By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – From November 1, 2012, Brazilian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) selling fixed or mobile broadband must provide at least twenty percent of the speed they advertise, according to new rules brought in by industry regulator Anatel, Brazil’s National Telecommunications Agency.
Customers can demand an “instant speed test” from their provider, which must show the speed being provided is no less than twenty percent of their contracted speed in 95 percent of measurements.
ISPs must also provide an average speed – currently sixty percent of that advertised. This will be increased to seventy percent by November 2013, and eighty percent by November 2014.
If ISPs fail the test, consumers have the right to take action, including steps to terminate the contract. The move by Anatel has been hailed by some as a major step forward for Brazil’s 83 million fixed and mobile broadband customers.
Minister for Communications, Paulo Bernando, believes this is a big moment for consumer rights: “Consumers are going to start to be able to begin to complain with tangible evidence,” O Globo newspaper reported him as saying.
But critics say the regulations are not tough enough, will not be adhered to, and are unfair on the customer. Among them is Horacio Belfort, president of the Brazilian Association for Fast Access Users, ABUSAR, who says that although the legislation is a step in the right direction, it is not enough.
“This simply wouldn’t be acceptable in any other walk of life: you wouldn’t walk into a butcher’s and pay for half a kilo of meat and walk away with 200 grams, would you?” Belfort tells The Rio Times.
Mr. Belfort adds that official techniques for making providers toe the line simply do not work, and that instead of defending the public, officials often – knowingly or otherwise - defend the companies. Consumer defenders, such as Procon, he says, are often powerless to help or face lengthy legal wranglings which lead nowhere.
Some say the answer is better legislation, which would force companies to provide a good service or else be faced with substantial repercussions, others suggest there is already enough legislation and that it is a question of enforcement.
Critics point to the lack of competition between a small number of dominant companies as another reason behind dismal customer service.
ISPs have had a year to prepare for the change in regulations and can be punished by Anatel if they do not comply. Some providers have reportedly been fighting the new legislation.
In the face of this apparent resistance, eleven of Brazil’s 26 states have been given meters for volunteers to measure internet speeds to ensure ISPs comply with the new regulations, with Rio leading the program. All major companies, including Oi, NET, Telefónico-Vivo and GVT, will be monitored and the first results are expected in December.
Over the past twelve months, the capacity for broadband connections in Brazil grew by 58 percent, according to data from Telebrasil, the Brazilian Association of Telecommunications, which says this partly due to an 81-percent increase in 3G coverage in Brazil, now available in over 3,000 cities.
This is expected to increase further, particularly with the roll-out of 4G, and with the recent announcement of a new fiber-optic network digitizing the Amazon and north of Brazil.
Despite the apparent pessimism both to the new regulations and the government’s behavior toward the telecoms giants, some say there is some cause of optimism after Anatel showed earlier this year that it was willing to enforce legislation, when it suspended mobile operator sales in several states after widespread complaints over poor service quality.
At the same time the number of complaints made by consumers about the quality of services they receive in Brazil has risen sharply over the past year. Experts say this is partly due to increased expectations in Brazil’s booming, relatively wealthier middle class.