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Friday, 19 January 2018 10:12

NBN speeds: Mitch Fifield lives in another universe

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The old argument over what came first — the chicken or the egg — has been regurgitated in a somewhat different way by Communications Minister Mitch Fifield. Only his arguments revolve around speed and the cost of NBN subscriptions.

But then perhaps Fifield had to write something on these lines after it emerged recently that 75% of Australians who end up with fibre-to-the-node connections will not be able to attain speeds of 100/40Mbps, the highest available at the moment on the NBN.

And so he went to Fairfax Media who gave him a platform to voice his views.

The minister argues that if Australians were given a choice between the fastest speeds available and the most affordable broadband, they would choose the latter.

He forgets that it is the duty of the government to provide fast speeds at affordable prices. If 100/40Mbps plans were available for $40, everyone would swallow them up. When they cost almost double that amount, well, most people have to think twice.

The reason they have to think twice is again tied to government policies: wage rises have more or less disappeared so asking Joe Blow to fork out $100 for a fast broadband package is not really a reasonable request.

Again, in this argument, Fifield appears to assume that if you take out a 25Mbps plan, you will get the full bandwidth at all times. Minister, there is no guarantee that you will get even 1Mbps when you attempt to stream something.

My 100/40Mbps often registers less than a single megabit downstream when I attempt to watch a film on the weekend. Of course, I could improve things by getting a wired connection to my laptop in the lounge. But then the question of cost comes in – plus who wants to have blue cables lying all over the place? And, most important, who is going to pay for all that wiring to be done?

Here's a typical Fifield argument: "So what is the practical difference between streaming five high-definition TV shows at once, compared to streaming 20? That is the theoretical difference between 25Mbps and 100Mbps."

The fact is you can't assume that all the bandwidth on a plan is ever going to be available. Does Fifield himself have an NBN connection at home? One wonders.

In the three months that I have had my NBN connection, the best I have seen (and I measure the speed every now and then) is 94Mbps on a weekday at a time when few people would have been awake. Certainly not at a time when I would have wanted to sit back and watch a film.

Fifield fails to realise that supplying broadband to the public is not something that can only be done for a majority; it is not enough if two-thirds or even four-fifths get speeds that serve their needs. Everyone is entitled to such speeds.

And when the minister says, "There is more than enough capacity available on the NBN to give everyone a fast service," he is dissembling. That is simply not true.

As iTWire  reported this morning many Australian residents - about 6% of the population - will not even be able to get 25Mbps downstream!

Fifield and the government of which he is part should wake up to a couple of facts.

One, a broadband rollout is not something like changing one's clothes. It cannot be done on a daily basis.

And, two, broadband is no longer something exotic, something meant for a certain class of people. It is an utility, like water, electricity and gas.

Just cut one of those big pipes that supplies us data for a day, minister, and see how things go. That, perhaps, will bring Fifield to his senses.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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