Why broadband is less popular in apartments

Why broadband is less popular in apartments

Summary: If you live in an apartment, you're less likely to have broadband than those living in a stand-alone home. Why is that?

TOPICS: Broadband, Australia

Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) 2011 Census shows that back then, 70 percent of Australian residences had a broadband connection in some shape or form. That was a massive leap from the 39 percent five years earlier. Only 20 percent of homes had no internet connection at all.

Apartments, which accounted for 13 percent of all properties, had a noticeably lower broadband penetration — just 63 percent. Why the difference? There's often talk about physical factors limiting access to multi-dwelling units (MDUs). That might be the case with fibre, but why would it matter with DSL?

(Image: Phil Dobbie/ZDNet)

Or is it because apartment dwellers are younger, more likely to move, and less likely to commit to a broadband contract?

That's certainly not the case in Willoughby, on Sydney's North Shore. This is the local government area, which, at the time of the last census, had the country's highest penetration of broadband in apartments (81 percent). And it's an area with a lot of apartments (42 percent of the population live in one). But there, apartment living is a lifestyle choice. These people aren't youngsters, either; the median age was 37, and 52 percent of the population had been at the same address for five years or more — the same as the Australian average across all property types.

Compare that to Perth, a local government area with an even higher proportion of apartment dwellers (88 percent), but a much lower penetration of broadband in those apartments (74 percent). Here, it is a much more peripatetic population — only 19 percent of people had been at the same address five years previously. So, this demonstrates how transient populations are less willing to enter into a broadband contract, doesn't it?

Well, no. Take central Melbourne as another example. This is a local government area where 78 percent of people lived in apartments, and less than a quarter of the population had been at the same address for more than five years. Yet, broadband was hooked up to 79 percent of apartments — the second-highest region in the country.

Central Adelaide tells the same story: Younger age, high number of apartments, transient population, but still a high level of broadband penetration in apartments. Perhaps in these younger areas, there are more flat shares, so people are happy to pass broadband contracts on, or maybe they're using mobile.

When we split broadband penetration according to tenure, we actually find that local government areas with a more transient population are actually more likely to have broadband. And the difference is greatest amongst apartment dwellers. You can see it in this second graph, which shows that in areas where less than half of the population had lived there for five years or more, 68 percent of apartment dwellers had broadband. It's much lower (59 percent) in areas where people had lived there longer. Somewhat counter-intuitive.

(Image: Phil Dobbie/ZDNet)

So, what can we now conclude? Apartment dwellers are often more transient, and they love their broadband? In which case, we still have the question about why penetration is lower in apartments than it is in separate houses.

Perhaps the answer lies in aged housing. In Victor Harbor, South Australia, where 35 percent of the population is over 65, only 36 percent of apartments had broadband. In contrast, mining towns like Weipa and Port Hedland have virtually no one over 65, and three quarters of apartments connected up to broadband.

And across the country, we do see lower broadband penetration in apartments in areas where more of the population are beyond retirement age. The difference is far more pronounced than it is for people living in separate houses, presumably because there is a retirement village factor at play. A scan of many promotional websites for these places failed to see any mention of the words "broadband" or "internet".

(Image: Phil Dobbie/ZDNet)

Just as last week, we showed that to a point, income is as big an influence on broadband adoption as accessibility, this week's data seems to suggest that the same applies for age. But is it a lack of interest, or just the fact that these places have chosen not to hook up? If more retirement villages had access, perhaps the age divide would disappear, and, along with it, this discrepancy between houses and apartments. If more old folks had access, it could become a welcome diversion to lawn bowls and daytime TV.

Topics: Broadband, Australia


Phil Dobbie has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and, since coming to Australia in 1991, has held senior marketing and management roles with Telstra, OzEmail, the British Tourist Authority and other telecommunications, media, travel and advertising businesses.

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  • because...

    because a lot of the people in apartments just steal their neighbors connection.
  • Oh yes!

    Lol doh. Perhaps you're right.
  • Broadband Connections.

    Maybe some of these apartment dwellers, being cramped for space, do not rely on Desktop PC's and wired connections. There is 3G and 4G broadband in most inner city areas where apartments predominate.
  • They Share

    I think the answer is likely obvious. They share connections.
  • Sahred connection

    I live in one of the older Apartment complexes in Hillsboro Oregon . We have a good number of twenty somethings and college students. They wold camp-out near the clubhouse and use free WIFI. Furthermore the younger generation are more mobile using smart phone and tablets. On the other side may of my generation and older my not see the need for broadband growing up in the 1970's and earlier.
  • Simple - Cost!

    Many who lives in apartments simply can not afford it.
    Yes, it might only be $19.99 or $49.99 etc, but when you add up all the bills, many in this nation (and they are predominantly renters) are having a tough time make ends meet.
    • Cost!

      Totally agree! If they need a connection they want the absolute most affordable one - pure and simple.

      The only reason my grandma is spending more than $19.99 is due to Vodafone & Optus not having any kind of decent speed so she had to go with Telstra 4G.
  • No infrastructure !!

    Maybe this overlooks the infrstructure in appartments.. My appartment complex (Wentworth Point - Sydney Olympic Park) was built about 14 years ago - has two blocks of units totalling about 250 units and yet only 20% can get ADSL - I'm one of the lucky ones. This is being addressed now (at a cost to the owners) and will cost in excess of $100,000.
    • No infrastructure +1

      This will be a large influence - neither of the HFC networks service apartment blocks, so in HFC footprint areas apartment dwellers have the only one broadband network available (ADSL), while detached houses have three different networks to choose from. Many apartment complexes are fed by their own dedicated RIM cabinet, so when the number of lines in the complex exceeds the number of ports on the mini-DSLAM that might or might not be installed in the RIM cabinet, the excess dwellings are screwed.
      Relatives of mine just moved into a brand new retirement village - no fixed-line broadband available at all to any of the units, they've had to fall back to a 3G/WiFi gateway.