The Backstory

According to the Ookla June 2021 global speeds data, Australia currently sits at 57th in the world with a fixed broadband speed of 79.73 mbps (Ookla). Yet Australia also sits at 15th in the world with an average GDP per capita of $51,743 per person (OECD). In order to discover why Australian internet speeds are as slow as they are relative to their GDP per capita amongst OECD countries, we first must travel back in time to 2007. This was the year Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd pledged to deliver a fiber-optic internet connection to each and every home across Australia. Termed the National Broadband Network (NBN), Rudd and his Labor party were unsurprisingly handed the reins by the Australian people. Yet the rollout and public perception of the project wasn’t up to par. After all, “1.7 million premises were forecast to have been passed by the end of the 2013 financial year, instead only 484,000 were – 28 percent of the original target” (Wallbank). The opposition party, headed by Tony Abbott, seized the opportunity to counter with what they felt was a superior solution. He swiftly countered with a different proposal: scrap the high-tech fiber installation plan and instead use the copper phone cables already in place. So, in

2013, the Labor government was removed from power and the NBN transformed its plan into an amalgamation called the “Multi-Technology-Mix” (MTM), which meant 71% of Australians would not be upgraded to fiber-optic technology (Ryan).

Why This Matters

There is an argument to be made that decreased internet speeds in today’s technologically advanced age are more than a mere annoyance. Some might say that they actively hamper productivity. This state of affairs has led to an upsurge of demand for faster fixed broadband speeds. And Australians are not without the desire and know-how required to meet this growing demand. In May 2020, an Australian team managed to break the world record internet speed, producing 44.2 terabits per second from a single optical chip (Peckham). To put that into perspective, that’s 5,525,000 megabytes per second, over 69,000 times faster than the Australian Ookla average earlier referenced! This project utilized existing fibers already placed in the ground for the NBN project. Researchers speculate whether such technology could be scalable and if so, the implications of that are enormous. These discoveries continue to underlie the importance of the Australian government investing in fiber-optic technology instead of inferior copper wiring tied to physical nodes. Given the smart decision making employed in contending with the COVID-19 pandemic, the likelihood seems high that improvement is on the horizon.

Credits

Author: Liam Householder

 

Works Cited

OECD. “GDP and Spending – Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – OECD Data.”, http://data.oecd.org/gdp/gross-domestic-product-gdp.htm.

Ookla. “Speedtest Global Index – Internet Speed Around the World.”, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index.

Peckham, Oliver. “Australian Researchers Break all-Time Internet Speed Record.”, May 26, 2020, https://www.hpcwire.com/2020/05/26/australian-researchers-break-all-time-internet-speed-record/.

Ryan, Jackson. “Why Australia’s Internet has Turned into a Literal Car Crash.”, Aug 31, 2018, https://www.cnet.com/news/kellyville-green-box-represents-everything-wrong-with-australia-internet-speeds-nbn/.

Wallbank, Paul. “What Went Wrong for Labor’s NBN.”, Sept. 11, 2013, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/business-spectator/what-went-wrong-for-labors-nbn/news-story/f0d9996d8d4ab70107deefce3003ed28.