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New research documents the digital experience of people living in one of the first areas to receive the NBN.

It shows their downloading habits, Internet speeds, and device types. The research, conducted by the University of Melbourne and Swinburne University and commissioned by ACCAN (the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network) was centred on the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. It found that the earliest adopters of the NBN in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick were home owners and households with children.

“This study offers a fascinating insight into the homes of the people of Brunswick,” said ACCAN spokeswoman Elise Davidson. “It was one of the first places in Australia to be connected to the National Broadband Network.

“Households who switched to an NBN service report an increase in the amount of data they download, are twice as likely to work from home, have a greater number of connected devices than they did previously and use them in more places throughout the home.”

Of the 282 households who agreed to be part of the study, almost half  (49%) of those with an NBN service reported no real impact on the price they paid for an Internet service, with 37% paying more and 14% paying less.

“The research indicates people are willing to pay a bit more to get high‐speed Internet and larger download allowances. For others, their monthly costs went down because they were able to switch from a landline phone service to VoIP.”

When asked about their attitudes toward the NBN, 82% of households said they thought it was a good idea and particularly valued the fast internet speeds and quality of connection.

“The thing that people say they like most about the NBN is the speed and the data capacity,” said Davidson. “We’re not too surprised to hear this – right around Australia people are telling us they want access to reliable, quality broadband at an affordable price.”

The research was funded under the ACCAN Grants Scheme. It used mixed methods and a longitudinal approach, surveying 282 households in Brunswick in late 2011, interviewing a selected sub‐set of 20 households in mid‐2012; and following up with a survey of the same group in late 2012. Brunswick is an inner city area of Melbourne, with a high proportion of people born overseas (38.9%), shared households (14.2%), renters (46.3%) and couples without children (45.2%).

Between 2011 and 2012 the number of households in the Brunswick site that had an active NBN connection rose from 20% to 36%. Early adopters of the NBN were much more likely to be home‐owners (63%) rather than renters, and households with children (59%) rather than couples, shared or single households.

The initial low‐rate rate of take‐up was influenced by households’ lack of awareness of the NBN and its availability, having to deal with an unfamiliar broadband technology and opt‐in installation process that was still in an early stage of development, and having to wait for retail service plans to be made available.

NBN decision making NBN households were more likely to be guided by Internet speed in their decision‐making about service plans (29% compared to 10% of non‐NBN connected homes), whereas non‐NBN connected households emphasised the importance of price (24%, compared to 9% of NBN‐connected households).

For non‐NBN connected households, the value proposition of their current Internet service was based on perceived cost, satisfaction with ADSL/cable performance, or satisfaction with their current bundled plan.

This research shows that households have a good understanding and are aware of their monthly ISP data allowance (72% know their data amount), but are much less knowledgeable about the data speed possible or advertised as part of their service plan (68% unsure of Internet speed).

NBN users tend to be more knowledgeable about quantifiable measures (49% knew their advertised data speed, compared with only 23% of non‐NBN connected households). It appears that consumer knowledge about Internet plans remains dominated by past retail pricing options and measures based on volume rather than speed.

By far the majority (82%) of surveyed households agreed that the NBN is a good idea, because of its speed and its data capacity. People also believe the NBN is of national value and can help to play an important role in building the productivity and competitiveness of the national economy, and in providing for universal digital inclusion.

The NBN is also contributing to ongoing shifts in household device accumulation and Internet access, which is moving from singular, wired and fixed to multiple, wireless and mobile. When asked whether the type of Internet connection had affected the number of household devices that connect to the Internet, 30% of households that had taken up plans on the NBN reported that it had either increased somewhat or a lot, compared to 20% of other homes.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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