Australia has a lot to take pride in: The Outback, marsupials, emus, Golden Gaytime, and summer Christmases. The land down under is ranked as the world’s thirteenth largest mixed market economy and boasts an AAA rating on three major global rating agencies. The Democracy Index also indicates that most of its residents experience a decent standard of living, resulting in a long and healthy life.
While Australia has a lot to boast about, the same cannot be said about its internet speeds. Studies indicate that the country falls behind most other regions with comparable wealth and population. According to the World Population Review, Australia currently ranks 61st with 55.97Mbps broadband and 72.39Mpbs mobile speed. It ranks lower than smaller countries like Belarus, Jordan, Serbia, and Vietnam. For comparison, Thailand ranks 5th with 175.22Mbps broadband speed and 34.38Mbps mobile speed. Here are some narrowed down reasons why Australia’s internet is as slow as it is:
Large Region vs. Small Population
Australia is huge – covering approximately 7.69 million km2 and only 27% smaller than the United States. Meanwhile, the population Down Under is about 25.5 million people, less than a tenth of the US population (about 333 million). Therefore, scaling the coverage of internet connectivity, both wired and wireless, is costly on a per-capita basis right from the start.
Australia’s slow internet can also be blamed on Telstra, the country’s once national public-owned telecommunication heritage. The telco may have faced competition from Optus in the 1990s and undergone privatization between 1997 and 2006, but it still owns most of the copper last-mile connected to most consumers’ homes and has a massive national backbone network.
Telstra applies almost every tactic and dirty trick by bending the law as far as possible to cling to their monopoly. The telco is known for delaying or denying access to exchange infrastructure in the suburbs, extorting wholesale line rental prices from their competition, and a whole lot of other distasteful ploys to maintain the upper hand. This company is a classic case of those in power taking kickbacks while selling voters the idea that privatization of such a massive utility is good for competition. However, handing over the fiber and copper infrastructure to Telstra has done nothing but the opposite and made it impossible for competition to thrive and offer better options.
Late Entry Into The Cable TV Game
Australia was late to jump on the cable TV bandwagon. This technology was rolled out into most suburbs in the mid-90s and onwards. Even so, cable TV experienced low penetration due to a considerably high charge from $50 to $100 for a service that comes with an insane number of ads. Since most homes did not adopt the tech, internet access via cable is comparatively rare today. It is estimated that only 30% of the urban population has a cable network going through their homes, and that rate drops to almost nothing in rural regions.
Therefore, most of Australia’s internet provision depends on xDSL, and the provided flavours do not go beyond 20Mbps. To experience such speeds, one needs to be living right next to the exchange or down the street from it. The speed becomes slower the further one moves away, and once the 5 km mark is crossed, internet service is almost non-existent.
Use of Outdated Equipment
Australia’s internet problem is propelled by its insistence on using decades-old copper phone lines to provide internet access. This inferior technology is far behind the high-speed fiber technology the world is progressing towards. The National Broadband Network (NBN), the country’s largest infrastructure project in history, favors this outdated tech since it is considered cheaper and faster to upgrade.
Australia was well on its way to employing FTTP technology, the future of high-speed internet access. This tech has already proven itself in countries like Norway, Hong Kong, Swede, and South Korea that rank high on the internet speed index. However, politics got in the way.
In 2007, Australia had an average connection speed of 2Mbps, and only 7% of households enjoyed better rates. In comparison, over 71% of homes in the United States surpassed this threshold, and 26% enjoyed speeds over 5Mbps. This means that Australians would not even enjoy standard-definition Netflix streams while US residents could access high-definition options.
During the same year’s elections, the Labor government won the election and decided to do something about it. Kevin Rudd, the prime minister, announced that every home would get a fiber connection in the NBN project, and the rollout would cost $43 billion. NBN Co launched two years later, and the delivery of high-speed FTTP tech was to be completed in 2017. However, delays and mismanagement sored its public perception.
The opposition party took advantage of the Labor government’s fallout with the public to make its own promises. The coalition government promised a faster network version that used copper phone cables, cutting the predicted costs and taking the advanced FTTP technology off the table. Instead, homes were connected to nodes that used existing copper networks using the FTTN technology. However, as promising as it sounded, Australians have ended up with a Frankenstein monster made of old and new parts, and internet speed relies on the weakest and oldest ones.
- Poor NBN rollout
While the NBN project was predicted to end by 2016, a combination of mismanagement and short-sighted political machinations continue to slow down the project. Leaked documents in 2016 indicated that it was well behind schedule, with the government stating that the project will be much more expensive than previously planned. The failure of the compromised NBN version is such a sore tragedy that it has become a punchline among Aussies.
- Expensive plans
The deliberate lack of genuine competition due to monopoly keeps the prizes high for embarrassingly slow internet. For unlimited NBN, Australian residents have to part with between $50 and $120 monthly. On average, Australians pay $650 more annually for slower plans than other countries with the same financial muscle. That means that free online pokies are not so accessible for Australians as for Canadians, and It is a problem. But, despite this Australia is one of the biggest gambling countries in the world.
Australian consumer groups agree that the broadband and telecommunications industry needs to do better from nearly all fronts. This request is especially dire in the current era where the internet has become a service as essential as water and electricity.