Telecommunications Ombudsman reports surge in complaints about services delivered over NBN


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NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow will present an upbeat account of the network’s impact in a speech on Tuesday.
AAP Image/Supplied by NBN Co

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has strongly challenged the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) after its report showed complaints about services delivered over the NBN surged by 204% in the second half of 2017, compared with the same period a year earlier.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield also announced details of a review, earlier flagged, of the telecommunications consumer protections framework, saying the high level of complaints about telecommunications services generally showed “the existing model for complaints handling and redress is not working”.

Fifield said the way the information regarding the 22,827 complaints about services delivered over the NBN was presented in the TIO report, released Tuesday, “could give the impression that responsibility for this figure rests with NBN Co”.

But advice to the government from NBN Co was that of these complaints, less than 5% were sent to NBN Co as complaints to resolve.

The NBN has been been heavily criticised for a slow rollout – although it says it has met every target for the past 14 quarters – low speeds and connection problems, generating high levels of complaints.

The six months to December saw a 39% increase in NBN premises activated.

The government and NBN Co are also focusing on the 16% fall in the rate of complaints about these services from the first to the second half of 2017.

In January to June of 2017, there were 19,683 complaints about services delivered over the NBN, making the picture better for the NBN when comparisons are made between the first and second halves of the year.

But the TIO report warns generally about comparisons of the two halves of the same year because of seasonal variations, preferring to compare the same period of each year. The government rejects the seasonal variation argument, saying the TIO itself has previously made comparisons within a year. It also believes the TIO is letting retailers off the hook.

The TIO is an industry-funded complaints resolution body. The NBN is not represented on its board.

The TIO report includes complaints for the six months to December covering mobile and fixed line telephony and both pre-NBN and NBN broadband.

It received nearly 85,000 complaints in total, which was a 28.7% rise over the same period in 2016. There was a 30.7% increase in complaints from residential consumers, and a 15.6% rise in those from small businesses.

Total complaints decreased from the 92,000 in the first half of 2017.

Fifield said that no matter who was the responsible party, the complaints figures were too high. “The current model for protecting consumers needs reform”.

The review, to provide for the post 2020 environment, will be undertaken in three parts to ensure consumers

… have access to an effective complaints handling and redress scheme;

… have reliable telecommunications services including reasonable timeframes for connections, fault repairs and appointments, as well as potential compensation or penalties against providers;

… are able to make informed choices and are treated fairly by their providers in service, contracts, billing, credit and debt management and switching providers.

Meanwhile chief executive of NBN Co Bill Morrow will present an upbeat account of the network’s impact in a speech at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

He will say the network generated an extra $1.2 billion in economic activity in 2017 and is encouraging more women to become their own bosses.

Morrow, who is leaving his job at the end of the year, will present figures prepared by the economic advisory firm AlphaBeta, using census data, modelling and polling to estimate the impact of the network – labelled “the nbn effect”.

He will say that “nbn-connected women are becoming self-employed at twice the overall rate of self-employment growth in nbn areas.

“In percentage terms, these results are stunning. The number of self-employed women in nbn regions grew at an average 2.3% every year, compared to just 0.1% annual average growth in female entrepreneurs in non-nbn areas.

“If this trend continues, up to 52,200 additional Australian women will be self-employed by the end of the rollout due to the ‘nbn effect’”, he will say.

The 2017 overall $1.2 billion estimated increase in economic activity – through new jobs, businesses and greater productivity – excludes the economic stimulus of the rollout itself.

“By the end of the rollout, this ‘nbn effect’ is predicted to have multiplied to $10.4 billion a year,” Morrow will say. “This represents an extra 0.07 percentage points to GDP growth, or 2.7% of the estimated GDP growth rate in 2021. By the end of the rollout, the ‘nbn effect’ is forecast to have helped create 31,000 additional jobs,” Morrow will say.

The ConversationThe network is now more than halfway built. About one in three homes and businesses are connected. The rollout is due to be completed by the end of 2020. Morrow has been CEO since 2014.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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NBN faces irrelevance in cities as competitors build faster, cheaper alternatives


Allan Asher, Australian National University

Malcolm Turnbull is now connected to the National Broadband Network (NBN) at his Point Piper home on a 100 megabits per second (Mbps) plan, it was revealed in Senate Estimates yesterday. But only because his department intervened to avoid delays affecting other customers.

And while the Prime Minister might be happy with his NBN connection, that’s not the case for the 2.5 million customers waiting on a connection through their pay TV or cable service who have been left in limbo.

Lauded in the 2009 Commonwealth Budget as the single largest nation building infrastructure project in Australian history, the NBN is at risk of becoming an expensive white elephant in our cities. Years of political interference, poor technology decisions and a monopoly business attitude have damaged the brand.

Rather than meeting its objective of connecting 90% of homes and workplaces with broadband speeds of up to 100 Mbps, the NBN is looking more like a giant sponge. It soaks up public infrastructure dollars and returns high prices, long delays, unacceptably slow data speeds and service standards that are now the subject of an ACCC investigation.

As a result, a growing number of competitors are bypassing the NBN by undercutting prices and beating performance standards.




Read more:
The ACCC investigation into the NBN will be useful. But it’s too little, too late


Adelaide bypasses the NBN

The latest challenge to the NBN came after South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill denounced the “very poor NBN outcome” and last week announced A$35 million in funding for an Adelaide fibre network alternative if he is reelected in March 2018.

