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Turnbull waters down broadband black spot fix promise

Now aims to 'prioritise areas of greatest need where logistically and commercially feasible'

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Pre-election promises to prioritise broadband black spots appear to have gone onto the back burner after the release of the Broadband Availability and Quality Report (BAQR) (PDF) by Australia's Federal Department of Communications.

The report was commissioned by Minister Malcolm Turnbull as one of several studies into the disposition of Australia's broadband networks, the better to assist with new planning for the National Broadband Network (NBN). Turnbull campaigned with a plan to address “broadband blackspots” quickly, as doing so would make a difference in affected communities.

Turnbull criticised failure to address black spots as early as 2011, in this document.

Black spots were addressed in the Strategic Review of the NBN, which on page 95 considers construction scenario 6 and “Following the completion of the Government’s review of under-served areas, NBN Co will consider further the impact of prioritising these areas in the rollout.”

Page 6 of the new document seems to pre-empt NBN Co decision-making by saying “... the analysis has found that there are areas of inadequate access to infrastructure across the country, including areas distributed as small pockets of poor service in metropolitan and outer metropolitan areas. It will be difficult for NBN Co to deploy in these areas but the objective is to prioritise the areas of greatest need where this is logistically and commercially feasible.”

While noting the Strategic Review's allocation of funds to address black spots, the new Report also says “It assumed prioritisation will take into account reasonable operational efficiency considerations, such as needing to rollout in contiguous work fronts and dealing with an area as a whole.”

That sounds an awful lot like an admission that black spots that will cost a lot of money to fix will slip down the priority list, hardly the promised outcome.

Elsewhere in the report

The report otherwise contains few surprises, with the headline finding for the availalbility of broadband as follows:

  • Approximately 3.1 million premises (28 per cent) have access to peak download speeds of between 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and 110 Mbps.
  • Approximately 7.1 million premises (65 per cent) are in areas that have access to peak median download speeds of less than 24 Mbps over the copper network.
  • About 0.7 million premises (6 per cent) are unable to access a fixed broadband service.
  • Of premises with access to ADSL broadband services over copper, about 3.7 million are located in areas with an estimated peak median download speed of less than 9 Mbps, and 920,000 in areas with an estimated peak median download speed of less than 4.8 Mbps.

The report has the following to say on broadband quality in Australia:

  • Approximately 3.1 million premises (28 per cent) have access to peak download speeds of between 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and 110 Mbps.
  • Approximately 7.1 million premises (65 per cent) are in areas that have access to peak median download speeds of less than 24 Mbps over the copper network.
  • About 0.7 million premises (6 per cent) are unable to access a fixed broadband service.
  • Of premises with access to ADSL broadband services over copper, about 3.7 million are located in areas with an estimated peak median download speed of less than 9 Mbps, and 920,000 in areas with an estimated peak median download speed of less than 4.8 Mbps.

The report's 27th page offers the map below, which shows just how concentrated quality broadband connections are in Australia.

The BAQR's data on under-served delivers data-a-plenty to support that plan, as illustrated by the map below from the report (p 27) illustrating quality of broadband services around Australia.

Fixed broadband quality by service area

Fixed broadband quality by service area around Australia. Click here for a big version of the map

The legend for the map is as follows:

  • A Highest quality rating: Typically premises in this group have very good access to high quality services available by FTTP or HFC or FTTN networks. ADSL services are generally available.
  • B Typically premises in this group have good access to high quality services available by FTTP or HFC or FTTN networks. A small proportion of premises may only have access to ADSL services.
  • C Typically a larger proportion of premises are likely to have access to ADSL services, while remaining premises may also have access to high quality services available by FTTP or HFC or FTTN networks. A small proportion of premises may have access to fixed wireless networks.
  • D Typically the majority of premises in this group are likely to have access to ADSL services only, while some of the remaining premises will also have access to high quality services available by FTTP or HFC or FTTN networks. A small proportion of premises may have access to fixed wireless networks.
  • E Lowest quality rating: Typically premises will only have access to ADSL services. This rating also includes regions that have no access to any form of fixed broadband service. A small proportion of premises may have access to fixed wireless networks.

On our reading, the report therefore demonstrates neatly that lots of parts of Australia suffer with slow broadband, but hedges on delivering it where it is not convenient or cheap to do so. Thus we are governed.

It's also now possible to figure out if you live in a blackspot, thanks to a new MyBroadband web site that reports on broadband availability and quality around Australia. The site's data sources form the basis for the new report. ®

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