02.Is fast broadband just boosterism?
CHOICE is concerned that this rush to see who can build the fastest new high speed broadband network may lead to decisions which are not in the long term interests of consumers.
Competition in telecommunications has delivered significant benefits to consumers over the past decade. We feared that in their haste to appear to have the instant answer on broadband, both government and opposition would sell out consumers’ long term interests by caving into industry pressure to reduce the role of the ACCC in protecting competition. We're pleased that the NBN announcement appears to avoid this pitfall.
The short term demand for faster broadband has been misrepresented by the telecommunications industry, media interests and some commentators. While greater speeds will no doubt be needed in the future, ADSL2/2+ provides adequate speeds for current general consumer uses. Indeed, Choice Computer's ISP Satisfaction Survey found that ADSL2/2+ users were more likely to be very satisfied with their connection speed. Many metropolitan areas have only recently been upgraded to fast ADSL2/2+ broadband and plenty more suburbs and towns are still waiting. Indeed, most consumers with access to broadband do not elect to pay for the fastest, more expensive plans.
The issue with data speeds is not that we urgently need faster-than-ADSL2/2+ broadband speeds but instead that many households do not have access to competitive ADSL2/2+ services. Urgent demands for broadband would be better served by improved consumer access to competitive plans from multiple providers, using technology (such as ADSL2/2+) that optimises the current network infrastructure.
Furthermore, the first round of broadband upgrades may not actually deliver much benefit. Information currently available about the broadband proposals suggests consumers will not initially get significantly higher speeds than the maximum speeds of ADSL2+ broadband already available to consumers in many metropolitan areas. Under at least one previously proposed broadband plan, consumers will pay more for significantly lower speeds.
Planning our broadband future should not be rushed. With such critical and expensive infrastructure, any bad policy decisions made now could have consequences for Australians two decades from now.
What we want
The National Broadband Network: Regulatory Reform for 21st Century Broadband discussion paper outlines various options that the Government is considering to reform the telecommunications regulatory framework.
In whatever arrangements that are adopted by government to support or enable the National Broadband Network, consumers must be guaranteed:
- competitive access to fairly priced broadband in the short and long term;
- they will not pay more for services that do not fit their needs;
- both technology and regulation that is future-proof;
- genuine public consultation at all stages in the decision making.