The plan was warmly welcomed by Mighty Kingdom, an app and games developer who told the ABC, “I don’t have what I need to get me to the rest of the world.”

This follows news announced last year that Adelaide City Council is working with TPG to deliver an NBN-alternative broadband service to local businesses. The service promises fibre internet up to 100 times faster than the NBN, at lower prices, and with no installation costs for city businesses or organisations.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese said:

This technology will be a game changer for the city of Adelaide. It will be a boom for local businesses and other organisations, but will also attract business from interstate and across the globe.




Read more:
The NBN: how a national infrastructure dream fell short


NBN alternatives for Melbourne homes and businesses

Meanwhile two aggressive startups in the Melbourne market are hoping to take a serious bite from NBN’s lunch.

Lightening Broadband is connecting homes and businesses using microwave links capable of delivering both 100 Mbps download and upload speeds. That’s better than the comparable NBN Tier 100, which offers 90 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload speeds.

The company is constructing microwave transmitters on tall buildings, connected to the telco’s core network using microwave links. Customers within a two-kilometre radius share a microwave transmitter, requiring a dish on their roof.

Another telco start-up, DGtek is offering its customers a full fibre alternative service.

Upon its launch in 2016, DGtek’s founder David Klizhov said:

“Ideally the NBN would have worked if it was fibre to the home, but it’s taken quite a lot of time and we thought that we could have a go at the Australian market using technology that’s been implemented already overseas.”

DGtek uses Gigabit Passive Optical Networks (GPON) and runs it directly into tightly packed homes with the dense population of inner Melbourne. As a sweetener, DGtek offers free internet service to government organisations – such as schools and hospitals – in areas they service.

The threat from 5G and other new technologies

New entrant competition is not the only threat to NBN Co. Optus and Telstra are both launching 5G services in 2019. This represents a quantum leap in wireless technology that could win away millions of current and potential NBN customers.

While Vodafone CEO Inaki Berroeta has said that 5G is unlikely to replace the NBN in Australian homes, Optus Managing Director of Networks Dennis Wong recently told BIT Magazine:

Everyone has heard of concepts like self-driving cars, smart homes, AI and virtual reality, however their full potential will require a fast and reliable network to deliver. Seeing 5G data speeds through our trial that are up to 15 times faster than current technologies allows us to show the potential of this transformative technology to support a new eco-system of connected devices in the home, the office, the paddock and in the wider community.




Read more:
5G will be a convenient but expensive alternative to the NBN


5G is not the only technological game changer facing the NBN. iiNet in Canberra has launched its Very-high-bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL2) as its own superfast network.

According to iiNet, it is made up of fibre and copper and provides a faster connection than ADSL and most NBN plans. The network is independent from Telstra and differs to NBN in that iiNet’s VDSL2 network uses its own copper lines.

Levelling the field for smaller players

The huge capital requirements of rolling out telecoms infrastructure has always acted to deter more competition in the Australian market. But following a regulatory decision of the ACCC in 2017, smaller entrants can now enjoy cost-based access to some of the largest networks – including Telstra, TPG and Opticom – allowing them to better compete both with the big telcos, and with the NBN.

By providing access to superfast broadband access service (SBAS) and the local bitstream access service (LBAS), new entrants will be able to sell NBN-like fixed line superfast broadband wholesale.

So where to for the NBN?

Yesterday the government released a working paper forecasting that demand for bandwidth will double for households with high internet usage over the next decade. The report also suggests that the NBN is equipped to meet those needs.

The ConversationHowever, cost, technology and customer service problems continue to threaten the commercial success of the NBN. Without a radical rethink, it is doomed to fail its initial mission.

Allan Asher, Visitor, Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet) & Chair of Foundation for Effective Markets and Governance, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

5G will be a convenient but expensive alternative to the NBN


Rod Tucker, University of Melbourne

Will Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) face damaging competition from the upcoming 5G network? NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow thinks so.

This week, he even floated the idea of a levy on mobile broadband services, although Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull quickly rejected the idea.

NBN Co is clearly going to have to compete with mobile broadband on an equal footing.


Read More: Like it or not, you’re getting the NBN, so what are your rights when buying internet services?


This latest episode in the NBN saga raises the question of exactly what 5G will offer broadband customers, and how it will sit alongside the fixed NBN network.

To understand how 5G could compare with the NBN, let’s examine the key differences and similarities between mobile networks and fixed-line broadband.

What is 5G?

5G stands for “5th generation mobile”. It builds upon today’s 4G mobile network technology, but promises to offer higher peak connection speeds and lower latency, or time delays.

5G’s higher connection speeds will be possible thanks to improved radio technologies, increased allocations of radio spectrum, and by using many more antenna sites or base stations than today’s networks. Each antenna will serve a smaller area, or cell.

The technical details of 5G are currently under negotiation in international standards bodies. 5G networks should be available in Australia by 2020, although regulatory changes are still needed.

Connections on 5G

In a mobile network, the user’s device (typically a smart phone) communicates with a nearby wireless base station via a radio link. All users connected to that base station share its available data capacity.

Australia’s mobile network typically provides download speeds of around 20 Mb/s. But the actual speed of connection for an individual decreases as the number of users increases. This effect is known as contention.

Anyone who has tried to upload a photo to Facebook from the Melbourne Cricket Ground will have experienced this.

Mobile base stations.
kongsky/Shutterstock

The maximum download speed of 5G networks could be more than 1 Gb/s. But in practice, it will likely provide download speeds around 100 Mb/s or higher.

