AAP FactCheck

Restoring confidence in public statements by independently testing and verifying the facts

Has the NBN made using the internet slower, more expensive and less reliable?

By Louise Evans, James Lane & Tiffanie Turnbull

The Statement

“Taxpayers and consumers are worse off as a result of an NBN that is regrettably slower, costlier and less reliable.”

Federal shadow communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland blames the National Broadband Network (NBN) for Australia falling to 60th in the world for broadband download speeds. March 5, 2019.

The Analysis

Federal shadow communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland has blamed the NBN network for Australia’s fall to 60th in the world for fast internet speed. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined the claims made by Ms Rowland that the rollout of the NBN has resulted in consumers paying more for a slower and less reliable service.

AAP FactCheck found one of the shadow ministers three claims to be correct. The evidence shows the internet is cheaper and faster since the rollout of the NBN but the service is less reliable.

The NBN, launched by former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2009, was supposed to supercede Australia’s aging copper-wire asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) and cable network. [2]

The ADSL network connects to the internet and carries data through traditional telephone lines already installed to homes and businesses. These lines weren’t originally intended for anything more than phone calls. [3]

The cable network supplies the internet through the same coaxial cables that deliver data to your TV set. [4]

According to NBN Co Limited - the government-owned corporation tasked to design, build and operate the NBN as a monopoly wholesale broadband provider - the new network will “upgrade” Australia’s existing wholesale landline phone and internet service. The network rollout “is expected to be completed by 2020”. [5]


AAP FactCheck found the claim by Ms Rowland that the rollout of the NBN had resulted in consumers paying more was false.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Communications Market Report for 2017–18, there has been an annual downward trend in fixed broadband prices since 2014-15. [6]

The same report for 2014-15 found annual decreases since 2007-08. [7]

The ACCC’s findings are supported by a decrease in prices for fixed broadband plans offered by provider Internode. In 2010, $50 bought 50 Gb of date with Internode. In 2019, $50 buys double that amount of data. [8]

The 2017 Australian Digital Inclusion Index reported the cost of data - for both fixed and mobile internet - declined from 2014-2017. This was in line with the ACCC’s price monitoring of telecommunications services which showed an average decline in real terms of 3.1 per cent since 2006. [9]


AAP FactCheck found the claim by Ms Rowland that the NBN had delivered a slower service was false.

Under the NBN, consumers can purchase different speed plans, measured in megabits per second (Mbps). Speed plans range from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps. [10]

Under consecutive Liberal prime ministers Tony Abbott (2013-2015) and Malcolm Turnbull (2015-2018), the NBN model of installing fibre optic to the premises nationwide was scaled back to fibre optic to the node (FFTN). Mr Rudd described the node as a “mystical point somewhere in the neighbourhood”. Dr Longxiang Gao, lecturer in computer networks, School of Information Technology at Deakin University described FFTN as “old technology”. [11]

“FTTN runs high-speed fibre optics to boxes on a street corner before delivering internet to the home via copper, and was always going to be a short-term fix,” Dr Gao said. “The performance of FTTN is really dependent on the location, or put simply, how close a home or business is to the boxes, and has a very slow upload speed. The current NBN speed is already out of date.” [11]

According to a State of the Internet Report published before the start of the NBN rollout in 2010 by internet content-distribution giant Akamai, Australia’s average internet speed in January-March 2010 was 2.6 Mbps, ranking Australia 50th in the world. [12]

According to the Speedtest Global Index, the new go-to for global broadband speed reporting, Australia was ranked 60th for global broadband speed with an average of 33.28 Mbps in January 2019. The global average download speed was 55.52 Mbps. [13]

The evidence shows Australia’s average broadband speed has risen since the introduction of the NBN from 2.6 Mbps in 2010 to 33.28 Mbps in 2019. But the rise has not kept pace with better and faster technology available around the world, as demonstrated by Australia’s slide in world rankings from 50th in 2010 to 60th in 2019.


AAP FactCheck found the claim by Ms Rowland that the introduction of the NBN had created a less reliable service was true.

