Analysis of NBN fixed-lines services in urban and regional Australia

The latest update of the ACCC report “Measuring Broadband Australia (MBA) “ delves into the broadband performance of NBN fixed-line connections in both urban and regional Australia, with a focus on the program’s insights gathered in September 2023. While the report primarily scrutinises fixed-line connections, it acknowledges the prevalence of fixed wireless and satellite connections in regional, rural, and remote areas, prompting ongoing investigations by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into the feasibility of incorporating satellite services, including NBN SkyMuster and Starlink, into the MBA program.

The MBA program, funded by the Federal Government until 2025, employs SamKnows’ data collection methodology, aligning with established speed testing programs in the US, Canada, and New Zealand. Specifically, the MBA program measures the capacity of each popular NBN speed tier to support high-definition and ultra-high-definition Netflix streams. Recent concerns about potential underestimations of required bitrates for Netflix streaming have prompted an adjustment to bitrate calculations, revealing that while each NBN speed tier maintains the capability to support multiple full-high-definition Netflix streams, some speed tiers experience a reduction in simultaneous streams.

Urban and regional classifications, based on NBN Co’s criteria, distinguish between population centres with 10,000 or more residents (urban) and smaller population centres (regional). Changes in panel compositions since the last comparative report in February 2022 may impact results comparability. The ACCC invites satellite service users to volunteer for the MBA program, emphasising a holistic representation of Australia’s broadband landscape.

The analysis of broadband performance in September 2023 reveals notable improvements in both urban and regional areas. Urban consumers experienced a 99% average download speed during peak hours, up from 96.8% in February 2022, while regional consumers saw an increase to 97.2%, compared to 94.2%. Upload speeds also improved, with regional areas narrowing the gap to urban areas, now 1.8% lower, down from 5% in February 2022. Average busy hour upload speeds in regional areas increased to 86.1%, up from 79.8%, and in urban areas, upload speeds rose to 87.9% from 84.8%.

Despite these overall positive trends, the report identifies ongoing challenges for regional consumers, who are still disproportionately affected by underperforming services, defined as those rarely or never achieving the plan download speed. The prevalence of fibre to the node services in regional areas, which are more susceptible to underperformance, contributes to this disparity, with seven percent of regional services deemed underperforming compared to four percent in urban areas.

The report underscores the essential nature of the internet for all Australians and applauds the narrowing gap in broadband speeds between urban and regional areas. However, it urges collaboration between NBN Co and broadband retailers to address underperforming services, ensuring that consumers, regardless of their location or connection type, receive the broadband speeds commensurate with their subscriptions. The record-high NBN fixed-line download speeds, combined with ongoing efforts to refine MBA program metrics, position Australia to continue advancing its broadband infrastructure and accessibility.

Paul Budde

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