Because of contention and the high cost of the infrastructure, mobile network operators also impose significant data download limits for 4G. It is not yet clear what level of data caps will apply in 5G networks.

Connections on the NBN

In a fixed-line network like the NBN, the user typically connects to the local telephone exchange via optical fibre. Directly, in the case of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), or by copper wiring and then fibre, in fibre-to-the-node (FTTN).

An important difference between the NBN and a mobile network is that on the NBN, there is virtually no contention on the data path between the user and the telephone exchange. In other words, the user’s experience is almost independent of how many other users are online.

But, as highlighted in the recent public debate around the NBN, some users have complained that NBN speeds decrease at peak usage times.

Importantly, this is not a fundamental issue of the NBN technology. Rather, it is caused by artificial throttling thanks to the NBN Co’s Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) charges, and/or by contention in the retail service provider’s network.

Retail service providers like TPG pay CVC charges to NBN Co to gain bandwidth into the NBN. These charges are currently quite high, and this has allegedly encouraged some service providers to skimp on bandwidth, leading to contention.

A restructuring of the wholesale model as well as providing adequate bandwidth in NBN Co’s transit network could easily eliminate artificial throttling.

The amount of data allowed by retailers per month is also generally much higher on the NBN than in mobile networks. It is often unlimited.

This will always be a key difference between the NBN and 5G.

Don’t forget, 5G needs backhaul

In wireless networks, the connection between the base stations and internet is known as backhaul.

Today’s 4G networks often use microwave links for backhaul, but in 5G networks where the quantity of data to be transferred will be higher, the backhaul will necessarily be optical fibre.

In the US and elsewhere, a number of broadband service providers are planning to build 5G backhaul networks using passive optical network (PON) technology. This is the type used in the NBN’s FTTP sections.

In fact, this could be a new revenue opportunity for NBN Co. It could encourage the company to move back to FTTP in certain high-population density areas where large numbers of small-cell 5G base stations are required.

So, will 5G Compete with the NBN?

There is a great deal of excitement about the opportunities 5G will provide. But its full capacity will only be achieved through very large investments in infrastructure.

Like today’s 4G network, large data downloads for video streaming and other bandwidth-hungry applications will likely be more expensive using 5G than using the NBN.


Read More: The NBN needs subsidies if we all want to benefit from it


In addition, future upgrades to the FTTP sections of the NBN will accommodate download speeds as high as 10 Gb/s, which will not be achievable with 5G.

Unfortunately, those customers served by FTTN will not enjoy these higher speeds because of the limitations of the copper connections between the node and the premises.

The Conversation5G will provide convenient broadband access for some internet users. But as the demand for ultra-high-definition video streaming and new applications such as virtual reality grow, the NBN will remain the network of choice for most customers, especially those with FTTP services.

Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull’s government must accept responsibility for delivering an equitable NBN for all Australians



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NBN delivery is variable across different states, but also within the same local council areas.
from www.shutterstock.com

Tooran Alizadeh, University of Sydney

On Monday night Four Corners asked Australia to consider “What’s wrong with the NBN?”.

Prior to the episode airing, a lot of the debate focused on the NBN’s business model, and that it may not be profitable.

I, however, am not sure if the financial returns need be our biggest concern when referring to public service and critical infrastructure. My answer to the question “what’s wrong with the NBN?” is quite simple: the NBN is inequitable.


Read more: The NBN: how a national infrastructure dream fell short


A “train wreck”

This week started with a fiery speech delivered by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. He said the NBN was a mistake, blamed the former Labor government for the set up, and described the NBN’s business model as a “calamitous train wreck”.

Turnbull’s remarks triggered a number of responses, including one from former Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. He attached responsibility of NBN’s failure to the current government, as they “changed the model completely” compared to the original design.

More broadly, the Four Corners program itself created mixed reactions on social media. It was criticised for being “weak”, and not “challenging enough”, but also praised as “exceptional”.

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I find it incredibly frustrating to see a national critical infrastructure project diminished to political ping pong. In my opinion, bipartisan commitment is required in order to deliver an equitable NBN for all Australians.

Inequity from the start

Introduced by Labor, the original NBN was announced in April 2009. The plan was to provide terrestrial fibre network coverage for 93% of Australian premises by the end of 2020, with the remaining 7% served by fixed wireless and satellite coverage. In other words, Labor’s NBN was mainly equitable in terms of the advanced technology adopted across the board.


Read more: Three charts on: the NBN and Australia’s digital divide


However, research on the early NBN rollout pointed out the issue of timing. Even under the most optimistic estimations, it was going to take over a decade to build the nation-wide infrastructure. So, there were always questions about who was going to get the infrastructure first, and who had to wait over a decade for a similar service.

The results of the 2013 Federal election changed the fate of the NBN. The elected Coalition government decided the NBN rollout should transition from a primarily fibre-to-premises model to a mixed-technology model.



Various/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

FTTP = fibre to the premises; FTTN/FFTB = fibre to the node/basement;
HFC = Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial


This added to the complexity of the NBN, and created new layers in the inequality concerns around the NBN. In the Coalition’s NBN, many could be waiting quite some years and yet still only receive a lower quality level of access to the service.

Inequity in 2017

Now we’re past the halfway point of NBN delivery, and inequality of the service is clear at two levels.

