news A crowdsourced comparison of real-world broadband speeds has appeared to show that the MyBroadband broadband availability site launched by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week is significantly inaccurate, with speeds being almost universally below the data produced by the site.
Turnbull launched the MyBroadband website last week as the culmination of a significant study conducted by the Department of Communications into the availability and quality of broadband in Australia. The study was an election promise by the Liberal MP contained as part of the Coalition’s broadband policy unveiled in April 2013 ahead of last year’s Federal Election.
According to Turnbull, the report is the first of its kind to be undertaken by an Australian Government, with data drawn from all major Australian telecommunication carriers. It describes the broadband technologies available as well as the speed that can typically be achieved over each available technology platform.
However, an analysis of real-world broadband speeds has already shown it to be significantly inaccurate. Following the launch of the site, blogger Noely Neate invited readers to submit their real-world broadband speeds to a public document online. In a very short time, the blogger had received over 800 submissions, representing Australians from all around the nation.
While the data is still being tabulated, early charts of the data such as the one displayed above (click the image above for a larger version) appear to show significant variance of the estimated and real-world speeds supplied by participants, especially when it comes to ADSL broadband. Neate herself has the same problem.
“… for me, those figures were not even close, on a good day we get 6Mbps, if it is raining we get NOTHING,” wrote Neate in a blog post on the issue. “Going to [the] Mobile Broadband area it says we have 3G & 4G Coverage? Umm no 4G here mate. So obviously I asked around, put it out there on Twitter & bloody hell, the avalanche of different figures, some even saying that the site said broadband was not available & they could actually get it LOL!”
Another popular blogger, dubbed ‘Wolfcat’, noted that they had a similar issue with the site, criticising its “overly optimistic” ADSL speed listings. “My area is listed at 12.2Mbps. Congrats to those in my neighbourhood getting those speeds, but sure as hell I am not,” they wrote. “Nor does this speed factor in things such as many peoples ADSL slowing down when it rains for example. I get 4.5Mbps, according to this funny thing called Speedtest.”
At the launch of the site, Turnbull acknowledged that the data would not be 100 percent reliable, as it indicative data based on estimate information supplied by carriers about their networks and not real-world testing data. “You may find that the service in your own address is not consistent with this, but this is the closest you can do without testing every single premise in the country,” the Minister said. “Without obviously perfect information, we are getting a very good handle on when broadband availability is the least.”
The Minister said that the Government planned to integrate real-world speed test functionality into the site, which would allow users to submit their own speeds into the site’s database and increase the accuracy of its data.
The interesting thing about this crowdsourced data that has come through regarding the MyBroadband site is not that it shows that the Government’s data is inaccurate. That’s to be expected; as Turnbull himself pointed out at the site’s launch press conference, the site uses estimates and not real-world measurements to give Australians a picture of broadband availability in their areas. By definition, it cannot yet deliver totally accurate data.
The actually interesting thing is that so far, almost all of the real-world data submitted is in one direction — worse than the estimates. The overwhelming trend seen from the many samples collected by Neate and her ad-hoc team of statisticians on social media is that real-world broadband speeds are significantly slower than telcos are estimating, with only a few outliers being better.
Of course, just as it’s possible to question the accuracy of the data collected by the Government’s MyBroadband site, it’s equally possible to question the data being collected by Neate and co. The blogger’s survey is hardly scientific, being based on voluntary contributions online. Nor do we know how qualified her assistants are to analyse that data. We’re not talking about a definitive study here. This information is very, very far from being verified and should not be treated as conclusive.
However, none of this invalidates the clear overall, high-level trend we’re seeing coming from the sample collected so far. Australia’s telecommunications industry has long been full of rumours about the poor quality of Telstra’s copper network, the degree to which it is affected by something as simple as rain, and the claim that many Australians currently on ADSL broadband aren’t achieving anywhere near the speeds they have been led to expect.
For the first time, we’re seeing this play out in reality here, with community-sourced, real-world data clashing directly with ‘official’ data from telcos and the Government. That clash has already appeared to reveal a significant gulf between the official version of the broadband truth in Australia and the real-world experience. We hope Minister Turnbull acknowledges this reality as the Government’s MyBroadband site starts collecting its own crowdsourced data.
And we wonder what impact these new data sources will have on the debate about the potential speeds achievable in a Fibre to the Node scenario for the Coalition’s Broadband Network project.
Image credit: Paul Davis