If you live in one of Australia’s biggest cities there’s a one in two chance that you’ll be dudded with an inferior NBN connection.
Those are the explosive findings of a new study of the $51 billion taxpayer-funded national broadband network.
Around half of all homes in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane will be connected to the NBN via the oldest and most controversial of the patchwork of technologies available, research by the University of Sydney and Arizona State University has found.
The team of researchers collected data on the “footprints of technologies” currently or about to be in place in Australia’s three major metropolitan cities.
The data suggested that between 40 and 60 per cent of homes in those cities would be connected via “very old technology” known as hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC).
“For people in these residences, access to the so-called “fibre network” remains only a fairy tale,” the researchers said.
An NBN update is “inevitable” for Australia and its major cities to be “competitive on the global platform”, they concluded.
What is HFC and how bad is it?
The NBN is a “mixed-technology network”, with about five million homes and businesses using the service via seven different methods of varying quality.
The New Daily has previously reported that the rollout is creating a growing digital divide between those with inferior and superior connections – one that has implications for everything from health to education and economic success.
HFC cable relies on existing pay-TV infrastructure in metropolitan areas and is considered vastly inferior to fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP).
The initial rollout of HFC was plagued by issues, with NBN Co forced to upgrade many of the original connections.
The New Daily asked NBN Co to confirm whether 40 to 60 per cent of homes in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne will have HFC connections.
A spokesman said the company was unable to comment extensively due to caretaker conventions in place before the federal election.
However, the spokesman pointed to a blog post stating that the NBN co is “offering wholesale HFC services of 100/40Mbps, 50/20Mbps, 25/5Mbps and 12/1Mbps – the exact same speed tiers available for our Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology.”
University of Sydney urban infrastructure expert Tooran Alizadeh, one of the study’s authors, dismissed the claims that customers with HFC connections can access the network at speeds on par with FTTP as “laughable”.
“There is no question that people on HFC are making complaints at a rate much higher than anyone else on any other technologies,” Dr Alizadeh said.
“Different reports are talking about numbers between two to five times higher than anything else.”
Inferior speeds aren’t the only issue faced by HFC users.
“There are also a large number of complaints about reliability and the fact that it drops out,” Dr Alizadeh said.
“People’s experiences are really awful, and the warnings were there from the very early days.”
Taxpayers ‘cheated’, telcos the big winners
Big telecommunications companies have been big winners from the NBN debacle at the expense of Australia’s taxpayers who have footed the bill for the delayed and over-budget infrastructure project, Dr Alizadeh said.
“When I was finalising this research it really got me one more time that we have been cheated,” she said.
Even describing the NBN as a new network when large swathes of Australia’s most populous cities are connected via old cables could be misleading.
“I want to point out that if it wasn’t for the NBN at least part of this cable network needed to be written off. That’s how old it was,” Dr Alizadeh said.
Once destined for the scrap heap, the cable infrastructure has been repurposed and cobbled together with a mix of new technology.
As the nation comes continues to grapple with the NBN debacle, Telstra, Foxtel and Optus have emerged as “the real winners”, Dr Alizadeh said.
“They’re making money off something that needed to be written off.”
The New Daily contacted the office of Communications Minister Mitch Fifield for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.