Large scale

Recent research shows there is a clear digital divide between urban versus regional Australia in terms of access to the NBN. Regional Australia is missing out, both in terms of pace and quality of delivery in the mixed-technology model. This pretty much means that WA and NT are the worst off parts of the nation, because of the spread and dominance of regional and remote communities within them.

“Fine grain” scale

As described on Four Corners, mixed-technology NBN within local government areas and neighbourhoods means some people are better off than others.

Some receive fibre-to-premises service while others have fibre-to-node. The quality of the service also depends on how far someone lives and works from a node, which basically suggests even people on the same fibre-to-nodes service could have varied level of (dis)satisfaction with their internet and phone services.

Research published in 2015 captured some of the frustrations on the ground at the local government level. Differing qualities of internet services available were perceived to have direct implications for local economic development, productivity, and sense of community at the local level.

The two layers of NBN inequality mean that while some customers may be happy with their NBN, many experience a frustrating downgrade of service after moving to the NBN. This may help explain the increase in the number of NBN complaints across the nation.


Read more: Lack of internet affordability may worsen Australia’s digital divide


Let’s start moving forwards

Politicising the NBN and blaming one party over another has been part of the national misfortune around the NBN. But, I believe, the inequality of the NBN is part of a bigger trend in infrastructure decision making in Australia that fails to fully account for the socioeconomic implications. Other examples of this trend are seen in major (controversial) transport projects around the nation (e.g. East West Link in Melbourne, WestConnex in Sydney).

Current and future Australian governments must accept responsibility, and find a way forward for the NBN that is built on the notion of equitable service.

We can start with questions such as who needs the service the most, and who can do the most with it. These two questions refer to the social inclusion and productivity implications of the NBN.

The ConversationThe NBN, as a publicly funded national infrastructure project, has to be equitable to be a truly nation building platform. As long as it is failing some, it is failing us all as a nation.

Tooran Alizadeh, Senior Lecturer, Director of Urban Design, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Like it or not, you’re getting the NBN, so what are your rights when buying internet services?


Jeannie Marie Paterson, University of Melbourne

Complaints about the national broadband network (NBN), involving connection delays, unusable internet or landlines and slow internet speed are on the rise.


Read more: When it comes to the NBN, we keep having the same conversations over and over


Most Australians will be forced to move onto the NBN within 18 months of it being switched on in their area, and that means navigating what can be confusing new contracts.

So, what are your rights regarding landline and internet connections?

Landlines

Many consumers can and do manage without a landline. But particularly for those without a reliable mobile service, a landline can be essential. It is included in many phone and internet “bundles” offered by internet service providers.

Standard telephone services (primarily landline services) are subject to a Customer Service Guarantee enshrined in law under the Telecommunications Act 1997.

This means that standards apply to common services such as connection of a phone line, repairs of that line and attending appointments on time. The provider will have to pay compensation to the customer if the Customer Service Guarantee standards are not met.

Despite this, some providers suggest a customer waive his or her customer service guarantee rights. There are safeguards for this waiver to be effective, primarily in that the provider must explain the nature of the rights to the customer before asking for the waiver.

The idea behind allowing providers to request a waiver of the Customer Service Guarantee is that it will allow customers to obtain cheaper services than would otherwise be the case. However, we might question the integrity of the consent typically given to such waivers, given consumers generally don’t read contracts and may have little understanding of the value of the Customer Service Guarantee or the likelihood of having to claim under it.

In any event, providers cannot ask for a waiver for Universal Service Obligations, which ensure accessible services for all customers, including those with a disability and those who live in remote areas.

Internet

The Customer Service Guarantee does not apply to internet connections – although the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network has argued that it should.

So there are no statutory obligations for internet providers, or NBN Co, to connect customers within a particular time frame or respond promptly to complaints.

The main safeguard for customers for internet services is in the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

If an internet service provider promises a particular broadband speed and does not provide that speed, the provider may have engaged in misleading conduct contrary to the ACL. Damages and even penalty payments could be awarded against it. And fine print qualifications to the headline statement about internet speeds will not necessary protect the provider.

In addition, the Consumer Guarantees under the ACL (not to be confused with the Customer Service Guarantee under the Telecommunications Act) ensure that any equipment provided with an internet service must be of acceptable quality, and services be provided with due care and skill.

If these standards are not met, the consumer has a right to certain remedies under the ACL and damages for losses that result from the failure. These rights should go some way to protecting telecommunications consumers, although of course they do not directly guarantee that the provider will arrive on time for a scheduled appointment.

The ConversationSo while you may wish to charge your internet service provider for not turning up to an installation appointment, you wouldn’t get far under current Australian law.

Jeannie Marie Paterson, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

When it comes to the NBN, we keep having the same conversations over and over



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Another day, another report. Will it change Australia’s NBN?
CommScope/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

David Glance, University of Western Australia

The Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network (NBN) released its first report on Friday, just as most people on the east coast of Australia headed into a long weekend, complete with two sporting grand finals.

The release on a Friday afternoon, sometimes referred to by the media as the “Friday news dump”, is generally what governments do when they want the published report to gather dust.


Read More: The NBN needs subsidies if we all want to benefit from it


In fact, its hundreds of pages actually included two reports from the one committee. The dissenting report, supported by its Liberal Party members, including the committee’s chair Sussan Ley, contradict many of the conclusions of the first, which was backed by the Labor Party members and Australian Greens, among others.

One ironic benefit of the report is that whatever your political view, there will be something that you’re likely agree with. But is that the way to create good internet policy?

What did the report say?

