giant clusterfail. Neither of the “Ns” in ‘the nbn company’ stand for ‘national’ or ‘network’ anymore, so calling it the nbn network is as valid and as accurate as calling it the Bryan network.

At the end of the day, the ACCC will be standing on a pile of excrement calling the faeces in front of it effluent. But then anyone actually reading this will already know that. For everyone else who relies on the mainstream media for their broadband information there is this from the SMH and the Prime Minister appearing on the ABC saying the NBN had “Utterly Failed” (completely unchallenged) *before* he took it over.

I wonder if the ACCC will look into that? But then this is the new normal. What even counts as false anymore?

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