There have been big changes in Elizabeth’s life in the last few weeks. Instead of being on 8GB of internet data per month, they have been upgraded to 15. In a house of 4, including two teenagers, it’s been a struggle to balance work and homework with personal interests.
This upgrade has not been without a hefty fee however. The family now pays $115 for 15GB.
The reason for this is that Elizabeth lives on a farm. It’s only twenty minutes away from the nearest town, but even this short distance makes a big difference. It’s hard to keep up with the rest of the world when they all have unlimited, high speed broadband, and you’re stuck in the early 2000s with internet that appears to enjoy failing at the most inconvenient times.
But Elizabeth’s internet access hasn’t always been this bad. Not even five years ago, they had 25GB for the family, for a much lower cost of $50 a month. They are now paying more than double for a bit over half as much data. They used to be able to use YouTube, download plenty of music, and browse whatever their hearts desired, without fear of running out of data only two weeks into the month.
Unfortunately, while the internet was great when it was working, it wasn’t always working. There were several factors that guaranteed an internet shut down. Rain was one of them. It didn’t have to be heavy rain, or any rain at all. Even an overcast day would be enough to trigger the ominous orange ‘no internet’ light on the router. Snow was another obvious one, as were moderate to high winds.
Of course, sometimes the internet stopped working for no particular reason at all. It appeared to particularly dislike weekends, and would regularly stop working around close of business on a Friday. This meant that there was no one in the provider’s office until Monday, meaning the internet was out all weekend. Nevermind those big school assignments.
These hiccups started off as quite sporadic, but gradually got more frequent, until it was more common to not have internet than to have it. Family members began habitually checking the router as they wandered past. A sighting of the green ‘internet is on’ light triggered a house-wide panic to snatch as many devices up as possible to check emails, Facebook, download that song you’d been wanting for a week, look up and open tabs of research for assignments and whatever other webpages you needed.
Eventually, despite the best efforts of the internet provider, it was concluded that, for whatever reason, Elizabeth’s household could no longer be connected to the internet by this provider.
And so began the long summer of 2013-14. The household went three months without any home internet connection. They relied on mobile data, and free wi-fi from cafes, maccas and shopping centres.
Like many Australian families, they were curious about the National Broadband Network, or NBN. They’d heard great things. It was going to revolutionise their ability to connect and participate online. No more of the sub-standard services they’d had so far. Something like this clip describes.
However, when Elizabeth’s husband inquired about it, he was told not to bother. The NBN was horribly oversubscribed in their area, making it very slow, and, at times, almost impossible to use. Another satellite was to be launched in a few years, but until then, Elizabeth’s family were better off going to BigPond, Australia’s largest provider.
Unfortunately, because Telstra (owner of BigPond) is the largest network in Australia, with the widest reaching service, they can charge quite large amounts. And that brings us to Elizabeth’s current situation: paying $115 for 15GB.
The service is reliable, but makes life very difficult. In this day and age, it is hard to keep up with everyday life without the internet.
In fact, many Australian households do not have a broadband connection at all, 17% in fact according to a 2012-13 ABS report. Add on top of this the many unknown people who cannot afford or access much more than a few gigabytes, and there are a great many people in Australia who are being left behind Australia and the rest of the world.
According to Alan Kohler (2014) in The Reality of the NBN, a family in Brunswick (inner Melbourne) which was connected to the NBN, gets unlimited, high speed data and phonecalls for $115, the same price Elizabeth’s family pays for a measly 15GB.
Is this how it’s going to be? The NBN (if it even continues as planned), will make the lives of those in the capital cities even easier, while those in more ‘difficult’ areas are further disadvantaged? Elizabeth is just one of thousands.
Apparently, all we can do is wait and dream of the future, and the crazy possibilities there might be if there was, one day, decent internet.
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014, Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2012-13, cat. no. 8146.0, ABS, Canberra.
Kohler, A 2014, ‘The reality of the NBN’, Business Spectator, 17 March, viewed 23 August, <http://www.businessspectator.com.au/article/2014/3/17/technology/reality-nbn>.