The report is from the latest committee, formed in September 2016, to inquire and report on the rollout of the NBN. It replaced the Senate Select Committee on the NBN that operated between 2013 to early 2016.

The report makes 23 recommendations. These range from recommending that the NBN cost and plan for a switch for all remaining Fibre to the Node (FTTN) connections to use Fibre to the Curb (FTTC), through to recommending that the government measure and report on “digital inclusion”.

Many of these recommendations are dismissed or ignored in the Chair’s dissenting report.

As political and business commentator Alan Kohler summarised in The Australian:

Like so much of Australian public policy over the past 10 years, the NBN has been hopelessly politicised, so that anything that comes out of any politician’s mouth on the subject can be ignored as most likely unreliable twaddle.

The challenges of the process

Given the political nature of the process and the desired outcomes, in my view, there is a bias built into the process from the start.

This is both in how facts are interpreted and presented in the report, and how groups, companies and individuals with specific vested interests use committees as a means of stating their claims.

The report claims for example that FTTC is a “future-proofed technology” whereas FTTN is not, but little evidence is given to back up the claim.

It appears “future-proofing” is simply a term for the fact that FTTC would theoretically cost less to upgrade than FTTN, but complete data is not offered.

In another case, the report discusses complaints made to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman about connection delay issues, citing a “slight decrease” in the number of complaints relative to the number of activated premises.

The decrease is not entirely insignificant: for example, complaints made about 0.98% of total new connections in quarter three of 2015-16 dropped to 0.56% in quarter two of 2016-17.

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The rate of fault complaints about NBN services has also dropped slightly over time and is running at 0.15% of premises activated (2,460 complaints made out of 1,652,564 premises activated over time in quarter two of 2016-17).

Another key problem with committees of this sort is that during the time it takes to investigate, write and publish the report, events have overtaken the process.

The report recommends that the NBN cost a plan to substitute FTTC for FTTN. This has already happened after a fashion, with NBN Co presenting costing to the NBN Co board and to the government. The proposal was apparently rejected because it would have been too expensive and not kept NBN Co’s funding within the A$49 billion limit.

History repeating

Much of what is included in the report are issues that have been discussed by previous committees, but also more widely in the public sphere. We have seen the same topics, arguments, paucity of data and overreliance on anecdote time and again.

Given the government’s “Friday news dump”, a more general question to ask is whether making submissions to these committees is worth the time and effort?


Read More: Lack of internet affordability may worsen Australia’s digital divide: new report


I personally attended an expert session in Parliament held by the previous committee in early 2016. The same issues and questions were asked then and by and large the same types of responses were given. Nothing came of that and this report largely rehashes the same conversation.

As Alan Kohler remarked, public policy shaping the NBN has been marked by political motives and to a far lesser extent, economic or social ones. For that reason, data is not being given proper weight, and is often shaped to support a political perspective.

The ConversationGiven the situation, we are perhaps fortunate to have made the progress we have.

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Things to consider when making the switch to the NBN and what to expect



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NBN HFC setup.
Author

David Glance, University of Western Australia

With all of the negative press about Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN), consumers who have the option to switch to the NBN from a working broadband connection might be forgiven for being cautious. After the NBN is made available in an area, residents have up to 18 months to switch from their current plans to one provided on the NBN. Once it is available in an area however, residents are usually deluged with offers from various internet service providers (ISPs) about switching, making it hard to ignore.

Moving to NBN on HFC

In my area in Western Australia, I have had HFC from Telstra for many years and so changing to the NBN does not involve a change in the underlying technology. Although some researchers have classified HFC as being an inferior technology to Fibre to the Node, it is actually capable of delivering speeds of 100 Mbps down and 40 Mbps up. Within the next one to two years HFC will be capable of 1 Gbps speeds with the roll out of DOCSIS 3.1.

HFC connections may still suffer if ISPs do not adequately provision adequate CVC capacity on the NBN but HFC does not have the same limitations as Fibre to the Node with regard to the distance from the node. There is also a possibility that the NBN will see more homes connected to a node than was the case when Telstra ran the network. This may also impact performance.

In my case, I was consistently getting speeds of 100 Mbps for downloads but only 2 Mbps for uploads. Prior to the NBN, these speeds have been a luxury for those Australian’s who lived in areas that were services by Telstra and Optus with HFC.

Making the switch to the NBN was relatively simple but uncovered some decisions that it is worth spending time considering. If doing a conversion, some of the options aren’t made obvious by the sales team and so need to be explicitly requested.

The question of speed

Once you have decided on an ISP, there is the question of what speed of connection is available at any given residence. HFC doesn’t suffer from a slowdown based on the distance from the “node” and so speeds up to 100 Mbps are available. ISPs like Telstra however, sell plans based on download limits and at the default of 25 Mpbs. Choosing up to 100 Mbps costs another AUD 30 a month.

It seems that for most Australians who have connected to the NBN, the default of 25 Mbps has been the most popular choice, with 53% of fixed connections being at 25 Mbps and a further 29% at the lowest tier of 12 Mbps. For the average family just watching streaming video and using social media and browsing, this is likely to be fine. It has resulted however in the overall average speed of internet connections in Australia remaining low at 10.1 Mbps.

Choice of wireless router

Another choice that doesn’t seem important at the time is the choice of wireless router that ISPs offer. Here again, the default for Telstra is a basic Sagemcom F@ST 5535. And it is basic. It doesn’t support the fastest wireless protocols used by recent smartphones and laptops, 802.11ac. The fixed cable connections from the router are also not the fastest kind. Not having the fastest wireless can make a significant difference to the overall speed of the internet connection of devices and so it is always worth upgrading.

