I’ve held back – no, really, I have – on writing this but various conversations I’ve had in both private and public forums have driven me to state what for many of us the bleeding obvious but doesn’t seem to sink into the minds of our country’s policy makers.
Access to reliable, fast Internet access is broken.
We have regions of the country that are spoiled for choice when it comes to service providers and connection options. But other areas either have almost no reliable access or are so limited as to live in a virtual monopoly where there’s an illusion of choice.
The reality of the bush
Let’s take the case of Craig and Claire. They live on a farm in regional Queensland. Connectivity for these business owners is poor. Their “fast” connection is with Telstra BigPond using wireless broadband where they getting a whopping (that’s sarcasm in case you missed it) 8GB with BigPond for $59.95. However, they get a $20 bundling discount because of their other services. Their next step is 15GB for $109.95 less the bundling discount.
Once that 8GB is used, they get dropped to dial-up speeds and fall back to a tablet that they use as a hotspot. That’s another 12GB for $200.
And they’re meant to run a business on that.
I recently moved house. I shifted a massive 6.2km. It’s only a few minutes in the car but another universe when it comes to broadband options.
Apparently, the telephone exchange I have access to is classed as rural. ADSL access is available but I’m on the edge of its usable range.
Two main factors affect the quality of an ADSL service – proximity to the exchange and the quality of your copper cabling. ADSL2 offers a theoretical performance limit of around 24Mbps. But to get that you need to be practically inside the telephone exchange and have good quality cabling.
Unless your home was built very recently, chances are the copper cabling and equipment between your home and the exchange has seen some degradation caused by water, heat or corrosion.
We plugged our address into the checker at ADSL2Exchanges to see what we could expect if we signed on with an ADSL2 service provider. It turns out we’d by lucky to get 1.5Mbps given our proximity to the exchange.
As I work from home, that left me only one effective option – Telstra Cable where I get 500GB for $99 on a naked plan (I don’t want or need a phone line as I use my mobile phone as my only line).
So, even though it looks like I’ve got some choice, the reality is the only option I have for a connection that is HFC cable and there is only one service provider that offers it as Optus’ service stops less that 1km from my property.
If ADSL was a viable option for me I’d have access to an unlimited usage plan for around 60% of the plan I’m on now. At my previous house, I had unlimited access, through Optus Cable, for $90 per month at around 80Mbps.
Oh – and the NBN? I’m not on their plans yet. At one stage my area was on the three-year plan but those forecasts are no longer available so there’s no accountability on a public target.
The rest of the country
It’s true that many parts of the country, particularly urbanised areas, are well serviced with different connectivity options such as the NBN, HFC cable from Telstra and Optus, and ADSL2 from multiple service providers with different plans as well as all the wireless options.
But it would seem that policy from the government is heavily in favour of these areas. There’s no need to push the NBN when most of the voters live in areas where they’ve got plenty of good connectivity options or talk-back shock jocks tell them the NBN is a technological white elephant.
In my capacity as a journalist I get to talk to a lot of people about all sorts of innovative ideas. And I’m worried. Even my 15-year-old son is talking about leaving the country when he finishes school to work as he sees more opportunities outside the country than here in the technical field he’s interested in.
I’m hearing about companies planning to move to New Zealand where access to high-speed internet connection will make it easier for them to work with the rest of the world than it is here.
Where are we now?
We live in a divided country. There are the haves and the have-nots. Some people have access to reliable Internet access at a reasonable speed at a moderate cost. But many don’t and are paying several times more for a fraction of the service.
When Craig and Claire hear that I have “just” 500GB of data for less than half what they pay for their combined 20GB across two service – they probably roll their eyes. Of course, I can’t see them do that because a video call over Skype or FaceTime isn’t possible over those connections and would chew up valuable bandwidth they need for communicating with customers of their livestock and crops.
The policy we need from the government is simple. Connect every property in Australia within the next two years to a fast connection.
Of course, we can’t even define fast. If anyone can find the government’s definition of broadband speed can you share it in the comments? The US government’s FCC defined broadband as a 25Mbps download connection (note: that’s faster than the theoretical, rarely seen in the wild maximum of ADSL2) and 3Mbps upload.
Our government doesn’t seem to have a definition. Which probably fits with their broadband strategy.