A federal parliamentary Joint Standing Committee report on the NBN dated September 2017 listed reliability and loss of service as a key complaint, with an Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) 2016 research paper titled “Migrating to the NBN - The experience of Australian consumers” saying one in five consumers reported “their fixed-internet and landline phone services were less reliable now than before connecting to the NBN”. [14]

A separate ACMA report from August 2018 found seven in 10 consumers (71 per cent for both households and businesses) experienced at least one issue or fault after NBN connection. “The most frequently mentioned issue or fault was drop-outs (49 per cent). Around one-third of both households and businesses experienced speed issues and service outages.” [15]

A NSW Business Chamber NBN and Telecommunications Survey from March 2018 found there were delays and disruptions with the NBN, with 42 per cent of businesses reporting the NBN was “unreliable”. [16]

AAP FactCheck concludes only one of Ms Rowland's three claims was correct. The evidence shows accessing the internet is less expensive and faster since the rollout of the NBN, but the service is less reliable.

The Verdict

  • Somewhat False - Mostly false, but there is more than one element of truth.

The References

1: ‘Australia slips to 60th spot in world broadband speeds, falling behind developing nations’ by Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson. The Daily Telegraph. March 5, 2019: https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/technology/australia-slips-to-60th-spot-in-world-broadband-speeds-falling-behind-developing-nations/news-story/1417989725c2953874bdeb993fb9a797

2: ‘The NBN is compulsory, but at least 6 million Australians don't realise it’. By Tony Yoo. The Australian Financial Review. April 7, 2017: https://www.afr.com/technology/web/nbn/the-nbn-is-compulsory-but-at-least-6-million-australians-dont-realise-it-20170407-gvfl10)

3: ‘NBN Vs ADSL: What's the difference?’. By Joseph Hanlon. WhistleOut. April 1, 2017: https://www.whistleout.com.au/Broadband/Faqs/nbn-vs-adsl

4: ‘NBN rollout: Streets and suburbs suffer digital divide as speed depends on lottery’. By Geoff Thompson, Lucy Carter and Deborah Richards. ABC Four Corners. October 23, 2017: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-23/australian-streets-digitally-divided-by-nbn-lottery/9073258

5: ‘Everything you need to know about Australia’s broadband network’. National Broadband Network. October 15, 2015: https://www.nbnco.com.au/blog/the-nbn-project/nbn-101-Everything-you-need-to-know-about-Australias-broadband-network

6: ‘Australia's broadband speeds: first report’. Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. March 2019. Page 18: https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/ACCC%20Communications%20Market%20Report%202017%E2%80%9318%E2%80%94February%202019.pdf

7: ‘‘Price changes for telecommunications services in Australia’. Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. February 2016. Page 91: https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/ACCC%20Telecommunications%20reports%202014%E2%80%9315_Div%2011%20and%2012_web_FA.pdf

8: ‘Broadband company Internode pokes fun at Telstra BigPond’s blue Kombi van’, by Tim Burrowes. Mumbrella. March 29, 2010: https://mumbrella.com.au/broadband-company-internode-pokes-fun-of-telstra-bigponds-blue-kombi-van-21812

9: ‘Lack of internet affordability may worsen Australia’s digital divide: new report’, by Julian Thomas. The Conversation. August 2, 2017: https://theconversation.com/lack-of-internet-affordability-may-worsen-australias-digital0-divide-new-report-81823

10: ‘Bits and Bytes’. Tech Terms. https://techterms.com/category/bits_and_bytes

11: ‘Why the NBN is already past its use by date’, by Dr Longxiang Gao, lecturer in computer networks, School of Information Technology, Deakin University. February 11, 2018: https://this.deakin.edu.au/society/why-the-nbn-is-already-past-its-used-by-date

12: ‘Australia scores a C on Akamai broadband report card’, by Nate Cochrane. IT News. July 28, 2010: https://www.itnews.com.au/news/australia-scores-a-c-on-akamai-broadband-report-card-221179

13: ‘Speedtest Global Index’. Ookla. January 2019: https://www.speedtest.net/global-index

14: ‘The rollout of the National Broadband Network’. Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network. September 2017. Page 89 and 122: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/National_Broadband_Network/NBN/First_report

15: ‘NBN consumer experience Households and businesses - the end-to-end journey’. Australian Communications and Media Authority. August 2018: https://www.acma.gov.au/-/media/Research-and-Analysis/Research/pdf/NBN-consumer-experience_households-and-businesses.pdf

16: ‘Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network Inquiry into the rollout of the NBN in rural and regional areas’. NSW Business Chamber. March 2018: https://www.nswbusinesschamber.com.au/NSWBC/media/Policy/Infrastructure/180329-NBN-inquiry-rural-and-regional-areas-Submission.pdf

Revision History

  • First published March 8, 2019 18:36 AEDT