Some of the routers also have the ability to fail over to using 4G if the NBN connection is not available for any reason. This may be important because on the NBN, the landline phone is switched over to using the main internet connection using Voice over IP (VoIP) and not the physical connection over the old copper network. However, if the power goes out, the phone will also be unavailable even by this route.

Other than for the phone connection, any wireless router can be connected to the NBN modem. The Telstra router can then be simply used for the phone connection and its WiFi switched off.

Making the switch

For me, and I stress the personal nature of this, the switch was fast, efficient and painless. From contacting Telstra, the wireless router was shipped within 4 days and the appointment with the NBN technician booked for a week after the order was placed. Any interaction with the Telstra NBN connection staff involved little wait times and the only negatives were some confusing emails and an order status that said the order was delayed when it wasn’t.

The NBN technician arrived and didn’t need to switch the physical box attached to the wall outside the house. It was just a question of plugging in the modem, making sure it worked, and telling NBN and Telstra to switch it all on. The technician gave me advice of avoiding being disconnected when making the switch over from the old system to the new and then left, although I had been barraging him with questions about how the rollout was going.

Getting connected was just a question of connecting the wireless router to the NBN modem, switching it on and connecting to the wireless network. As I mentioned above, I use Apple wireless routers and so altered the configuration after things were connected.

And the results?

The download speed dropped from the Telstra non-NBN connection. During the morning, I got about 94 Mbps download. The massive difference was in the upload speed which is now about 38 Mbps. This is a huge bonus over the existing connection which gave 2 Mbps. Upload speeds are never really thought about as a problem until you realise that synchronising with services like iCloud, Google Drive and DropBox all become significantly faster with the NBN connection.

However, in the evening, the speed dropped to between 50 – 70 Mbps download and 23 – 35 Mbps upload. This was something that didn’t happen on the Telstra non-NBN connection which was consistent even in the evenings.

It is still early days and as more people connect in my immediate area, bandwidth may be further affected. Telstra may also ramp up the capacity so that there are not these changes in speed based on the time of day.

Update from NBN Co

In response to the article, a spokesperson from NBN Co clarified the following points:

[1] With regard to the number of HFC connections per node:

“At present Telstra runs around 1000 premises on an HFC node sharing 1Gbps of capacity. On the nbn we will have only 650 premises per Node and once we reach full DOCSIS 3.1 we will have 10Gbps of capacity available”

[2] Regarding the speed drop I had experienced in the evenings:

The Conversation“Your speed drop in the evening is almost certainly CVC related”

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lack of internet affordability may worsen Australia’s digital divide: new report



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An affordability gap and increasing reliance on mobile data could limit internet access for some Australians.
29233640@N07/flickr , CC BY-SA

Julian Thomas, RMIT University

We often think of the internet as a levelling, democratising technology – one that extends access to knowledge, education, cultural resources and markets.

But the net also reflects the social and economic divides we find offline.

Released this week, the second report of the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) reports on data covering four years of local online participation across three dimensions: online access, digital ability and affordability. Together, the three dimensions produce a digital inclusion score.

Since 2014, when data was first collected, Australia’s overall digital inclusion score has improved by 3.8 points, from 52.7 to 56.5. In 2016–2017 alone, Australia’s score rose by 2.0 points, from 54.5 to 56.5.

But there is still a “digital divide” between richer and poorer Australians. In 2017, people in our lowest income households (less than A$35,000 per year) have a digital inclusion score of 41.1, which is 27 points lower than those in the highest income households (above A$150,000) at 68.1.


Read more: Three charts on the NBN and Australia’s digital divide


When the three dimensions are considered separately, the measures of access and digital ability show consistent improvement from 2014 to 2017. However, the affordability measure has registered a decline since the 2014 national baseline (despite a slight bump in the past 12 months).

Online access and digital ability have increased since 2014, but affordability has dropped.
Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2017, Author provided

The cost of being connected

Affordability is a key dimension of digital inclusion.

Internet connectivity is important for accessing a wide range of education, government, health and business services. A decline in internet affordability means Australians on fixed or low incomes risk missing out on the benefits of digital technologies, and falling further behind more connected Australians.

The ADII shows that the cost of data — for both fixed and mobile internet — has declined over 2014-2017. These findings are in line with the ACCC’s ongoing monitoring of prices for telecommunications services, which indicate an average decline in real terms of 3.1% since 2006.

However, when we measure affordability, we are not only looking at the cost of data; we are also interested in what proportion of household income is being dedicated to this service.

The affordability problem with the internet is different from other key household services where there are price pressures, such as electricity and water. The residential consumption of energy has grown very slowly over the last decade, but prices have increased sharply.

With the internet, while we are now getting more data for our dollar, our demand for data has dramatically increased.

A recent report from the Commonwealth Bureau of Communications and Arts Research (BCAR) tracks the affordability of phone and internet use since 2006.

The BCAR report finds that, overall, phone and internet affordability has improved since 2006. However, their data also shows that almost all the gains occurred before 2013, and that, since then, affordability has declined or flat-lined. Further, BCAR’s data suggests that the lowest income households in Australia are now spending almost 10% of their incomes on internet and communications services. In contrast, middle income households are spending around 4% of their disposable income on these services, and for wealthier households, the figure is less than 2%.

