If you’ve ever been gaslit by someone you know it’s a pretty awful experience, being made to think that it’s you that’s crazy, and not some other external explanation for what’s going on. Well, that’s exactly what the NBN would have you believe this last week, coming out and saying no, Australia’s broadband speeds aren’t slow, you’re just measuring them wrong.
How so? Well, NBN Co chief executive Stephen Rue argued that Australia’s poor standings in world speed test rankings wasn’t because our broadband speeds are generally slower, but because the measurements aren’t done in a representative way.
A variety of fixed broadband speed test results show that Australia’s ranking isn’t high, and it’s slipping. Tests from firms such as Ookla, M-Lab and Akamai show how each country fares for broadband, with Australia lagging behind.
According to the latest Ookla report for September, Australia ranks at 61 in the world for fixed broadband.
These results are – for obvious reasons – seized upon by those who would point out that the Multi-Technology-Mix policy of the coalition government has been an abject failure, but the NBN Co will have none of it.
NBN Co commissioned a research firm to analyse the data behind speed tests internationally, and to come up with a ranking methodology that allowed a more like-for-like comparison with other countries. This report was launched at last week’s Broadband World Forum in the Netherlands.
Broadly, the difference between all other reporting bodies and NBN’s research is that companies such as Ookla and M-Lab rely on users actually submitting speed tests. In other words, users are self selecting and may not be representative of the actual speeds available in the real world.
It’s easy to see how such a thing could skew results – if you know you’ve got a reliable 100 / 40 Mbps connection, you might be less inclined to speed test as regularly as someone who’s trying to diagnose issues with a crappy FTTN connection that never gets up to speed.
With this in mind, and using more representative data, NBN Co’s report contends that Australia’s ranking is closer to 17 out of 37 countries. Australia would still fall behind Singapore, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and the US … but this really isn’t surprising. Fixed broadband in those countries is significantly faster than it is in Australia, and no fudging the numbers will change that.
Speaking of that fudging, it involves measuring contracted speed rather than speed actually delivered, so FTTN connections will skew those results a lot. Those results are also weighted against availability of broadband – which pegs down the countries where broadband isn’t so widely available.
What’s all this mean? Well, Australia’s broadband speeds are – on average – well short of where they should be and, if you take a particular view on the NBN MTM policy, well short of where we would’ve been had the government not decided to use a mixture of copper, crappy technology and just a little bit of nice fibre.