What is the NBN good for?

Summary:Despite Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's assurances to the contrary, in my crystal ball I'm seeing a broadband price rise coming to millions of Australians once the National Broadband Network has been built.

commentary Despite Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's assurances to the contrary, in my crystal ball I'm seeing a broadband price rise coming to millions of Australians once the National Broadband Network has been built.

In that case, someone will have to come up with something to do with those speeds which is beyond what we do now, or I think Australians are going to laugh at ISPs and say, "Tell them they're dreaming".

The consumer price to access the network is going to be set in the negotiations Conroy holds with the bidders his expert panel recommends at the end of their eight-week deliberation in February. It could be as low as $15 per month, a figure Axia has touted for metro areas. But it could be as high as $85 per month.

But what do I do with it?
(Credit: And a stacky thingee, gthills, CC2.0)

All I can say is that if you're going to charge me 85 buckeroos for internet access, I want to see something pretty damn good. Something new, something that changes my life and improves the economy while it's at it. So what services are you going to provide, oh great network builder, that are going to make me cough up the dough?

As far as I'm concerned, I haven't seen any compelling uses yet that would make me step up from my normal $35 a month. Anyone have an idea? Don't say gaming. I know the latency on World of Warcraft is important, but this is $4.7 billion of taxpayers' money at stake. Would your conscience live with using it so you can have more fun casting spells or axing enemies?

YouTube doesn't excite me either. Or media. Although that is getting warmer. I'm not even going to take the standard answers such as health or education. If we just wanted a network to give hospitals and schools, it could be a lot smaller and cover a lot less area.

I'm waiting for you to say something useful. Bueller. Anyone?

An ACMA report released this week puts banking as Australia's "favourite" online activity alongside paying bills and shopping.

So I'm thinking bandwidth-hungry banking applications. Anyone help me out here? What about bill paying. Can't say I'm getting excited yet. Or a 3D online shopping mall. That will have to use a decent whack of speed don't you think? Although even as a woman I can't say I find the idea particularly scintillating.

So you've drawn a blank have you? Unsurprising. According to Ovum research director David Kennedy, the services could take up to 10 to 20 years to come online. That's a long time for a network builder to wait for demand to rise for high capacity usage.

Kennedy says it's like building a highway: you do it and hope the traffic comes. But IBRS advisor Guy Cranswick thinks it's like a six-lane highway to Alice Springs. That would be pretty stupid, not an investment I'd want in on.

As far as I'm concerned, I haven't seen any compelling uses yet that would make me step up from my normal $35 a month.

Gartner analyst Robin Simpson thinks anyone who believes people won't want to sign up to faster speeds is insane, because once you get a taste of them you can't go back. All well and good. But at the moment, despite ADSL2+ being quite widespread in metro areas, most users are sitting on 512Kbps, according to acting assistant secretary for the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy Simon Cobcroft speaking last month. 512Kbps!

Australians might be fast adopters, but we're all penny pinching bastards. The current economic environment won't make it any better. And if you think I'm being pessimistic, look at a study which Charles Sturt University did recently.

The university surveyed over 600 households and found that less than 20 per cent of households currently using broadband saw a benefit in the NBN. Those without the high-speed internet service also only gave the NBN lukewarm approval, with only 17 per cent believing it would help them.

Broadband wasn't important in the budget stakes, the report found, with 66 per cent saying it wasn't a priority. Only 16 per cent of households surveyed intended on connecting to broadband in the next year, while just 10 per cent wanted to upgrade.

This might end up being a moot point if Conroy gets his negotiation hat on straight, because we may be looking at equivalent prices to what we have now for better speeds. I'll believe it when I see it though — fast to 98 per cent of the population is expensive. When they ask me for more cash, my first question is going to be "What's in it for me?" If they say "fast internet", I'll laugh at them and say "you're dreaming".

If you have a good idea of what can be done on the NBN with faster speeds which would make me want to pay double my money on broadband payment, pitch it. A reminder: gaming doesn't cut it.

Topics: NBN, Broadband

About

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for t... Full Bio

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