Increasing reliance on mobile

Some recent and far-reaching changes in our use of technology are evident here: the extent to which the internet has become an integral part of everyday life, the fact that we are spending more time online, and we are doing an increasing range of activities online. In many households, we are also connecting with more devices.

However, the problem of affordability also reflects another recent development that the ADII highlights: one-in-five Australians now only accesses the internet through a mobile device — and we know that mobile data is considerably more expensive than fixed broadband on a per gigabyte basis.

Mobile-only use is correlated with a range of socioeconomic factors. The ADII data shows that people in low income households, those who are not employed, and those with low levels of education, are all more likely to be mobile-only.

Despite the benefits of mobile internet, this group is characterised by a relatively high degree of digital exclusion. In 2017, mobile-only users have an overall ADII score of 42.3, 14.2 points below the national average (56.5).

Digital inclusion is unequal

In the 2017 report, the ACT, followed by Victoria and New South Wales, are the highest scoring states in the overall digital inclusion score, as they were in 2016. Tasmania remains the lowest scoring, followed by South Australia.

Australia’s national digital inclusion score in 2017 is 56.5, but varies from state to state.
Australian Digital Inclusion Index, Author provided

The lowest scoring socio-demographic groups in 2017 were households earning less than A$35,000 per year (overall score of 41.1), Australians aged over 65 (overall score of 42.9) and those with a disability (overall score of 47.0).


Read more: Regional Australia is crying out for equitable access to broadband


The ADII uses data derived from Roy Morgan Research’s ongoing, weekly Single Source survey of 50,000 Australians. These are extensive, face-to-face interviews, dealing with information and technology, internet services, attitudes, and demographics.

Calculations for the ADII are based on a sub-sample of 16,000 responses in each 12 month period. The index is a score out of 100: the higher the overall score, the higher the level of digital inclusion. An ADII score of 100 represents a hypothetically perfect level of access, affordability, and digital ability. A score of 65 or over is regarded as high; one below 45 as low.

A focus on improvement

An increasing number of Australians are online, but although the costs of data and devices are falling, there is a risk that issues of affordability will leave some of our most vulnerable behind.

Australians with low levels of income, education and employment are consistently less connected than the rest of the population, with consequences that will become increasingly serious as the digital transformation of government and the economy proceeds.

As an increasing number of essential services and communications move online, the challenge to make the Australian internet more inclusive is becoming more urgent. Affordability is a key area for attention, but so is improving Australians’ digital ability.

The issue of affordability suggests a range of possible areas for useful policy intervention. If we think it important to subsidise essential utilities such as electricity for low-income Australians, we may need to consider whether an allowance for internet access for essential services might also be necessary.

The ConversationFor the large number of lower-income Australians who rely entirely on mobile devices for internet connections, we will also need to consider new ways to support digital inclusion. These could include unmetered access to essential health and social services, and the further development of secure, public access wi-fi.

Julian Thomas, Director, Social Change Enabling Capability Platform, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australians left to monitor their own NBN broadband speeds



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A simple broadband speed test from speedof.me.
Shutterstock/garagestock/Screenshot from http://speedof.me

Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas, University of Melbourne

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has pledged to get tough on any Internet Service Providers that mislead consumers about National Broadband Network speeds.

But how do you know if you’re getting a good deal when you connect to the NBN? How do you know if you’ll be getting the high-speed connection you were promised?

NBN Co is building the infrastructure, with 5.7 million premises now able to connect to the network via fibre, hybrid cable, wireless or satellite. To make that connection though, you have to deal with one of almost 150 listed ISPs.

Customers are ‘confused’

The ACCC’s chairman Rod Sims says we should expect a healthy and competitive sector. But he also says many consumers are “confused about broadband speed advertising” and the industry has been “inconsistent in making clear, accurate information available”.

So it is crucial for the ACCC to ensure that companies do not mislead consumers about the speeds offered by their ISP.

The Australian market is different to that in the United Kingdom, where the regulator Ofcom actively provides accurate information to consumers to enable a comparison of services.

Australia takes a different approach, relying on protections available via consumer law, and encouraging industry self-regulation to provide the right information to the consumer.

The experience you get really depends on a range of factors relating to transmission quality, reflected as speed of connectivity and latency (delays) in exchanging information across the internet. Key factors include:

  • how you connect to the internet router in your house (such as by Wi-Fi or ethernet)
  • the transmission quality from home to the Point of Interconnect (where the ISP’s network connects to the NBN)
  • transmission quality within the ISP network
  • transmission quality of the content delivery network.

Measuring the speed of your internet connection

A basic speed test of any internet connection is a measure of the time it takes to transfer a fixed file from a server. The result is usually given in Mbps (Megabits per second).

Many ISPs, such as Telstra, Optus and iiNet, currently provide internet speed tests for their customers.

But speeds measured this way tend to reflect the connectivity from the ISP to the consumer. The speeds you experience in general use can be significantly lower than the “peak” speed advertised by the service provider.

To get a better idea of the real speed of your internet connection you should use another speed testing service, in addition to the one recommended by your ISP.

You should also repeat this measurement at various times of the day and keep detailed notes of any results. Some typical speed tests are:

Speeds can change over time for even the fastest NBN connection.

Currently most ISPs offer a higher speed for downloading and lower speed for uploading. As many users often download the same content, the network can be optimised to take advantage of this and offer higher speeds.

But users also upload unique content, such as photos to social media accounts or files to cloud storage. This does not have the advantage of scale and thus speed of access could be lower.

