Australia's broadband ranking isn't Turnbull's fault

To blame Australia's drop in the Akamai State of the Internet ranking for peak and average broadband speeds on the government's decision to move away from fibre to the premises for the NBN defies reality.

While the reaction is not surprising, it is wrong to place the blame on Australia dropping down broadband rankings in Akamai's latest quarterly State of the Internet report on Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull's decision to change the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout.

Late last week, Akamai's State of the Internet report for the third quarter of 2014 contained some grim news for Australia. We are sliding down the rankings in average connection speeds from 41st in Q2 to 44th in Q3, with average connection speeds down 1.8 percent quarter on quarter, to 6.9Mbps.

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We are also sliding down in rankings on average peak speeds, from 40th to 44th, with peak speeds at 36Mbps, and we dropped down three spots to 47th in terms of broadband connections over 4Mbps, to 66 percent.

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Although year on year all of these statistics were up, the drop between Q2 and Q3 has caused some concern that Australia is falling behind. Some have said that it is all Turnbull's fault, because of the change in the NBN rollout from fibre to the premises to the so-called "multi-technology mix" model, which includes fibre to the node and hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC).

There are a couple of reasons why this doesn't stack up.

Firstly, NBN Co had barely commenced a pilot on fibre to the node in the quarter Akamai bases its statistics on. The multi-technology mix was essentially non-existent at the time Akamai wrote its report.

Secondly, NBN Co has continued rolling out fibre to the premises since the election. Sure, as Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare has said, not as fast as it should be, but the government has still rolled out more fibre than under Labor.

As of the end of the third quarter of last year (PDF), the NBN across fibre and fixed wireless covered 677,535 premises, with 266,984 active connections across fibre, fixed wireless, and the interim satellite service.

Compare this to the previous quarter, and NBN Co has passed around 73,000 between Q2 and Q3 and activated over 56,000 services. In short, it was one of NBN Co's biggest quarters since the rollout began, which only increased further in the fourth quarter of 2014.

The end result is that more people in Australia had access to faster speeds on the NBN than they had in previous Akamai reports.

If you look at the charts provided by Akamai, Australia's decline in speeds looks to be a minor blip in the rankings quarter on quarter. This can be caused by a number of factors, not limited to but including the way Akamai measures the speeds in the first place.

If -- and this is a big if -- as the government has promised, the NBN begins rolling out "sooner" over the next year using the multi-technology mix model, then Australia's average and peak broadband speeds are likely to rise fairly quickly as more customers move from legacy ADSL services over to VDSL or HFC. Not to mention the improvement for rural Australia through the fixed-wireless rollout and satellite launch.

Though, obviously, Australia's rise will not be as sharp as the rise Singapore has with its full fibre-to-the-premises rollout.

That is where the argument may hold some substance in the long term. If other countries do roll out full fibre-to-the-premises networks, while speeds in Australia would continue to improve, comparatively, we would be slower than everywhere else, and would continue to drop down the rankings.

But as my series of articles on broadband rollouts around the world has shown, while fibre is popular, there are also a number of countries that are going down the "multi-technology mix" path. Particularly those where the telcos, rather than the government, are upgrading networks.

If there is a long-term trend of Australia dropping down the rankings, then by all means, the government's policy is entirely to blame. But for now, people are getting worked up about the noise, rather than the signal.

Akamai's report doesn't break down the full list of rankings to see which countries overtook Australia between Q2 and Q3. For a comparison, here are a number of countries that are rolling out either fibre to the premises (South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand), or a mixture of technologies (such as the UK and the US).

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