Hear Ye! Since 1998.
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Dec 99

Why I Keep Whinging About Bandwidth

I’ve heard somewhere that Australia is one of the most heavily fibre optically wired countries in the world. The problem is, very little of this bandwidth is available to home consumers – both practically, and physically. Broadband cable services are limited to certain metropolitan areas, and even then, Telstra’s monopoly means the costs ($65 for 100 MB and 35c/MB over that) are exorbitant. Even when Optus introduces flat rate cable, their service is restricted to cabled areas – about 1 million people in a country with 18 million. Satellite is a broadband alternative for those not in cabled areas, but this still requires a modem dialup – a modem dialup which is most likely a timed STD call if you’re not in a suburb that’s deemed ‘big’ enough to have fibre optics running alongside the copper telephone wires. ADSL and DSL have been pretty much mythical, and what DSL services that do exist are clearly business orientated (over $1000 a month). How long do trials take?

Furthermore, I have a 56K modem, but I can only achieve 36K download speeds. This is “due to the quality of the phone lines, we cannot use 56k on the regional areas, until the service that we use to those areas is upgraded to a Digital Service.” Even the plain copper phone lines are old.

Articles like this keep enticing us with the raw power of huge bandwidth pipelines, but until the consumer has access to them at a reasonable price, it really has little impact on us. What’s more, it seems that Telstra/Optus halted their cable rollout. Why??

When you have this kind of infrastructure, it’s no wonder why Silicon Valley, and the US in general attracts so many IT people – that and the greater availability of venture capital over there. Much web site hosting is done across the Pacific (this site, for instance), simply because not only is it cheaper, but bandwidth is plentiful and accessible. You only have to look at Napster and view the flock of cable, DSL and T1 users to see how widespread it is in the US (and of course those “14.4K users” who miraculously achieve 100kb/sec download speeds). Why is Australia so slow? Is it because the telecommunications industry has been regulated until recently?

The article linked above says it will be a decade before fibre comes to the home, but by the time it comes to Australia, it’s more likely that this generation will be grandparents, and we’ll be telling them “when I was your age, they measured download speed in kBps!” Anyway, when in doubt, just blame Telstra.