As cloud-based storage and content-delivery networks – such as Netflix, Foxtel and others – become more highly trafficked, our requirements are changing. Many users now prioritise more symmetrical internet connectivity, with similar download and upload speeds.

How fast should the internet be in Australia?

In Australia, premises with fibre connections to the NBN can theoretically get a peak rate of 100Mbps. In fact, in Australia there are 5 tiers of NBN connections, varying between Tier 1 (12Mbps download/1Mbps upload) to Tier 5 (100Mbps download/40Mbps upload).

But the measured speeds can often be slower than promised by your provider.

There are various reasons for this. It could be that there is a problem between the premises and the NBN network, or there could be delays or oversubscription within the ISP network.

There can be congestion and delays in national and international networks due to inadequate investment by various stakeholders to keep the capacity of the network in scale with the increasing number of customers.

Your experience can also vary across the day and from one service to another. As the number of users varies quite markedly over 24 hours, the state of the network (NBN, ISP network, Content Delivery Network) can change with various levels of congestion.

This leads to different speeds of connectivity at different times when accessing different types of services. For example, web access might be slower given the location of a server, compared with an internet video streaming service that might be optimised to deliver the most popular content within the region.

While many internet service providers advertise a typical speed, in Australia there is no expectation that they should indicate the variability (the range of minimum and maximum speeds).

When so slow is too slow

If you think your NBN connection is too slow and not what you were promised, you should raise the problem with your ISP. If they fail to resolve the issue you should report it to the ACCC.

To improve information about broadband speeds, the ACCC is currently running a A$7 million trial of NBN speed monitoring and it wants consumers to be part of it.

Australia could have anticipated these speed issues and established a broadband performance reporting framework as part of access to the NBN infrastructure by providers.

The Australian Communications Consumers Action Network (ACCAN) has been crying out for a scheme to monitor the performance of ISPs.

The ConversationBut this hasn’t happened yet. So for now it’s left to you as a consumer to monitor your NBN connection speeds, and report any ongoing problems to the ACCC which hopes to start publishing speed and performance data later this year.

Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas, Director – Melbourne Networked Society Institute, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Co-Founder/Academic Director – Melbourne Accelerator Program, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The ACCC threatens to take Telstra and other ISPs to court over misleading NBN speeds



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Not up-to-speed.
NBN Co

David Glance, University of Western Australia

Rod Sims, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumers Commission (ACCC), has signalled that the regulator is going to take a tougher stance against internet service providers like Telstra, Optus and Vocus about misleading consumers about NBN broadband speeds.

In particular, Sims has said that Telstra’s continued use of terms like “Very Fast” and “Super Fast” to describe theoretical, but often unobtainable, broadband speeds needs to stop.

The ACCC has indicated that it is likely to bring court cases before the end of the year if these practices don’t end.

In a speech at the Unwired Revolution Conference, the ACCC talked of the findings of a Australian communications sector review.

In particular, Sims drew attention to the fact that the Australian public were opting for slower speeds on the NBN mainly because ISPs were unwilling to sell faster speeds due to the high costs of the connections (CVC) provided by NBN Co.

The pricing of wholesale connections provided by NBN Co are set in order for them to recoup money that has been invested, in large part by the Australian federal government, and so unless NBN Co is directed to do this differently by the government, the situation is unlikely to change.

Part of the problem is the lack of transparency. Many properties that are being supplied with a Fibre to the Node (FTTN) connection may never be able to get the fastest connection plan of 100 Mbps because they are too far from the node. As the chart below shows, speeds of 100 Mbps can only be achieved if the house is within 500 meters of the node.

FTTN speed slows with distance from the node.
NBN MTM

A map of properties in Australia highlights that two houses on opposite sides of a road can have very different maximum speeds because of the nodes they are connected to. Telstra has previously admitted that some customers were sold plans for speeds they would never be able to attain at their premises.

NBN street map showing distance from node and calculated speed.
NBN MTM

In addition to this, there are the number of connections to that node and in particular, the capacity of the ISP to handle peak demand by having spare CVC capacity. There are also other factors that would affect a property’s connection, including the state of the copper wiring between the node and the house.

What the ACCC wants ISPs to do is to tell customers not only what the theoretical maximum speed may be for their property using a given technology, but also what the speeds may drop to during peak demand.

NBN Co has this data and could make it public, but it won’t because it claims that it is the responsibility of the ISPs to tell their own customers. Shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland has filed a freedom of information request for the NBN data of theoretical speeds for each property.

The ACCC is recruiting volunteers to install special hardware and software to monitor speeds and the quality of internet connections in their homes.

The results of a pilot trial reported in 2015 showed that the problems with peak demand and variability of internet speeds existed on pre-NBN internet services like Telstra’s HFC cable service. As the figure below highlights, even fibre to the premises (FTTP) connections from one provider varied dramatically, dropping significantly every evening.

Average download speed of FTTP connections.
ACCC

While the data that the ACCC is collecting will be useful and will ultimately assist in highlighting ISPs that are not providing promised services, it would be far better if NBN Co provided this data publicly in the first place.

If the politics and economics of the NBN mean that consumers are going to mostly stick to slower speed plans, many of the proposed economic and social outcomes that were originally envisioned will not be realised.

The ConversationWhile it may represent a slightly better situation for some people who currently have a poor connection via ADSL, it is hard to justify the AUD$20.3 billion that has been invested by the Australian government in the network so far.

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.