A controversial report that claims Australia’s broadband network is among the world’s best has been torn apart by independent experts.
The report titled Speed Check: Calibrating Australia’s broadband speeds was commissioned by the NBN Co and conducted by “strategy and economic advisory business” AlphaBeta.
It describes the national broadband network (NBN) as “one of the world’s most ambitious infrastructure projects” and claims that “Australia’s average broadband speed is comparable to those of peer countries”.
AlphaBeta found that Australia currently ranks 17th for broadband speed “among comparable economies”, a ranking that it projected will rise to 13th once the NBN rollout is completed in 2020.
NBN Co chief executive Stephen Rue said the report “highlights that the work we’re doing has set us in good stead among other world leaders”.
However, Internet Australia chair Paul Brooks slammed the report as “self-serving” and “disingenuous”.
“Clearly [the NBN Co] have an image problem they’re trying to repair, and that image problem is justified,” Dr Brooks said.
Speedtest ranks Australia 61st for broadband speed
AlphaBeta’s findings are pitted against those of global speedtest firm Ookla, which ranked Australia as 59th in the world for broadband speed at the time the report was written.
As of September, Australia’s ranking had slipped to 61st.
An Ookla spokesperson told The New Daily the firm “absolutely stands behind the accuracy of Speedtest and our data on the performance and quality of internet connections”.
Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index is based on the monthly average download speed of each country which is calculated using real “consumer-initiated tests” by broadband users testing the speeds of their individual connections.
By contrast AlphaBeta calculated its rankings using “subscription speed data” – the advertised speeds of plans to which NBN customers are subscribed.
This method does not take into account the fact that real life speeds vary and that, according to the consumer watchdog, more than one in 10 NBN customers are not receiving the advertised speeds.
In August, the ACCC’s Measuring Broadband Australia report revealed that 12.4 per cent of NBN customers were experiencing speeds that rarely came close to reaching those they were paying for.
Affordability issues ignored
The AlphaBeta report “very deliberately doesn’t talk about affordability”, Dr Brooks said.
“It doesn’t talk about pricing and affordability and that’s one of the main things that drives people to take up higher speeds,” he said.
AlphaBeta’s report also claims that Australia will be ranked 10th in the world for “broadband equality” among OECD countries in 2021.
But in fine print, it states that “all countries excluding Australia are held constant at 2016 OECD distribution and speed tiers”, while Australia’s ranking is based on 2021 forecasts.
Dr Brooks slammed the assumption as “laughable”.
“Their whole comparison is assuming every other country stands still, and their average speeds in 2021 are the same as in 2016,” he said.
“In reality, other countries will also be increasing their average speeds, for precisely the same reason Australia’s is increasing – the proportional mix of old and new technologies takes a decade or two to diffuse through a large proportion of the population.
“Being buried so deep in the fine print, if it was an academic analysis, this assumption would result in a fail grade … making the conclusion invalid.”
Curtin University Associate Professor in Internet Studies Tama Leaver questioned the NBN Co’s motivations in commissioning the report.
“In my opinion, commissioning a report like this – rather than focusing energies on making the final stages of rollout as good as they can be –seems like political argumentation, not making the NBN better,” Dr Leaver told The New Daily.
Neither Ookla’s nor AlphaBeta’s figures provide “entirely accurate measures of broadband speeds in Australia”, he said.
“The Ookla numbers are, as the AlphaBeta report notes, subjective and dependant on measurements initiated by Australian users (and thus not nationally representative),” Dr Leaver said.
“However, the AlphaBeta numbers make so many allowances to smooth numbers that they could be seen as equally subjective.”
In its report, AlphaBeta takes issue with Ookla’s rankings because they “do not account for population or geography”, arguing that Australia’s wide and dispersed population must be factored in.
“However, this was a premise of the NBN, and something it was supposed to help fix,” Dr Leaver said.
“Saying it’s unfair to measure Australia this way ignores the point that the NBN was supposed to overcome the challenges of geography and population density that make access speeds problematic for so many Australians.”
Despite the report’s positive spin, it still reveals that Australia is lagging behind its peers when it comes to broadband speeds, Dr Leaver said.
“Even when AlphaBeta reslices who and how they measure, Australian speeds still come out as 17 out of 37 (for ‘like’ countries),” Dr Leaver said.
“That’s far from the infrastructure Australia deserves, and suggests the NBN will be out of date from the minute it finishes rolling out.”