news A new study has found that two thirds of Australians support the Federal Government’s National Broadband Network project, with most planning to connect to the network when it’s connected to their premises, as the project continues to experience high levels of popularity on a sustained basis over several years.
The study, entitled The Internet in Australia (and available online in full in PDF format), was published this month by Swinburne University of Technology’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, and examined Australian attitudes to the Internet. It surveyed 1,001 Australians in 2011, with two thirds of that sample located in urban areas and one third in rural areas, including a mix between men and women and age groups ranging from 18 years and all the way up to retirement age. The study was part of a bigger investigation, the World Internet Project, which was initiated by researchers at the University of California.
Among other queries, the study asked those surveyed to respond to the following question: ‘Do you think the development of the National Broadband Network is a good idea?’ According to the report, 35 percent strongly agreed with the proposition, and 32 percent agreed. Some 13 percent sat in the middle with an answer of ‘neither’, while 13 percent disagreed, and 7 percent strongly disagreed.
A similar survey taken in 2009, when the NBN policy was in its infancy, found that a higher percentage – 43 percent – strongly afreed, while 32 percent agreed, 17 percent sat in the middle, and 5 percent and 4 percent disagreed and strongly disagreed respectively. This may indicate that the Coalition’s ongoing criticism of the NBN has had some impact on the project’s popularity, with the amount of Australians strongly agreeing with the project slipping, although the project as a whole remains popular with the majority of Australians.
A second question was asked: ‘Do you intend to connect to the NBN when it is available in your area?’ 32 percent said “definitely”, and a further 24 percent said “probably”, while seven percent said “possibly”. Seven percent said “probably not”, while 13 percent said “definitely not”. This represents the fact that the majority of Australians expect to connect to the NBN infrastructure when it’s rolled out in their area. However, it remains unclear whether those who do not plan to connect to the NBN were aware that Australia’s current copper telephony and broadband network is to be switched off as the NBN is deployed, as is the current HFC cable networks operated by Telstra and Optus, leaving users in most areas with little option but to connect to the NBN eventually, unless they wish to use mobile broadband networks (which offer reduced latency and bandwidth compared to the NBN’s fibre infrastructure) as their primary broadband connection.
“There is still strong support for the NBN,” the report stated. “Just over two thirds of Australians now think the development of Labor’s National Broadband Network is a good idea, down from three quarters in 2009 … there is wide agreement that the development of the NBN is a good idea.”
The news comes several months after an independent review commissioned by the Federal Government found that rural and regional Australian communities were strongly committed to the NBN, with a focus on maximising the potential of the infrastructure when it arrives in their area. The review’s findings echo a recent analysis of rural media coverage following the announcement of the three-year rollout plan for the NBN, which showed overwhelming demand for the infrastructure from a large number of rural and regional Australian communities, with many expressing disappointment that they had been left off the list for the NBN’s first few years.
The popularity of the NBN in rural areas is consistent with polling figures which have consistently shown high levels of popular support for the project Australia-wide. In February, for example, a poll released by research houses Essential Media and Your Source showed that the NBN policy has continued to enjoy strong levels of popularity, especially amongst Labor and Greens voters, since the last Federal Election.
The pair polled their audience with the following question: “From what you’ve heard, do you favour or oppose the planned National Broadband Network (NBN)”? The response displayed an enduring level of support for the NBN, with 56 percent of total respondents supporting the NBN in total, compared with 25 percent opposed and 19 percent stating that they didn’t know.
Just 10 percent of those polled strongly opposed the NBN, while 20 percent strongly favoured the project. Amongst Labor and Greens voters who responded to the poll, support was the strongest, with 80 percent and 77 percent supporting the initiative, 42 percent of Coalition voters supported it. Over the past 14 months since September 2010, Your Source has asked respondents the same question on three other occasions, with respondents displaying a very similar support rate for the project — ranging from 48 to 56 percent. Those opposing the project have ranged from 19 percent of respondents to 27 percent.
This data was largely echoed in April, when another similar poll showed support for the initiative continues to grow to record levels. According to the polling data, in total, 42 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Liberal or National voters stated that they were in favour of the NBN, while 40 percent in total opposed the project and the remaining 18 percent didn’t know. Of that 42 percent, eight percent were strongly in favour of the Labor plan, with 34 percent being in favour, and of the 40 percent against, 14 percent strongly opposed the NBN, with 26 percent opposing it. Amongst Labor and Greens voters, the numbers are much more strongly in favour of the NBN, with 80 percent of Labor voters and 68 percent of Greens voters for the plan, and with a much higher proportion of those polled being strongly in favour.
A landmark report handed down in July 2011 into the Coalition’s loss in the 2010 Federal Election also highlighted a failure to adequately respond to Labor’s flagship National Broadband Network plan as a key reason for losing valuable votes, especially in the sensitive Tasmanian electorate, which is receiving the network before the rest of the nation.
In May I wrote:
“An overwhelming body of evidence is gradually being accumulated that Australia’s population as a whole is staunchly in support of the NBN. Views on this matter are not divided; research has consistently shown that the policy is very popular and that most Australians in all areas agree the project should go ahead.
Now, I’m not going to say that the Coalition has to do everything the population says, should it win government. Clearly, sometimes a Government needs to enact an unpopular policy because it’s the right thing to do. But such overwhelming support does mean that the Coalition needs to produce a higher burden of proof for why the NBN policy as a whole should be substantially modified.”
These comments still stand.