news The final analysis of a crowdsourced comparison of real-world broadband speeds has shown that the MyBroadband broadband availability site launched by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull last month is significantly inaccurate, with most Australians receiving speeds more than 25 percent slower than those listed.
Turnbull launched the MyBroadband website last month 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.
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.
Last week Neate and a group of other volunteers conducted analysis on the data collected and published an extended document submission to the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network. The full PDF of the submission is available online, as well as the raw data used.
The vast majority of those making submissions (688 out of more then 800) were using ADSL broadband, the most popular form of broadband in Australia. Of those, analysis conducted by the group showed, most participants experienced real-life speeds more than 25 percent slower than the estimates generated by the MyBroadband site.
One of the recurring themes mentioned by participants in the survey was rain, and how water could affect the reliability of ADSL connections. The submission states:
“For people with ADSL, ‘rain’ was mentioned 63 times. Extreme heat also caused people’s connections to either drop out or cease totally, requiring a call to Telstra. Considering the amount of extreme weather this country experiences (in particular drought and flooding), this should be paramount to any decision-making in regard to what infrastructure would work best for which location, as well as ensuring what is currently in use has not already been irreparably damaged. In
some cases like the below, it is not just the internet but the phone line as well, making small business very difficult.”
One submitter wrote that they were receiving around 6Mbps download speeds from their ADSL connection, although the MyBroadband site had predicted around 12Mbps. “Try running a small business from home when the faulty copper wire connection keeps failing after every moderate fall of rain,” they wrote. “Phone line quality impossible, internet experiences problems and we can never consider video for Skype. Even voice Skype connections are often poor.”
Another was receiving real-world speeds of 3.4Mbps, where the MyBroadband site had estimated around 7Mbps. “I have never seen speeds about 4Mbps where I live,” they wrote. “I have excellent equipment and service with iiNet. Everytime it rains heavily my speeds get slower. When the temperature breaks 35 degrees my Internet stops working.”
In general, the submission made a number of recommendations to the Senate committee examining the NBN project and its successor, the Coalition’s Broadband Network, ranging from the need to consider environmental weather conditions, to the need to consider broadband as being critical infrastructure, that an accurate map of existing broadband infrastructure be published, and that other factors such as network congestion and the quality and reliability of Telstra’s copper network also be considered.
The submission concluded: “Considering the purpose of the MyBroadband site is to get a realistic picture of the current network and give priority to the communities most in need. It would stand to reason that weather extremes, which affect the whole nation, should be taken into account when planning a National Broadband Network.”
“We are very concerned that decisions will be based on results showing on the MyBroadband site that we have found are not quite the reality people are experiencing,” the submission states. “We would be remiss if we did not share our data from real people with the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network.”
“In regard to My Broadband being used to prioritise, we think our survey adds value as it would seem that many assumptions made on the My Broadband site in their methodology area seem to be disconnected from the evidence and it would appear to us that you can’t have evidence-based policy if you ignore the evidence?”
As I wrote last week:
“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: #MyBroadbandvReality team