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Will a proposed upgrade finally bring the NBN up to speed?

NBN Co is planning on offering free upgrades to internet speed for 90 per cent of Australians by the end of 2025.

NBN Co is planning on offering free upgrades to internet speed for 90 per cent of Australians by the end of 2025. Image: TND

While NBN Co is preparing to offer free internet speed upgrades for no extra cost, some will have to wait until the end of 2025 for the proposal to come into effect, prompting concerns Australia is still flailing behind the rest of the world.

The proposal, accelerating national broadband network (NBN) speeds ‘from 100/20 to 500/50 Mbps at no extra wholesale cost to retailers’, will be available to consumers by December 2024, with 90 per cent of the NBN’s network receiving the upgrade by December 2025.

The speed at which data is transferred through a network is denoted by Megabits per second (Mbps), while internet plans are advertised by download/upload speed.

Associate Professor Mark Gregory, from RMIT University’s School of Engineering, said while the proposed upgrade is a positive move, there should be concern about the speed of the rollout.

“Other countries started this upgrade rollout several years ago and we are looking at 2025, which puts us even further behind,” he said.

“There’s two positives: One that it’s happening and the second is that the price would be consistent with what the price is at the time for the three higher speed tiers.”

The slowest NBN plan available, 50/20 Mbps, is not a part of the proposal, but higher internet plans will receive between three and five times as fast download speeds.

Anna Perrin, chief customer officer at NBN Co, said Australians are using more internet data in a day than they were using monthly a decade ago.

“Despite this explosion in data usage, many customers have remained on the same broadband plan for years,” she said in a statement.

“We are on track with our national fibre upgrade program to put these incredibly fast speeds within reach of more than 10 million Australian homes and businesses by the end of next year.”

Slow rollout

According to Ookla’s speed test global index, Australia’s average measured internet speed is the 95th fastest in the world, behind countries like Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Mongolia.

Gregory said Australians are still paying the cost of the Coalition’s decision to pivot to a copper-based internet infrastructure.

“Somewhere between 30 and 40 billion dollars was wasted on the Coalition’s copper broadband and someone’s got to pay for that,” he said.

“Ultimately, it set the prices high for the NBN right at the beginning once these bad decisions were made.”

The Labor Party initially announced the NBN from opposition in 2007, planning to deliver fibre-to-the-premises internet to 98 per cent of Australians by June 2016.

tony abbott malcolm turnbull book

Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘bad’ decisions cost taxpayers between 30 and 40 billion dollars, according to Gregory. Photo: AAP

Gregory said prices have remained high because of several changes in direction at NBN Co.

“The original plan was to get everyone on at 100/40 speeds at a price that people could pay,” Gregory said.

“That’s what Labor’s original plan was, but because of the cost, the copper changes and the fact we’ve still got so much fibre to the node out there, most Australians are only on 50/20.”

While the rollout had already started by the time the Abbott government came into power in 2013, they decided to adopt copper transmission in areas where the rollout had not begun, crippling the speed and future-proofing of the network.

Struggling to keep up

Australia was ranked 68th globally for comparable internet speeds in December 2019 by Ookla, but has fallen nearly 30 places in the index since.

Minister for Communication Michelle Rowland said reliable internet is an “essential 21st-century infrastructure”.

“Through our substantial investment in the NBN, the Albanese government is delivering faster and more reliable broadband to homes and businesses across Australia,” she said in a statement.

“NBN Co’s proposal is consistent with the Albanese Labor government’s objectives and will deliver turbo-charged speeds that would deliver significant benefits for businesses and households alike.”

The Albanese government has allocated $2.4 billion to complete fibre to NBN access for 1.5 million homes to complete a flagship policy that will potentially cost a total of $70 billion by the time it is completed later this decade.

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