Internet speeds (and the debate surrounding it) have been passed around like a political football in Australia, with each side of the political fence convinced they are the best to handle the job.
In the meantime, Internet speeds continue to languish, as the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) which is set to overhaul internet speeds, has been subject to delays, and marred by controversy. Ideological differences have threatened to derail the rollout, and a change of government in 2013 has meant differences to implementation, after costs of rolling out the project spiraled higher than expected.
This came with other projected changes to Internet policy from the coalition government, including the much controversial push for meta data and browsing histories of users to be stored. In early 2014, The most recent ranking report by Akamai Technologies put average Australian internet speeds at 40th in the world, behind much smaller economies.
[Above image: Internet Speeds by Country – Courtesy of Business Insider]
But while the NBN promises to transform Internet speeds in Australia, there’s been a number of reasons the project has hit hurdles, and other explanations for the comparatively slow internet access that Australians are subjected to.
Why are Internet speeds in Australia comparatively slow?
The first Internet connection went online in Australia in 1989, but it was not until the mid 90s households began to connect to the technology, with a choice of many different dial-up ISPs. By 1996 instant messaging and email were becoming widespread, and the first sense started that the Internet could be used to transfer a lot more information and data from person to person than just plain text.
Napster and other peer-to-peer file sharing services heralded this new use of data transfer, but for many users, the reliability of downloading was difficult due to slow connections. From 2000 onwards the first ADSL broadband services were made available, and by the 2006 consumers had a choice of different internet plans and connections. These include dial up, broadband, naked broadband (with telephony copper connection and no line rental fees) and cable internet, delivered by coaxial cable.
While the NBN network is available already in some neighbourhoods, by 2021 fibre-to-the premises-connections are expected to reach speeds of up to 100mbps. Fibre-to-the-node connections have claimed to reach the same speeds, this will not be guaranteed, and speeds are 25mbps are expected to be the norm. This differs to current DSL speeds, which despite claiming they can reach speed of 24mbps, depending on the users location to the nearest exchange, often under perform with many experiencing speeds between 8-12mbps.
While it’s no doubt frustrating that Australia’s internet speeds are perhaps not up to the standard compared to the rest of the world, the unique challenges of vast areas to cover with low population makes it an expensive exercise with less revenue to cover the long distances of the cabling infrastructure. This differs to countries like Japan and Korea who lead the world in Internet speeds, but which both have high population densities and a much smaller area for infrastructure to cover.
Timeline of the NBN
- In 2007, the Labor party promised to build a ‘super fast’ broadband network across Australia if elected, this was after previous failed attempts to develop broadband networks since 2003.
- From mid 2008, debate around the NBN focused on the need for fibre to the premises (FTTP) or fibre to the node (FTTN) access, how broadband plans would be sold, and how the NBN operator would be structurally separated for competition purposes. How remote properties will be connected is also discussed.
- In April 2009, after issues with the tender process and proposals, the government establishes the independent NBN Co. The NBN Co is a public company that will be responsible for investing 43 billion and overseeing the rollout of the largest single infrastructure project in Australia’s history, with a mix of fibre, satellite and wireless connections for those in remote areas.
- Tasmania became the first state to experience the NBN in 2010, with the trial rollout.
- First release sites on the Australian mainland began in 2011 and 2012.
- Following the change of government in 2013, much of the NBN board were asked to resign.
- Following changes to the policy and cost reviews, FTTP is now only expected to reach around 22 per cent of the population, with the rest of access being a mix of fibre to the building, satellite and fixed wireless technologies.
- The expected completion date of the NBN has been pushed back to 2021, and as of November 2013, a total of 120,800 NBN services were active in Australian households
Average Costs of Internet In Australia
Unfortunately, slower internet speeds are not the only reality Australians are faced with when it comes to internet. Depending on the study you look at, and the ISP chosen, Australia was recently ranked number 70th in the world based on cost per megabite per second (in $USD) for a TPG broadband plan.
The NBN pricing is expected to be comparable to ASDL 2+ plans, with different tiers available depending on the maximum speed you prefer, meaning that prices are not expected to increase for the consumer with the NBN and may even decrease over time.
Why is Fast Internet So Important?
A more connected society is in everyone’s interests. Not only will faster Internet speeds facilitate business from anywhere in the world through video conferencing, it will also change the way we communicate. Video based medical consultations will allow those in remote areas to speak with medical professionals, as well as education being able to be delivered straight to the home. It will also allow people to meet with clients and customers, no matter the location, and provide far reaching economic benefits, many of which are not fully developed or understood yet.
Advancements that haven’t been developed yet will need the fast data transfer and high speed Internet to operate effectively. There is also no doubt that for the increasing number of businesses that work in the Internet industry, the need for faster internet is well overdue. This is especially true for web designers and developers who need fast and reliable Internet to keep up with ever evolving web technologies that are becoming increasingly complex.
It’s not all bad news however. While Australia may suffer compared to the rest of the world, prices for Internet are expected to decrease with the NBN, and in the meantime more competition for ADSL plans between ISPs, and a choice of different speeds based on budget. Additionally should users be able to access top speeds of 100mbps with the rollout of the NBN, Australian internet speeds will be likely to be the envy of the world. At the very least, faster Internet for Australia’s future is guaranteed, and after a lot of talk, and debate, the rollout is well underway.