Op-Ed: Success of NBN is picking up speed

How can we know if the massive investment in the national broadband network has been a success?

Labor promised the NBN in the 2007 election - but they never seemed to know what success was, or how to achieve it.

By the time Labor left government in 2013, they had spent over $6 billion on the NBN - but just 51,000 homes were connected to the NBN fixed-line network.

In fact it was costing on average $72,000 per household to connect the NBN. At that rate, to finish the whole project was going to cost over half a trillion dollars!

Our Liberal National Government knew we had to do three things: get as many people as possible using the NBN; give Australians much faster broadband; and give Australians much cheaper broadband.

Six-and-a-half years later, we are on track with all three goals.

Let's start with how many people are using the NBN. Some 6.6 million premises (houses and businesses) are now connected - that's 132 times as many as when Labor left government.

In a typical week, between 30,000 and 40,000 additional premises are connecting to the NBN.

In total, nearly 11 million premises are now able to connect. That number increases every week. When the rollout completes this year, 11.5 million premises will be able to connect.

Now consider the broadband speeds that Australians get.

Ten years ago, most Australians got their broadband over a technology called ADSL - and two-thirds of ADSL services delivered speeds of 8 megabits per second (Mbps) or less.

On the most recent numbers, two thirds of NBN customers are on a 50 Mbps plan or higher - so we have gone from most people getting 8 Mbps or less to most people getting 50 Mbps or more.

Just two years ago, less than a fifth of customers took a 50 Mbps or higher plan. Since that time, the share taking these higher speed plans has more than quadrupled.

50 Mbps plans used to be a niche service; two years ago NBN had only 159,000 such services on its network.

Now they are mainstream: the number of 50 Mbps plans now stands at 3.7 million.

These figures are contained in a recent report from the ACCC, the Wholesale Market Indicators report. The same report shows that over that two-year period, the number of residential customers on the NBN has nearly doubled, from 3.5 million to 6.6 million.

We also know that NBN customers are using huge amounts of data - 293 gigabytes (GB) per customer per month on average.

Just eight years ago, that figure stood at 27 GB.

The explosion in data use reflects the huge growth in video streaming - services such as Netflix, Stan and YouTube. A few years ago many Australians did not have enough bandwidth to get video streaming services over the internet; today, thanks to the NBN, almost everyone does.

Another big reason we are downloading so much: more and more of us are on plans with no monthly download limit.

Fifty-seven per cent of plans today do not have a download limit, up from just six per cent in 2014-15.

More people getting faster speeds and using much more data each month is a pretty good story for consumers.

But the best thing about it?

Broadband is not only much faster than a few years ago - it is also much cheaper.

Adjusting for inflation, the price of a 50 Mbps plan over the NBN is down by 38 per cent since 2014-15.

In 2013, after six years of Labor, the NBN was a mess. But our Liberal National Government has turned things around - and broadband users are getting the benefits.

Paul Fletcher is Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts in the Morrison Government.

Originally published in The West Australian, Wednesday 11th March 2020