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Why (some) regulators need to get involved in broadband quality testing

Today, I had to field questions on behalf of Shazna Zuhyle and Grace Mirandilla Santos who made a canned presentation at CPRsouth 10 in Taipei on Measuring Broadband Performance: Lessons Learnt, Challenges Faced, because they could not be present in person.

The principal question asked by the discussant (from Australia) and Enrico Calandro (Italy/South Africa) was why Zuhyle and Mirandilla Santos were proposing that national regulatory agencies (NRAs) should take on the responsibilities of broadband quality monitoring. Another person from the floor asked why Philippines and Asian broadband quality and value for money were so poor. I saw the answers to both questions as being connected.

I said that the paper very clearly established that there was no one single method that was objectively superior to the alternatives. A balance would have to be maintained, possibly by adopting hybrid solutions. This would require some force of authority that a non-governmental entity would not have. Due to reasons given below, the operators were unlikely to have incentive to run unbiased and effective monitoring schemes. That then left the regulator or the government as only potential implementer.

I also refuted the claim that this would pose too much of a burden on NRAs in developing countries. The various hardware and software-based methods discussed in the paper are not very demanding on NRA resources. For several years, Sri Lanka’s Telecom Regulatory Commission has been monitoring broadband QoS and publishing download speeds for the information of consumers.

The authors provided information on the input costs (international backhaul costs) borne by the ISPs in Asia and the Philippines. They showed that Asian prices were much higher than those in Europe and that Manila was more costly than Hong Kong/Singapore and that Cebu was even more expensive than Manila.

When input costs are high and retail prices cannot be raised, something has to give. What gives is quality.

This is why we cannot depend on the operators to self-regulate on quality. It is also why the long-term solution to the quality problem requires concerted action of the sort we have been advocating through UN ESCAP. While that problem gets resolved, it is necessary to “hold the fort” through regulatory action.

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