Your Australian broadband results may vary

Two days out from Christmas, the Australian government has released the summary of its broadband availability and quality report, but the detail and methodology will wait until 2014.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

It is part and parcel of the IT journalism industry that several times a week, we'll be handed the results of some "amazing" new survey commissioned by a vendor seeking to push a product that just happens to answer all of the desires of the survey respondents.

When the methodology is there, you can usually see whether the results can be relied upon and reported, but even then, we're often hesitant to report on them, because the company that commissioned the report clearly wants you to buy its new product.

These sorts of surveys usually rise in frequency around quiet times in the year, so it is not surprising to see one land on our desks today, two days out from Christmas. What is unusual is that this time, the vendor happens to be the Australian government.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today delivered the Department of Communications' Broadband Availability and Quality report, as expected, but the presents were a little light, with just the summary of the report being released.

The summary, in which Turnbull says the report is "the first of its kind to be undertaken by an Australian government", contains just the headline details of the report. The actual report will be released in full in 2014, when the department can "refine the detail of the analysis" and compile maps of broadband availability along with the methodology for how the report was put together.

The scant detail of the report we've been provided today states that the speed variations over fixed-line networks in Australia are as follows:

  • 3.1 million premises (28 percent) have access to peak download speeds between 25Mbps and 110Mbps

  • 7.1 million premises (65 percent) have access to peak download speeds of less than 24Mbps

  • 0.7 million premises (6 percent) are unable to access a fixed broadband service

The report covered approximately 10.9 million premises.

The 3.1 million premises able to get 25Mbps or higher speeds would likely include the 2.6 million that can connect on the hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network — although some of the HFC customers would contest whether they can get 25Mbps speeds — and the existing National Broadband Network (NBN) customers, as well as others on fibre-to-the-premises, fibre-to-the-node, and fixed-wireless networks.

The report states that 9.9 million premises have access to DSL services across Australia, and that 3.7 million of these are able to get peak download speeds of less than 9Mbps, with another 920,000 able to get peak download speeds of less than 4.8Mbps.

The data from the report is in contrast to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) that shows that of 12.1 million Australian premises, only 1.7 million have access to advertised download speeds of over 24Mbps. It also states that 4.5 million have access to download speeds of less than 8Mbps, and 5.9 million have access to download speeds between 8Mbps and 24Mbps.

Given that the methodology remains a mystery, we don't know how the department determined those speeds, but it wasn't from testing each line across Australia. The Department of Communications deputy secretary Ian Robinson indicated at a Senate Select hearing in November that the department would not be testing individual lines to determine the available broadband speeds in Australia.

"We have sought and obtained information about the location of exchanges and pillars et cetera, and the deployment of various parts of infrastructure, both ADSL, copper, HFC and fibre to the premises. We are analysing all that and preparing the material at the moment," he said at the time.

"The report that we are preparing under the broadband quality report is a high-level national picture of the overall availability and quality of broadband. We do not need the individual street details to do that."

Turnbull said today that a website would be developed to host the broadband coverage maps, and to allow users to see the results of their area and report feedback. The findings of the report will be used in the revised National Broadband Network rollout, which the company has said will target the under-served areas.

In its current form, presumably those areas that are under-served are the 700,000 premises that have no broadband at all. For the rest of the nation, the Australian government has a new and money-saving fibre-to-the-node product to sell to you.

The NBN Co strategic review, however, points out that the existing fibre-to-the-premises rollout will continue in 2014, and that close to half of the premises that would have access to 25Mbps by the end of 2016 will be those living in the existing HFC footprint.

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