The NBN: Not for everyone… literally.

Living atop a mountain in the Illawarra brings many issues. The price in petrol to reach the top, the lousy mobile phone reception. But one of the biggest issues is the internet access. Internet access in my household is more of a privilege than a right, which is odd considering we live so close to the University.

MAP: The NBN in the Illawarra. The orange pointer marks my household.

MAP: The NBN in the Illawarra. The orange pointer marks my household.

The history of our household’s internet plans have been absolutely abhorrent. We are constantly switching between companies and plans and modems, hoping for a chance to find the Atlantis of internet connection. We are also always a target for telemarketers. It’s gotten to the point where everyone in my house refuses to answer the house phone just in case its another one, trying to up-sell us to the “New super-fantastic plan with extra speed and more download for only $$$, exclusive to you for being loyal customers”. With the implementation of the NBN, we all had hope for something better.

The picture to the left illustrates the access to the NBN in our area. The green areas outline where the NBN is planned to be built soon, whereas the areas in maroon depict where the NBN is currently available. As you can see, my household (under the orange marker) lies right in the middle between the developed areas. What is even more excruciating is that there are no plans for the NBN to be built in my area any time soon. So, for me, the difference between having ultra-fast internet speeds and waiting five minutes for just a 2 minute Youtube video to buffer is approximately 2 kilometres.

But even if we had access to the NBN, my family struggled to justify what we could achieve with the unfathomable internet speed. I talked to my mum again, who had previously lent her past experiences of early TV viewing here. I asked her what she could achieve if we did have access to the NBN.  Her response, as she was hopelessly trying to load up prices for holidays in Hawaii, was the exact same response as everyone else in my house: 

 “I could load things faster, couldn’t I?” – Mum, 50.

Guiltily, I myself had the same response.

I also talked to my friend, Zhangrui (better known as Ray), a Chinese university student currently living with us. Ray, prior to moving to Australia, lived in Shanghai, China. In Shanghai, Ray had access to optic-fibre internet (similar to the Labour government’s proposed NBN plan). He describes our current Australian internet as “absolutely terrible and frustrating”. 

So, what could I possibly do with the NBN? and what are the underlying benefits, if at all?

I decided to research how revolutionary the NBN is, or was, meant to be. I first found this website, http://howfastisthenbn.com.au, which was originally created to compare the Labour Party’s NBN and the Liberal National Party’s NBN (Brotchie 2013). The site, which is apparently unaffiliated with any political party, adequately illustrates the speed of the NBN – but struggles to find any purpose that isn’t recreational. The first example depicts the speed in uploading photos to Facebook, the second illustrates how fast we can download an episode of Game of Thrones (Brotchie 2013). It isn’t until to the last example do we see a non-recreational use for fast internet speed, which is upload documents to Drop Box (Brotchie 2013).

So other than uploading/downloading data faster, my family members still weren’t sure how an expensive program such as the NBN could be so revolutionary. I decided to do a little search online and found this article by Deloitte, a professional services company. This article addresses the benefits of the NBN that was planned under the previous Labor government late last year. In addition to households apparently saving $3800 annually as of 2020 (Ross 2013), the article proposes several innovations that will, apparently, revolutionise Australian households (Deloitte 2013, p. 5).

deloitte

FIGURE: Several scenarios outlining the benefits of the National Broadband Network. (SOURCE: Deloitte 2013, p. 6)

As depicted in the figure to the left, these innovations include:

  • Advanced medical treatment;
  • Online education;
  • Video conferencing;
  • And Teleworking.

These innovations are worthy of being labelled revolutionary, however, are only useful if you have access to the NBN. As Turner states, the original NBN rollout was planned to cover “3.5 million homes… covering one third of the country’s population” (2013). Now, under the current Liberal government, approximately two-thirds of this region’s construction has now been revoked.

Furthermore, according to ABS, from 2012-13 only 83% of Australians were internet users (2014). This may seem like a large amount, but that leaves 17% of the population without access to the internet. These people are usually living in remote areas outside of the metropolitan regions. Furthermore, the study found that more than half of Australia’s elderly are not internet users (ABS 2014). Of the portion that would most likely take advantage of the advanced medical treatment capable by the NBN, most wouldn’t have a clue it exists.

So what does this mean for those not living in metropolitan cities on the coastline, or even those living just 2 kilometre from where the NBN is accessible?

Considering that all capital cities and some surrounding areas have the National Broadband Network, to the outer areas who still have a basic internet connection, to those in remote areas without any access at all; is this not inciting a technological-class warfare where those with access have a clear advantage to basic human needs such as medical, education and work? And are those without access to the NBN now considered technologically-impoverished?

The NBN is a program that could provide Australia the leading edge to compete technologically with the remainder of the developed world, but its current implementation would only allow a privileged few that honour. 

SOURCES:

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014, Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2012-13, cat. no. 8146.0, ABS, Canberra.

Brotchie J 2013, How Fast is the NBN?, viewed 23 August 2014, <http://howfastisthenbn.com.au/#&gt;.

Deloitte 2013, Benefits of High-Speed Broadband for Australian Households, viewed 20 August 2014,<http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-Australia/Local%20Assets/Documents/Services/Corporate%20Finance/Access%20Economics/Deloitte_Benefits_of_High_Speed_Broadband_2013.pdf&gt;.

Ross M 2013, ‘Households will be $3,800 richer by 2020 thanks to speedy broadband like NBN: report’, ABC News, 4 September 2013, viewed on 24 August 2014, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-04/report-shows-households-will-be-3800-better-off-under-nbn/4932976&gt;.

Taylor J 2014, ‘Revealed: NBN Co scales back fibre rollout’, ZDnet, 14 April 2014, viewed on 24 August 2014, <http://www.zdnet.com/au/revealed-nbn-co-scales-back-fibre-rollout-7000028381/&gt;.

Turner A 2013, ‘NBN Co rewrites rollout map – will you miss out on fibre?’, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 October 2013, viewed on 25 August 2014,<http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/computers/blog/gadgets-on-the-go/nbn-co-rewrites-rollout-map–will-you-miss-out-on-fibre-20131031-2wfcr.html&gt;.

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