Access to adequate Internet services
Created 28 November 2015 | Edited 03 January 2016

Late in 2015, the British government announced that the minimum data speed under its Universal Service Obligation (USO) would rise to 2 megabits per second. Further rises would see the minimum at 10 Mb/s by 2020.

Comically, Australia has no USO for data services. According to our politicians, that was all fixed years ago: "... Australians now have a wide choice of access to alternative digital data services ...". We don't need minimum service standards, they imply.

What does it mean?

Back in the day, if I paid for a 64 kb/s ISDN channel, then I was entitled to 64 kb/s of bandwidth (simultaneous upload and download) whenever I wanted it. Providers didn't like that because they had to keep capacity in reserve to cover the needs of customers. These days, bandwidth is shared among many users. That tends to reduce reserve capacity, though there are still times when the infrastructure is under-utilised. There are also times when it struggles under the load.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs - also known as Retail Service Providers (RSPs)) commonly advertise speeds "up to" a certain level. They don't guarantee a minimum speed, yet that's what the customer needs. If the speed rises too high, then the customer might be surprised - or they might not notice. If it drops too low, then the service can fail.

There's a commercial incentive for the service provider to share the available bandwidth with as many customers as possible. To do that, it sells "up to" more bandwidth than it buys. It's likely that a substantial proportion of customers will not be using most of the bandwidth that they pay for, most of the time, so the retailer can safely sell more than it buys; in theory. The bandwidth sold "up to", relative to the bandwidth bought is known as the "contention ratio". The ideology of the moment relies on market forces to prevent the providers overdoing it. How well that works, I'll leave to your judgement.

If Britain's proposal is for a USO of "up to" 2 Mb/s, then it's pretty meaningless. If it's for a minimum of 2 Mb/s, then it's probably inadequate. As at 1 December 2015, Ookla showed a global average download speed of 16.01 Mb/s; the upload figure was 5.84 Mb/s.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show demand doubling about every two years. Clearly, any minimum speed benchmark must be dynamic. A stationary target would be, in essence, a lie.

Politicians have a bit of an edifice complex; they like to be able to say "We built it, the job is finished". Sadly, that mindset has proved inadequate. Australia's Telecommunications infrastructure is a project with no foreseeable end date; at least, not one that anyone reading this might live to see.

What's our problem?

Australia has many problems with its telecommunications infrastructure. I date the decline to the restructuring of the Australian Telecommunications Commission in the 1980s.


To be continued. Comments and suggestions would be welcome.

Site Index

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Feedback: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it.