The OECD’s latest broadband report confirms what we already know: Australia ain’t exactly the leader of the pack.

In broadband penetration (December 2008 data) we’re in the middle, just below the US, at around 25 subscribers per 100 inhabitants. The OECD average is 22.5. The leading seven nations, in order Denmark, Netherlands, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Korea and Sweden, are all above 30.

The average monthly subscription price (October 2008 data) is US$56.21, well above the OECD average of $43.13. Sweden is the cheapest, a rather affordable $29.22.

For countries with data caps — and only 36% of advertised plans have an explicit data cap — the OECD average price is just US$0.02 per additional megabyte.

The 160Mb/s cable available now in parts of Japan is particularly drool worthy.

Yes, Australia’s broadband infrastructure is well behind our peers’ and we need to catch up. Whether that’s with Rudd’s $43 billion Wündernetzwerk, which now isn’t due to get out of planning phase until the first half 2010, or something else I don’t care but WILL SOMEBODY F-CKING WELL START BUILDING SOMETHING?

Sorry.

It’s just that we seem to have endless announcements of plans but nothing actually being built. Just like Sydney’s CityRail. But I digress.

Can the OECD numbers be trusted?

Analyst Richard Chirgwin, presenter of the podcast A Series of Tubes on which (disclosure time) I’m often heard, says the OECD figures are based on advertised subscription prices, a meaningless measure that fails to account for the distribution of users across different plans.

Chirgwin reckons the figure we should really be looking at is ARPU: average revenue per user). For Telstra, the largest ISP, that works out at $34.50 per month — more than US$20 below the “average” subscription price.

“We constantly encourage politicians to seek ‘OECD position’ in broadband policy, which is just nonsense. Moreover, since it’s so easy to play ‘spot the bollocks’ in the broadband data, why would I give any better credence to the OECD’s education, health, taxation, or any other of its pronouncements?” he said.

Meanwhile, NBN naysayers who claim Australia won’t have the international bandwidth to deliver all that extra data forget one key fact: new infrastructure is being laid all the time.

On Wednesday, the $200 million PPC-1 cable landed at Collaroy in Sydney from Guam. Midnight Update’s video report says it adds 1.792 Terabits per second of new capacity to an existing total of around 4Tb/s.

It’s our first telco-neutral submarine cable for broadband. Previous ones have been owned by Tier-1 telcos like Telstra and Optus. Yes, it’ll increase overseas capacity by 50%, but its builders claim it’s more about competition.

Roll on the price drops. Soon. Please.

Peter Fray

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