Sky Muster is Coming: Whither ADSL?

Photo Credit: Pixabay CC0

In the village of Gunning, about one hour's drive north of the national capital, Sky MusterTM has arrived. But rumours abound that if you are not already connected to the existing copper network, then Sky MusterTM is your only option.

These rumours were reported recently in the Gunning News section in the Goulburn Post, with a request for clarification.

The problem is, if you are on ADSL, you can get 1,000 gigabytes of download for about $120 per month. But on Sky Muster,TM  customers are typically paying around $159/month for 60GB download.

In a letter to the editor yesterday, and in response to the community's concerns, National's Senator for NSW and Minister for Regional Communications, the Hon Fiona Nash, pointed out that from October this year, customers will be able to receive "100 gigabytes a month of peak data and 150 gigabytes of off-peak data for around $120". This is a far cry from the 1,000 gigabytes ADSL customers can access.

My ADSL usage since April 2017
I have used over 120 gigabytes of my ADSL service only once so far this year, and my average monthly usage has been around 106 gigabytes (see left).

But that is only for two people who both work. If my kids were still at home, then a Sky MusterTM plan wouldn't keep pace with our broadband demand.

The lack of choice and the non-answering of legitimate questions has been my issue with NBN all along.

Back on 7 April 2009, on ABC's Unleashed (which later became the now-defunct The Drum website) I wrote about the plans to roll out the NBN. I warned that government needed to end "business as usual" and engage with citizens. In particular, I warned that:
In Australia, the historical legacies of centrally-controlled communications policy make it difficult for local solutions to address peculiar local communications problems... [Further,]
If the government is going to invest in the infrastructure, why must it be spent on one solution? [...and]
At the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee in Sydney... [in 2009], the participants represented a range of rural and community groups. They presented stories about how local efforts were simply overlooked and how they were regarded as 'fools' by authorities and other 'people in the know' when they complained about specific communications problems in their local areas. 
Fast-forward eight years, and what do we have? A single solution that appears to be regressive: if you are in the village and on Sky Muster,TM your service, despite billions of dollars of taxpayers money already spent, may well be worse than what was previously available.

But we can only guess because we do not have the facts: if you build within the village limits in places like Gunning, do you have no other option but to go to  Sky MusterTM? Is this true, or isn't it? Why can't we be told?

Again, in 2009, I wrote:
Rather than bringing the infrastructure closer to the people, the secrecy over the NBN to date has simply been more of the same. 
The Minister's letter yesterday does not answer the question posed by the Gunning community. Her response is to state that the service will be improved. This is great, but will it be better than the current ADSL service? I don't think so.

Later in 2009, I also wrote:
The broadband reform consultation provides a major opportunity to fix a problem which has plagued Australia for decades.
But it would seem we have slipped right back into the old ways, where telecommunications is a big policy lever to be pulled whenever political parties want to have a go at each other, or when there is need for a new announcement. Indeed, the Minister's response to the village's questions provided an opportunity to have a go at the Opposition with no answers forthcoming. Clearly, NBN remains a political football.

In almost every other country I have visited, if you are prepared to pay, you can get the services you want. But in Australia, the central control model of "doing" telecommunications policy often leaves consumers with limited choices, regardless of how much you are prepared to pay. After decades of market reforms, we haven't progressed all that far in telecommunications, especially in "the bush".

But to have to use billions of dollars in taxpayers money to actually reduce the existing services seems absurd. Some clarity from our political representatives on this problem would be welcomed by many in regional and remote areas who may not be getting what they have already paid for.

When I first started my research into telecommunications policy outcomes, I was interested to know why Canada was so far ahead of Australia. My findings were that the divergent outcomes were the result of historical processes and ways of "doing" telecommunications policy.

Despite my research, many others were convinced it was simply a matter of time and effort and Australia would catch up. Let's have a look. Here's how it was in 2002:

OECD Fixed Line Broadband Statistics 2002. Source: OECD (2003: 173) Telecommunications Outlook 2003

And here is the same graph for December 2016. It must be noted that only smaller countries have surpassed Canada's early leadership:

Source: OECD Broadband Portal
Did Canadians spend billions on a government-controlled monolith? No. And the difference in speeds has been a persistent issue in Canada's favour, too.

Surely Australian citizens have a right to ask, has it all been worth it? and, Are we getting what we paid for?