Politics Analysis

Government still holding Australia back in global broadband ranking

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Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has resorted to false claims to cover the LNP's incompetence in the NBN rollout (Screenshot via YouTube)

As the pandemic saw a global rise in high-speed broadband subscriptions, Australia still lags behind in the OECD ranking. Paul Budde reports.

HIGH-SPEED fibre internet subscriptions surpassed copper-wire DSL connections across OECD countries for the first time in 2020 as the need to move work and home life activities online during the COVID-19 pandemic led to a record 21.15 million new fixed broadband connections (including fibre, DSL, cable and others) in the year to end-December 2020.

The latest update to the OECD's broadband portal shows that fibre now exceeds 30% of fixed broadband subscriptions across the OECD’s 38 member countries, up from 12% a decade ago and is by far the fastest-growing broadband technology. Subscriptions were up 14% in 2020 from 2019, outpacing a 5% rise in overall fixed broadband subscriptions.

While cable remains the predominant fixed broadband technology, accounting for 34% of subscriptions across OECD countries with a rise of 5.6% in 2020, fibre is steadily replacing DSL subscriptions, which have dropped by 10% over the past two years.

Australia has a fibre penetration of just 21.7% out of a total of 9.1 million broadband subscriptions at 25th position, below the OECD average of 30.56% fibre penetration. If NBN Co’s 900K FTTC lines were defined as fibre, that percentage would rise to nearly 32% and 18th position.

New Zealand fared much better, posting a 60.1% fibre penetration rate and 8th position.

Austria, Belgium, Chile, Ireland, Israel and the United Kingdom all increased their fibre connections by more than 50% in 2020. In more and more OECD countries, most broadband connections are now fibre, with the share of fibre in total broadband above 50% in Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway and Portugal, exceeding 70% in Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Spain and Sweden.

Progression in fixed broadband subscriptions by technology

(Image supplied)

Overall, fixed broadband subscriptions in OECD countries totalled 454 million as of December 2020, up from 433 million a year earlier, averaging 33.2 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. Switzerland led the pack with a penetration rate of 47.5 subscriptions per 100 people, followed by France (45.6%), Norway (44.6%) and Denmark (44.2%).

Mobile data usage soared by more than 30% on average in 2020 across the 35 OECD countries for which data were available, with 29 countries showing an increase of over 20%.

Finland remains the OECD champion for data consumption at a total of 31 gigabytes (GB) per subscriber per month, followed by Austria (25.8 GB), Latvia (23 GB), Lithuania (20.5 GB), Iceland (16.7 GB), Estonia (16 GB), Chile (12.8 GB) and Sweden (12 GB).

Eight countries – Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Spain and Turkey – saw significant growth of 45% or more in data usage over 2020. On average, users downloaded 7.5 GB of data per month per subscription in 2020, up from 5.8 GB in 2019 in those countries for which data was available. 

Mobile broadband subscriptions grew by almost 3% in 2020 across OECD countries. Mobile internet penetration is highest in Japan, Estonia and Finland, with subscriptions per 100 inhabitants at 185%, 165% and 156%, respectively.

Data on machine-to-machine (M2M) communications show that Sweden and Austria remain the leaders in the number of M2M SIM cards per 100 inhabitants. Sweden has 163 M2M SIM cards per 100 inhabitants – a much higher level than most OECD countries that provided data – due in part to the use of these SIM cards in other countries by a Swedish operator.

Back in Australia, the Department of Communication debunked a claim from Communications Minister Paul Fletcher who had tried to peddle that:

“If we'd stuck with Labor's plan, then we would in 2020 have had five million fewer Australian premises able to connect.”

After the Minister proved unable to produce any page reference for his “source”, the Department wrote that it does not manage the Minister’s Twitter account and did not provide advice on the Minister’s statement to the House of Representatives. In other words, there was no source, the Minister is just making things up and even public officials are getting fed up with his persistent attempts to mislead.

Paul Budde is an Independent Australia columnist and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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