video commentary I stumbled upon a shocking and unbelievable truth when casually browsing around the websites of several of Australia’s top internet service providers this afternoon.
The prices at Telstra’s BigPond division are substantially cheaper than those offered by major competitors like iiNet and Internode — at least when it comes to the high end.
The fact that BigPond simply costs more has been one of the core religious principles that Australia’s broadband market has been built upon over the past decade – especially for high-speed plans with large download limits favoured by IT professionals and the early technology adopter crowd.
Over the past ten years every Australian who lays even a small claim to being a geek or technologically savvy in any way has counted it as an item of faith that choosing BigPond as your ISP is an act of madness akin to trying to teach your mother in law how to use EMACS.
Various ISPs have been in vogue at various times – I remember phases where various of my friends would swear by Exetel, only to switch several years later to Netspace. Even hyped providers like Dodo and DingoBlue came in for their fair share of praise over the years (remember DingoBlue??).
But as the market has stabilised two ISPs have firmed as the geeks’ favourites – iiNet and Internode. If iiNet doesn’t have a DSLAM in your telephone exchange, so the conventional wisdom would go, you would pick Internode, which probably did. Or vice versa.
These ISPs have become beloved of the geek crowd for many different reasons. Their willingness to build their own infrastructure, their penchant for sticking it to Telstra, their value-add services such as gaming servers and the colourful personalities of their founders (one of the things I’m thinking of here is Simon Hackett’s Tesla Roadster, which apparently has arrived down under and is now sitting in his garage) have all been reasons to sign up to buy their broadband services.
But there’s a funny thing about Australians. We do value all of these value-add facets when we pick our broadband provider. But the price has to be right as well.
Traditionally BigPond has been known for having high prices and poor customer service. I can’t say that the telco has done all that much yet to demonstrate that its customer service has changed. But as of yesterday, its prices certainly have.
Let’s take, for example, the monthly cost of an ADSL2+ broadband service with a high download limit – a convenient number would be 200GB.
This is the sort of broadband plan that any Australian geek would love – you can download all you want each month, and you get the high speeds to boot.
As of today, that plan from Telsta will cost you just $89.95 – down from $179.95 last week as Telstra slashed its prices over the weekend.
A number of the options will change, but a quick check of the iiNet website will make it clear that these prices are significantly less than iiNet is currently offering. iiNet’s own 200GB plan – with 100GB eachway off- and on-peak – will cost customers some $129.95 per month (plus more for the included phone line).
Telstra doesn’t offer naked DSL – although it’s trialling it – so you’ll have to have a telephone line as well to use the company’s broadband service. But even if you do sign up for iiNet’s naked DSL, you won’t get any further ahead – the top naked DSL option is a plan offering a total of 170GB of monthly downloads at a cost of $119.95.
It’s a similar case when you look at Internode’s top plans – which cost even more – $139.95 per month for a 240GB plan with a phone line bundled in, and even more for naked DSL.
There is a ray of hope, however – Exetel, for example, is offering bargain basement prices – charging just $55 a month for a plan which offers a huge 90GB on-peak and 180GB off-peak plan. And if you really want to download a lot, the options get better when you sign up for naked DSL – Exetel will charge you just $70 for a 90GB monthly plan with unlimited downloads between 2AM and 8AM.
Now I know I am dramatically simplifying things here – it’s not easy to compare ISPs these days solely on price, when each offers a stack of value-added options and vastly differing levels of customer service. And obviously I am only comparing the top-range plans here — things get much more interesting and equal when you get into the mid-range.
But there is a trend here that seems relatively clear. BigPond is getting cheaper.
As I mentioned previously, price has to be an option. And on these current prices, ISPs like iiNet and Internode will have to re-examine their high-end plans – or face a future where Telstra is increasingly going to be getting some payback for the past decade worth of customer churn.