A new paper from the Commerce Commission explains the thinking behind its broadband performance testing programme. It talks about the move to SamKnows, the UK company that won the $2.8 million contract to test performance on behalf of the Commerce Commission. It also covers the plan to recruit 3,000 users as part of the testing programme.

The Commerce Commission says it has updated its broadband testing programme as a response to the Telecommunications (New Regulatory Framework) Amendment Bill that is currently before Parliament.

In the bill, section 9A (1)(d) instructs the Commerce Commission to “monitor retail service quality in relation to telecommunications services”. This monitoring has to include “service performance, speed and availability”. The bill goes on to to tell the Commerce Commission that it must “make available … information about retail service quality in a way that better informs consumer choice”. 

To meet that goal the commission says it will publish monitoring results and reports on a dedicated website from October. It then says: “We are also exploring other options and communication channels to get broadband performance information to as many consumers as possible.”

The paper discusses technical aspects of performance testing. It says measuring website performance is not the best way of benchmarking because they are often broken into data fragments where the loading is interrupted by switches. “It also helps to illustrate why a generic download speed test is a poor indicator of the quality of a broadband service, and why independent testing using more ‘real life’ scenarios, such as our independent broadband testing programme with SamKnows, is so important,” the report says.

There is a discussion of network congestion and how performance changes during peak and off-peak times. There is also an explanation of the importance of latency to gamers. 

In a big picture overview, the paper notes that copper and HFC latency has stayed at around 30ms since 2013, fixed wireless has dropped from 60ms to 40ms and fibre is out in front at less than 20ms. Meanwhile the average download speeds of all technologies except ADSL have improved over time.

Netflix is singled out for a special mention. The paper says when the service arrived in New Zealand in 2015 service providers’ had to manage network congestion caused by large increases in video traffic.