ComCom chooses multinational to replace NZ's TrueNet for broadband testing

TrueNet director John Butt says "We have succeeded in being correct for a long time and intended to stay that way.”

UPDATE / May 30: The Commerce Commission has chosen a UK-based multinational, SamKnows, to carry out a contract to test ISPs' broadband performance.

The contract was formerly held by local player TrueNet, which did not make the short-list for the new contract.

The commission is now seeking volunteers who will be provided with a "Whitebox" (similar to a modem) to plug in at home. The Whitebox will perform automated tests on a home’s internet performance at different times of the day. It will not record any personal information or browsing history and does not interfere with internet service.

A small amount of the person's broadband data will be used to conduct testing. However, this is expected to have little to no impact on testing volunteers, the commission says.

The volunteers don't get a free internet connection or data, but they will get information about their connection, and help to tweak its performance.

Telecommunications Commissioner Stephen Gale says SamKnows "was a standout applicant [in the open tender process]. It is considered to be a world leader in internet service performance, currently assessing broadband performance for about half of the world’s internet population.”

Earlier, TrueNet principal John Butt complained the testing programme was inadequately funded.

The programme is costing $2.8 million over three years or $933,000 a year, Dr Gale says.

TrueNet worked with $680,000 per year.

Volunteers can sign up here. Once SamKnows has enough data, it will start reporting results here.

EARLIER / Jan 26: TrueNet – majority owned by Catalyst IT – has lost its contract to benchmark internet service providers’ performance for the Commerce Commission.

For the past six years, TrueNet has been providing monthly reports to the regulator, and the public, comparing the speed of the major ISPs.

But now the ComCom has just wrapped up a request-for-proposals process that began in June last year, and TrueNet did not make the cut for the new contract.

“We received six applications for the contract and assessed each one against the all-of-government rules of sourcing, against criteria including value for money and the quality of the product and service offering,” a ComCom spokeswoman says.

“We are now in contract negotiations with a preferred provider and hope to announce the successful candidate in the first quarter of this year.

“We can confirm that current provider TrueNet has not been successful in the RFP and we are working with TrueNet to wrap up its contract.”

The RFP had a focus on making results accessible to the public and comparing advertised and actual speeds, the ComCom says.

TrueNet has a network of hundreds of volunteers around the country, each with a special modem that measures the speed of the internet connection going into their home.

ISPs kept up a constant whispering campaign against TrueNet – often, off the record – claiming to NBR that the system could be gamed. However, hard evidence never came to light and TrueNet founder and director John Butt stood firmly behind his company’s results. 

Mr Butt also faced mutterings from internet providers to NBR about alleged bias, thanks to his previous positions with CallPlus (now part of Vocus) and the company formerly known as Telecom. Again, there was never any foundation.

In the TrueNet founder's view, the decision comes down to cost.

“We fully priced [for the new tender] on the knowledge of the costs of producing the monthly report – and I suspect that since none of our competitors has ever produced a monthly report, they may have underpriced it,” the TrueNet principal says.

“Our original price five years ago was $3000 a month. We struggle to do it for under $15,000 now to ensure we do not slip up on any of the analysis and quote an ISP results incorrectly. We have succeeded in being correct for a long time and intended to stay that way.”

The ComCom won’t name its new provider until negotiations wrap up.

The five-person TrueNet was formed in 2010 and is 65% owned by Catalyst It and 35% by Mr Butt’s company Jonette Consulting. Aside from the ComCom, its other main client is Chorus.

Disclosure: Catalyst IT provides web development services to NBR.

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