Most Australians would be familiar with the NBN by now. It’s a rollout process that’s been affecting consumer internet connections since the federal government announced its new Broadband policy in 2013.
That announcement actually happened eight years ago today, on April 9. In light of that, let’s take a look at the current state of the NBN in Australia.
The new NBN policy
Back in 2013, the federal Coalition government laid out its plans for a new Broadband policy. This new policy changed a number of things from the Labor government’s initial plan for the National Broadband Network, which promised optic-fibre connections for households across Australia.
Instead, the Abbott government announced a fibre-to-the-node rollout which it said would be quicker to implement, give faster speeds and be cost-effective.
The full Broadband strategy can be found here but let’s see how those expectations stack up to the realities in 2021.
The NBN reality
In its strategy, the Coalition claimed its NBN would require funding of $29.5 billion but this figure actually turned out to be closer to $51 billion. Plus, a review of the figures from an internal inquiry, reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, actually found that a full FTTP rollout might’ve saved $10 billion.
When it comes to speed, the government predicted in the 2013 plan that the most adopted speed would be a 12 Mbps plan. However, ACCC data from December shows that this is actually the least adopted plan, and an NBN Co spokesperson told Gizmodo Australia that more than 70% of customers have taken up internet plans with download speeds of 50 Mbps or more. This exceeds the expectations of a 12 Mbps achievement.
That being said, while the NBN rollout has connected millions of homes to faster internet, itNews reported that at least 2% of homes are still unable to connect to the now minimum 25 Mbps peak download speeds.
In terms of the rollout period, most Australians would be aware of the many years it’s taken for the NBN to be installed. The initial strategy planned for the NBN to be complete in 2016, with speeds of 25-100 Mbps available, with the construction period continuing to 2019.
It was late in December 2020 that the Minister for Communications, Paul Fletcher, finally announced the NBN to be “fully built and operational”. This announcement was made despite not all households having access to the NBN yet.
Years later than the promised rollout, NBN Co acknowledged the small number of premises yet to be made ready to connect and said “connecting these premises is a high priority.”
The path to full-fibre internet
Many things have changed since 2013 when this initial strategy was announced by the federal government, which may be why we’re now actually looking at a full-fibre internet rollout once again.
In September, the government announced this will come in the form of a $3 billion upgrade with planned completion by 2023.
Despite scrapping the initial FTTP plan, the federal government stands by its strategy that rolling out the NBN as quickly as possible was the right course of action.
Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher said of the new fibre upgrade in September:
“From the outset, the plan set out in our 2013 Strategic Review was to get the network rolled out as quickly as possible – and then deliver upgrades when there was demand for them. We’ve steadily delivered on our plan for seven years; the further investment announced today is exactly what our plan envisaged.
“This is the right time for this network upgrade. There is a long term trend of broadband demand growth – with a very significant spike this year as COVID-19 has changed the way we use the internet.”
Minister Fletcher said in an address that this established baseline of the completed NBN now allows for a fibre upgrade to take place.
“We are now in a position to build on the existing network architecture and drive fibre deeper and closer to homes and businesses,” he said.
Additionally, an NBN Co spokesperson said the NBN is now entering its operational phase:
“As NBN Co transitions from the build to its operational phase, it is working to maximise the public benefit of the capital invested in the network by continuing to develop and enhance products and services that lift the digital capability of the nation. This third phase involves operating, maintaining and continuing to expand and upgrade the network.”
However, the Labor party seems to fundamentally disagree with the federal government’s NBN rollout, given it had many of these plans on the table prior to 2013. Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland told Gizmodo Australia:
“The Coalition’s technological incompetence is not costless. Australians have lived through eight years of Coalition spin and political mismanagement, and for what? A network that costs considerably more and does less than a full-fibre NBN.”
After eight years of the NBN, it seems Australia is back in the same position it first started — with the promise of full-fibre internet. Whether it will take another eight years is the big question.