The Digital Divide Grows Thanks to NBN Myopia

With the rollout of the NBN Satellite service underway it is perhaps unsurprising that the cracks in the system are starting to show, at least to  those of us who have not been blindsided by the spin provided by governments of both persuasions.

The satellite service is already not living up to its promise, with plenty of chat on social media about the slowness and the flakiness of the service.  This was all easy to predict as I've previously discussed, but what is of more concern is the use of "price signals" to manage the abysmal planning failures.

Currently if you want more than 75GB in a month, then you have to look at options other than satellite.  Sure, you can get generous "off peak" allowances, but since when is the 6 hours between 1am and 7am a viable time for utilising that extra data?  Are kids expected to do their homework in that timeslot?  Are businesses expected to do their admin, that is increasingly internet-based, during that time?  So, for around $115 or so you can get 50 usable GB (i.e. in a time that you are likely to be able to utilise it) on a satellite plan. Heaps, right?  Not according to ABS.  In December 2015, roughly 13 million subscribers downloaded over 1.7 exabytes, or an average of around 140GB per subscriber per month.

Looking at those figures will also reveal that data downloads have been doubling on a per-subscriber basis every 18 months or so.  This is as a result of the increase in rich media, social media, collaboration tools and simply the fact that as more people are on the internet, they are engaging more with others. Business is carried out over the internet more. Shopping over the internet is on an upward spiral. Interacting with government is increasingly via the internet. Schooling is making increasing use of internet. Even the "self-serve" support which used to be text-based tutorials is moving more and more towards video.  All of these factors mean that the 75GB limit is a joke, and forcing people to pay more for it is criminal.

Speaking of criminal, what about the alternatives?  Mobile broadband?  Remember the 1000GB per month I mentioned?  If you want to get that on any mobile broadband plan you are looking at close to $10,000 per month rather than the $50 or so you'd be asked for on a real service.  Yet many of us outside the major population centres have no choice but mobile broadband.  The satellite isn't going to get to many areas until 2020, and even when it does we already have evidence it won't cut it.

City users are getting the benefits of the doubling of data, with their per-GB pricing dropping drastically to mere cents.  Compare that with the over $3 per GB on the higher satellite plans or the $10 per GB on a mobile broadband plans and you can see that the digital divide is still with us, and widening.  The NBN, and certainly the government inteference, have exacerbated this situation by having this bizzare idea that people in regional, rural and remote Australia somehow are not going to use the internet as much as their city cousins.  With the competition in the agricultural sector there has seen a massive increase in the use of technology to reduce costs and improve efficiency.  Yet without decent internet this technology is never going to reach its true potential.

Clever country? Fat chance.


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