I dream of a time when mainstream reporting of the National Broadband Network (NBN) is based on the plentiful facts and documents already published and rational analysis thereof, not the re-bleating of shrill spin from politicians and ideologues.

Today is not that time. Over the past few days we’ve seen coverage of the retail pricing announced by Adelaide-based internet service provider (ISP) Internode and hinted at by budget telco Dodo. The most charitable thing you can say about the bulk of it is that it’s ignorant — though some seems deliberately misleading.

NBN-based packages are outrageously expensive, goes the narrative, and we’ve been hoodwinked into believing they’d be cheap. This narrative is rubbish.

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“NBN costs higher than promised,” said 2UE. “The NBN will cost a motza to get on board.”

“NBN retail price shock: up to $189.95/month,” was Fairfax’s original headline, but it later toned it down to “NBN retail prices revealed”.

“Households will pay at least $60 — and up to $190 — a month for their internet service,” said The Australian.

Really? Let’s compare.

Internode’s pricing starts with its Bronze package. 12Mbps download speed, 1Mbps up. 30GB/month quota for data transfers. A Voice over IP (VoIP) phone service with $10 of call credits. Price $59.95.

Compare this with its Easy Bundle 30 package. The speed of ADSL2+ varies with distance from the exchange and line quality, but let’s call it 10Mbs down and 1Mbps up. 30GB/month quota for data transfers. An analogue fixed-line telephone with zero included calls. Price $59.95.

Same price, similar phone service, same quota, similar speeds — except that with fibre the speed is achievable for every single customer, not just those right next to the exchange.

The biggest data transfer quota in the Bronze package is a terabyte (1000Mb) per month, which ups the price to $149.95. The ADSL2+ equivalent would be the Easy Broadband 1000 bundle plus the NodeLine Home Value phone service. Total price $149.90. Again, effectively the same price for the same or better service.

The most expensive is the Platinum package. 100Mbps down, 40Mbps up. 1000GB/month quota. VoIP phone with $10 of calls. Price $189.95.

This speed isn’t possible with current ADSL2+ services. Internode does run fibre in new residential estates, though, and its existing packages top out at 100Mbps/8Mbps with 200GB quota for $159.95. An extra $30 for an extra 800GB quota and a VoIP phone is a bargain.

Let me repeat the message. When comparing Internode with Internode — like with like — the NBN packages offer at least equivalent services for the same price. And Internode is just one ISP, one that isn’t at the cheap end of the market.

I cannot over-stress the vast quality difference between copper-based ADSL2+ and fibre to the home.

Last week I stayed in Lilyfield in Sydney’s inner west, less than four kilometres from the Petersham exchange. The ADSL2+ connection there, with another provider, was substantially slower. We tested it this morning. The modem claimed 6.5Mbps down and 1MBps up, but Speedtest.net reported just 4.94Mbps down and 0.76Mbps up. Entry-level fibre would more than double the download speed.

A vast number of Australians simply cannot get the full speed of ADSL2+. For a graphic representation, check these heat maps.

Every one of those yellow, green and purple dots represents someone whose internet experience would be vastly improved by fibre. Many of the orange ones too. Scroll out to those outer suburbs and behold our dilapidated telecommunications infrastructure!

Unfortunately for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, the rubbish media narrative is an easy sell. Stereotypical battler voters who reckon the NBN or, indeed, any broadband improvement is a waste of money are unlikely to understand the details. You can be sure the opposition will encourage them to compare pomegranates with potatoes, Taragos with Trabants.

The question that media outlets need to ask themselves is whether they’re in the business of informing consumers about their choices, or wilfully creating stress and confusion as part of the ping-pong show of politics. Oh wait.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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