Not up to speed

Broadband internet providers face consumer ire over slower-than-advertised service.

High-speed internet access is spreading quickly, but the overall quality and speed of an internet connection is another story.

The quality and speed of an internet connection is determined largely by the capabilities of the internet service provider (ISP). Customers today are not getting what they pay for, leading to a surge in complaints relating to poor speed and service quality.

The number of fixed broadband internet households is expected to reach 4 million this year out of a total 22 million households.

The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Bureau, under the umbrella of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), found that in the first six months of 2012, customers filed 160 complaints against ISPs for poor connections, dropped connections and bad customer service.

Complaints about the internet made up 16% of 993 complaints overall relating to telecom services, ranking second behind mobile phone complaints.

Of the internet complaints, True Net Gateway received 56, followed by Triple T Broadband with 50 and TOT Plc with 44.

In comparison, the number of internet complaints totalled 418 cases last year.

NBTC member Prawit Leesatapornwongsa said it has set up a website (speedtest.nbtc.go.th) that allows users to test the speed of their ISP.

"In the past three years, the NBTC found the average internet speed consumers achieved was only 70% of the advertised speed," he said.

Dr Prawit noted that the speed of high-speed broadband service will decline when many users access data at the same time, since all users are on a shared network.

"This is a fact consumers may not know," he said. "Companies often advertise high speeds as a theoretical potential. It's the service provider's job to inform customers about real service speeds for users, instead of the advertised figures based on the maximum speed for service."

Dr Prawit said the NBTC is considering new regulations governing the level of minimum speed for internet service.

In countries such as the US, the market has opened to allow operators to compete by services. But in countries with less competition such as Malaysia, the government has a rule guaranteeing speed at 80% of advertised rates.

Dr Prawit said if the speed quality problem remains unresolved, the NBTC may fast-track regulations to set new standards for the industry, especially the quality standard of mobile phone service for voice and data.

Non Ingkutanon, the general manager for landline broadband service at True Corporation, the largest broadband service provider, acknowledged that customers usually receive a lower speed than advertised.

Internet connection points are needed to link with gateway service providers both locally and globally. In addition, content hosting websites require a huge capacity to support concurrent users.

For local website downloads, the average actual speed is 60-70% of advertised rates, while downloads from international websites may have a speed of 30-60%.

Mr Non said the peak time for internet use is 8pm to midnight, when users spend time watching TV via internet and streaming video.

In practice, the NBTC's planned regulations could find it difficult to control speed quality, as the speed does not depend solely on the service provider's efforts, he said.

Somchit Terachutikul, executive vice-president for marketing at TOT, said a fixed broadband network must be shared by multiple users, unlike leased line service that can deliver maximum service speed and quality.

"The internet network is like a road. It has many incidents and factors that cause speed drop," she said.

TOT has installed caching systems that store content of popular websites to improve speed for users.

Competition in the overall landline broadband market is intensifying, forcing major service providers to offer free automatic speed upgrades to 10 Mbps from an average of 7 Mbps.

TOT has spent hundreds of millions of baht to install network monitoring tools that analyse network congestion points and shorten network troubleshooting time.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Suchit Leesa-nguansuk
Position: Senior Reporter