MyBroadband shows what's wrong with our broadband

The government's audit of broadband availability may be riddled with errors and optimistic proclamations, but it lays the groundwork for the massive task ahead of the NBN's builders – even if it includes handing large swathes of Australia to HFC monopolists on a silver platter.
Written by David Braue, Contributor

Like many who rushed to check their address against the government's long-awaited survey of broadband speeds, I was unsurprised by its findings: my area of suburban Melbourne, it has now apparently been confirmed as fact, scores an A grade in terms of ADSL availability but an E grade in terms of ADSL quality.

In other words, we can get broadband, but it's terrible. And I don't mean sort-of bad. Mine is one of 191 premises within the nearby area in the same position, which the myBroadband site readily informed us could expect a median ADSL speed of... wait for it... 3.79Mbps.

Monash Uni may be one of the country's largest and most high-tech, but nearby residents have C-grade HFC and D-grade ADSL services. Screenshot: David Braue

Of course, I knew this already – and documented it several years ago. MyBroadband describes this kind of speed thusly: "This is the lowest quality ADSL rating as the average speed of ADSL services delivered over the copper network in your area are low when compared to ADSL services available in other areas."

You don't say. Not only are ADSL services in my area now officially one-eighth as fast as the 25Mbps mooted by our new government, but my home, and 190 others, are apparently in the worst corner of the worst area of my suburb.

Things aren't much better elsewhere nearby: the 128 other E-grade ADSL victims in the area are given an estimated speed of 5Mbps, while nearby D-grade ADSL services are estimated at 6.59Mbps-plus. It's only when you get close enough for ADSL services to earn a C grade – homes that are about half as far from the local exchange – that you start getting double-digit speed predictions.

To get a B-grade score of around 19.56Mbps, you must live close enough to hit a cricket ball through the Telstra exchange's window; to get an A grade, you might as well be living in the lobby.

Since there is no overlap in Telstra exchange coverage, each home has exactly zero alternatives, except where HFC is available. Yet the numbers of poor-service homes are significant: in every suburb where large numbers of homes are radially connected to a central exchange – in other words, all of them – the area receiving D and E-grade services is far, far larger than the size of the area receiving A-grade services. Blame pi.

Fixing this issue is, of course, the basis for the Coalition's plan to install what is estimated as being around 60,000 to 80,000 FTTN nodes on every third street corner across the country, then complete the link over Telstra services that, despite pleas by the industry, it appears the government is determined to lease in accordance with last year's advice from NBN Co.

Given that my area has now been confirmed to be getting the worst ADSL Telstra has to offer, I'd like to think that it would be among the first areas prioritised for an upgrade under the new government's fibre-to-the-node policy.

Realistically, however, I know it will not – for the simple reason that there is HFC available in the area. It's pretty good HFC, too, supposedly: as MyBroadband cheerfully tells me, "The area surrounding your address has very good access to high quality services available on hybrid fibre coaxial cable networks."

If your myBroadband entry shows that there's HFC available in your neighbourhood, you can give up on getting alternative NBN infrastructure now. Never mind HFC's current inconsistencies – or the fact that the government actually has no claim on Optus or Telstra HFC networks.

This high rating allows my Overall Fixed Broadband Quality rating to be given as a B – the same as was given to another area where there was A HFC quality and B ADSL quality. In other words, as long as you've got good HFC, you're pretty much set in the government's mind; even terrible DSL doesn't affect your overall access to broadband. That's because NBN Co certainly isn't going go to the effort of fixing Telstra's copper and rolling out FTTN in areas where there's an HFC alternative; it was warned off of doing this last year.

Indeed, if your MyBroadband entry shows that there's HFC available in your neighbourhood, you can give up on getting alternative NBN infrastructure now. Never mind HFC's current inconsistencies – or the fact that the government actually has no claim on Optus or Telstra HFC networks and so, in the lack of necessary pro-competition controls that communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has so far refused to discuss – is basically handing a large chunk of the NBN to monopoly infrastructure operators.

There's always wireless, of course: the site happily informs me that I have "very good availability" of 3G and 4G mobile broadband that "may include 4G services providing 2-50 Mbps downstream and 1-10 Mbps upstream, but 3G services will be more widespread providing 1-20 Mbps downstream and up to 3Mbps upstream."

As if. If ever there were a noncommittal and inaccurate statement about mobile broadband, this would have to be it. I know from experience that real 4G services are at 1 bar in my area and are definitely on the low end of the 2-50 range, while 3G data is... less than magnificent.

By confirming that Telstra's network is just as bad as everyone has been saying – and positioning HFC as a natural alternative based on optimistic performance numbers – the MyBroadband site has provided a road map for a new NBN policy that will, in our most populous areas at least, be used by the government to justify rolling back telecommunications competition protections and, in many areas, handing a broadband monopoly to HFC operators.

The government may have intended myBroadband to give a clear indication of just how good we already have it, but – judging by the torrent of complaints and claims of inaccuracies on Whirlpool, Twitter and elsewhere – its main result has been to highlight how far we still have to go.

How did you go? Were your MyBroadband figures a surprise? Do they resemble your actual broadband experiences in any way? And, what are you expecting from the new NBN given your MyBroadband results?

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