news A number of Australian ISPs, including Internode, Primus, Engin and ClubTelco, have set shaping speeds on their National Broadband Network fibre plans slower than the shaping speeds on their existing ADSL broadband services, despite the fact that the NBN’s fibre infrastructure offers base speeds substantially higher than the copper-based ADSL network.
‘Shaping’ refers to an approach commonly taken by Australian ISPs to rate limit their users’ broadband connection speed drastically when the customer runs out of monthly download quota. The system, used by virtually every ISP in Australia, aims to ensure customers are incentivised to upgrade their broadband plan quota, while not disconnecting them from the Internet entirely when they exceed their limits.
Over the past several weeks, two new ISPs have launched new NBN plans in competition with existing providers such as iiNet, Internode, Telstra, Optus and Primus.
The first ISP, ClubTelco, has launched a range of packages starting at $35 per month, which gets you just 10GB of data at speeds of 12Mbps. The ISP is also offering 50GB, 100GB, 600GB and 1TB packages ranging from $50 to $95 per month in cost, at the same speed. And it also offers 25Mbps, 50Mbps and 100Mbps speeds at those same quota levels, with costs ranging from $55 per month to $140 per month.
The company’s prices appear to be significantly more expensive than its current ADSL pricing. The company has positioned its current ADSL offerings at the extreme bottom of the market, with its website boasting that it offers “Australia’s cheapest unlimited broadband ADSL2+” — from just $25 per month. That cost becomes substantially more — $40 or $60 a month — if you are outside certain geographical “zones” which the ISP has limited customers to.
However, one of the other significant differences between the company’s existing ADSL broadband packages and its new NBN plans is what happens when customers run out of quota on their plans.
Under ClubTelco’s Unlimited ADSL plans, customers have unlimited data quota, so their connections are never shaped. Under its 10GB quota plans, customers are shaped to 1Mbps download speeds. However, when ClubTelco’s new NBN customers use up their quota, they will be shaped to a quarter of that speed — 256kbps. “The shaped speed for all ClubTelco NBN Broadband plans [is] 256Kbps,” the company’s website states.
The second new ISP which has released NBN plans over the past week is Engin, which is primarily an Internet telephony player. However, the company has diversified into broadband services over the past few years.
Engin will offer its customers three NBN plans — at $49.95, $79.95 and $99.95 monthly price points, with speeds of 12Mbps, 50Mbps and 100Mbps respectively, and with 25GB, 125GB and 400GB of quota respectively. However, as with ClubTelco, its NBN shaping speeds (128kbps) are slower than the shaping speeds on its normal broadband plans (256kbps).
Of those ISPs which have already launched NBN broadband plans, most are offering the same shaping speeds under the NBN that they do on their ADSL services. Typically, with Telstra, iiNet and Optus, this is 256kbps (although on some Telstra non-NBN plans the shaping speeds are even lower — 64kbps). However, two major ISPs — Internode and Primus — offer shaping speeds under the NBN which are slower than those available on their existing ADSL broadband plans.
On its Easy Broadband, Easy Bundle and Easy Naked plans, Internode shapes customers’ speeds to 256kbps when they have exhausted their quota, although on its Easy Reach plans (using Telstra infrastructure), that speed drops to 128kbps. However, all of Internode’s NBN plans are limited to 128Kbps when customers exhaust their monthly quota.
It’s a similar situation at Primus. The ISP shapes customers on most of its plans to 256kbps, although those on its Big Kahuna 700GB plan are shaped to 1Mbps. Some of Primus’ NBN plans — notably, its bundles — are also shaped to 256kbps. However, the 1Mbps shaping speeds are not on offer at all to NBN customers, and NBN customers who sign up for stand-alone plans will be shaped to lesser speeds — 128kbps.
Asked about the issue this afternoon, Internode managing director Simon Hackett issued the following statement: “Internode expects to review our shaping speeds on our NBN plans as a part of our regular reviews of our NBN plans in general, and we expect to be consistent with industry practice as it evolves over time. It’s not a source of stress for us – or for our customers, who are not in general identifying our over-paid-quota shaping speeds as a source of angst or concern when using or selecting their services from Internode.”
“It is very early days for the NBN, and I don’t think any NBN providers plans will be the same as they are today, even a year from now. The market is only barely entering the commercial era, and everyone concerned is feeling their way in this new realm – while remaining somewhat constrained by the Telstra-Wholesale style underlying economic access model of the NBN.”
Hackett’s right — this is not a major issue for customers. It’s quite easy to upgrade your broadband plan if you run into your limit — and with many ISPs, all it takes is a few minutes configuring your customer control panel.
However, I also do not believe I am alone in being concerned that shaping speeds are being downgraded under the NBN. If anything, they should be upgraded. If Australia is going to gradually start to consider broadband a universal human right (as I believe we are starting to consider it), then speeds of 1Mbps should be considered an absolute minimum. I personally do not believe it is appropriate to shape a fibre-optic broadband connection down to 128kbps, under any circumstances. With those speeds, you can barely load any modern web page — let alone access a number of basic services. 128kbps speeds are barely above 56k modem levels — and we’re talking about fibre-optic connections here.
Also, this issue is a real one for many customers. When I was a university student in the early years of last decade, I could only afford very basic broadband services to my then residence, and so relied on shaping speeds of 64kbps daily to access services once I had used up my measly (I think it was something like 2GB at that stage) limit. Even at that stage, I knew that I needed broadband to get my university studies done, and I chafed at the bit constantly trying to download educational resources. With all the modern Web 2.0 systems that universities use today, I would anticipate 128kbps would really not be fast enough to get that done.