Thursday, 1 April 2010

Why we need the National Broadband Network: Some statistics

There has been a ridiculous amount of criticism of the NBN, even though broadband in Australia is slow and expensive. Indeed, it can be so bad at times that a colleague pointed out recently how restrictive a typical Aussie broadband plan is compared to the UK - the download limits are such that students attempting to access content in an off-campus environment are disadvantaged by the cost more so than their UK counterparts.

Even the Wikipedia page about the National Broadband Network has an entire section devoted to "Criticism" with not a single word about why the NBN was ever needed in the first place. The Wikipedia contributors are happily arguing over NPOV (Neutral Point of View) contributions but not one mention of praise or of the need for reliable and inexpensive broadband.

Yet nobody has been saying: "The NBN will fix all these obvious problems, the NBN will be a good thing". Well it's about time someone did!

But let's start with the Oz Broadband experience: How bad is it? Let's take a look:

In the top end of town (subscribers with theoretical speeds above 5Mbps), Australia fares pretty well. But in the lower end (subscribers with less than 256Kbps), Australia and New Zealand are still in the pioneering days.

But that's not all. When we look at the average speed and the amount of data we can access on a typical broadband plan, the situation is much worse (note that almost 100% of plans in Australia, Canada and New Zealand have data limits, compared to only 13% of UK plans):

Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, if you want to buy additional data, then Australia leads the pack at 5 times the price per Gb in Canada and 10 times the price in the UK:

So my colleague was right - when we are designing online university courses, we need to consider that Australian students are not accessing first class and affordable infrastructure.

We also need to get over the fact that the market has not delivered. The next time you hear criticism about the NBN, take a moment to reflect on the state of Oz broadband in comparison to the rest of the Commonwealth, and remind the critics why we need it.

We can accept that the way the NBN is deployed should be the subject of much debate, but whether or not we need the NBN is simply a dead argument. And so will the capabilities of young Australians if we cannot keep pace with the rest of the world.

(1) Data from Akamai State of the Internet Report, Q2 2009
(2) Data from OECD Broadband Statistics Sep-Oct 2008

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