Last night our Managing Editor, Ray Shaw, was the prime witness as to some of the deficiencies of the NBN. He appeared on “7:30” on the ABC in a segment on the “Digital Divide”. Golly, I wish my office were as neat as his! But what got me expostulating futilely at my TV was Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield.

You see, it seemed to me he was saying the equivalent of: “Why do you need a smart phone? A flip phone is all you need to make calls.”

Fifield was interviewed for the report, of course. And he made some points with which I agree. “The real digital divide in Australia,” he said, “is between those who have the NBN and those who don’t have the NBN.” I am someone who still doesn’t have the NBN, so I can’t help but agree.

And, of course, he spruiks the NBN’s virtues: “Ninety per cent of people on the fixed line network … will be able to get speeds of fifty megabits per second or more. Seventy-five per cent of people will be able to get speeds of a hundred megabits per second.” That’s fine.

But then he added, “You only need five megabits per second to watch high definition Netflix.”

Embedding the Digital Divide

He’s right, of course. I watch high definition Netflix. And my home and office get somewhere between five and six megabits per second. That’s not the problem.

The problem is that in my home and office I was getting somewhere between five and six megabits per second … back in 2006.

Remember then? I had a Samsung flip phone with a VGA-quality camera. Smart phone? The original iPhone was just about to appear in America, still a couple of years off for us in Australia.

Back then, a 4GB SD card cost $90. Today, that $90 (which is worth less now than it was then, thanks to inflation) will buy you a 256GB microSD card. And let’s not talk about CPUs, gigabit home networks and all the rest.

Compare any aspect of communications and computing technology between 2006 and 2019, and you’ll see they’ve all improved by a couple of orders of magnitude. Except fixed line Internet for those of we Australians who are yet to benefit from connecting to the NBN. Those of us on the wrong side of the digital divide.

According to the “7:30” report, a quarter of us still don’t have the NBN installed in our areas. Now that’s a digital divide.

In reality, it is almost indisputable that the reason my fixed line Internet speed has remained stuck at under six megabits per second these last dozen years is entirely because of the NBN!

How to get fast Internet

A couple of years ago I interviewed Pat Griffis from Dolby Laboratories. He’s now also President of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. He was here in Australia speaking up the benefits of Dolby Vision, which is available on a number of Netflix programs. I noted that there could be problems here with it because of Internet speed. To illustrate, I mentioned that I was getting that 5-6Mbps speed.

Griffis looked honestly shocked. He gasped that in San Francisco, where he was based, “even the homeless get faster speeds than that.”

Well, that’s San Francisco, so of course it has higher Internet speeds than, say, the Canberra suburbs.