Whine like an old modem but don’t expect faster internet

With all the conflicting reports about NBN in the media at the moment, you could burn up half your download allowance scouring the internet for the best option for your apartment block.

The Four Corners investigation on the ABC this week was pretty dismal viewing, with the news that Dunedin in New Zealand has 10 times the broadband speed of even the best connection in Australia.

And then there was a newspaper report that “shadow” broadband operators in Queensland are paying kickbacks to building managers and developers to sign up services that basically lock NBN out of new buildings.

Add that to the alphabet soup of initials and acronyms and your average apartment block chairperson could be forgiven for throwing up their hands and reminiscing about the good old days of the whine-whistle-beep of dial-up connections.

To deal with the Queensland internet cowboys first, should we be worried about shady deals and dodgy contracts in new buildings that force owners to accept an inferior service (while the developer and building manager get a nice kickback)?

The answer is, no – or, at least, not if you pay attention.  The law in NSW, Victoria and other states says that all contracts arranged by the developer need to be approved by the owners at the first AGM.  No approval, no contract.

So, if you get to your new apartment block’s first AGM and find there’s a contract with Bonza Bill’s Backdoor Broadband on the table, just say no.

Queensland is different in so many ways that favour developers and building managers over owners and residents, but even there they may eventually have to kow-tow to federal communication laws.

One of the reasons that the NBN roll-out is struggling financially was the decision to put it first where the need was more obvious – out in the sticks – rather than where the demand was greatest and more people could be connected sooner, in inner-city high-rises.

And the roll-out seems to actively seek every possible hurdle, with pedantic adherence to policy often prevailing over pragmatism.

Why else would buildings that have perfectly serviceable cable systems have been forced to accept slower and less reliable copper wire connections?

Back to that alphabet soup, in your building you want fibre to the premises (FTTP) or, at a pinch, fibre to the basement (FTTB).  These are the fastest services because they have less copper wire involved.

Fibre to the node (FTTN) means the copper wire starts on your street corner and FTTC, the slightly better fibre to the curb (or kerb, in old money) takes the cable closer to your front door.

However, one reason we don’t get faster services isn’t the infrastructure – it’s because the service providers won’t pay the high costs of more capacity that would allow faster speeds.

Why not?  Because it seems most people are happy with slower, less expensive packages.  The rest of us can whine, whistle and beep like an old modem, but we won’t be getting Dunedin-fast connections any time soon.

This column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review

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