Ask LH: Why Is Regional Broadband So Much Worse?

Dear Lifehacker, After looking at changing internet service providers and the choices that are available in the market, I'm wondering why the quality of available packages for regional areas differ so much from our city counterparts. We pay more, we have fewer choices and the speeds aren't as good. And how is it that one company can charge $90 for a 300GB package while another charges $50 and offers unlimited data? Thanks, Rurally Routed

Image: Marc Lane

Dear RR,

Regional broadband is quite the messy topic, and it's partially what the NBN plan was meant to address, although that too is a political football. If you are lucky enough to be in one of the regional NBN areas, however, you're not entirely stuck for options — but it sounds like that's not you.

So why is regional broadband so bad? There are a couple of reasons, historical and technical.

On the history side, Telstra's dominated the regional broadband space largely because after the shift from a nationally owned telco to a private one, it ended up being the only one with the infrastructure in regional areas. The lower population density made it less appealing from a business standpoint for competitors to set up shop, so for a very long time, even competing ISPs were just reselling Telstra ADSL capacity.

The other issue is one of distance and how that relates to ADSL technology. There's undeniably more room to move in regional spaces, but that means that individual connections are further apart, and that doesn't play well with ADSL, which is extremely distance sensitive. Combine that with fewer exchanges, because of the lower population density, and you've got a recipe for worse connections.

As for the issue relating to unlimited or limited ISP packages, much of this relates to how much an ISP reckons each user will use. Put simply, even with quota-based packages, ISPs figure that relatively few users will actually hit their quota, so they can spread the usage over their entire userbase. Equally speaking, many of the "unlimited" providers sell on that aspect alone, whereas the more premium priced ISPs sell other services, additional support options or less use of caching to control overall speeds. It's also worth precisely checking the terms and conditions of any "unlimited" package, although the ACCC does take a dim view of the use of that term when it comes to consumer products.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    The area I'm in isn't quite rural (an hour north of Melbourne) but I have to recommend Exetel as an ISP for anyone outside a metro area. I'm on the $60 p/m 100GB plan, with line rental included. It's miles better than any of iinet/tpg's off-net plans.

    Yeah my parents live in the country. The local exchange is full so they can't connect to ADSL. they only just changed from dial-up 12 months ago. first they went to 3G, but the coverage is too patchy. now they have NBN fixed wireless. with a massive 5 GIGABYTES of data included.

    I've got friends who live north-west of Bathurst, and their only option is extremely expensive satellite internet, which costs more than I pay for unlimited internet, and gives them about 12GB (which can go within a week, depending on which websites you're visiting...tumblr in particular is a tremendous data-hog).

    Regardless of the political issues surrounding the NBN, I really thought that providing reasonably priced and reasonably fast connections to people in rural areas was one of the biggest reasons for introducing the whole thing. Which begins to raise the question of why so many smaller towns aren't even due to get connections soon, while cities and suburban hubs are already connected.

    Granted, money invested in a network within a city will get you more people covered for your dollar, but this is government funded, not business driven. Shouldn't it be focussed on areas of greatest need before value for money?

    The answer to the question is: "Because **** you, that's why." - Telcos

    When Kevin 2007 aka "Dr Death" was voted in, on the third day(Thursday 1:30 am) of his new parliament, his government "confiscated" $1.5 BILLION set aside by the Howard govt from the last sale of Telstra to address the internet problems suffered by rural Australians. That money was p!$$3d up against the wall by probably the worst government in in our political history. We in the the bush have not forgotten..........

    Hi tew from the bush, I think you must be referring to Senator Alston's announcement of 163 million from the sale of Telstra in 2001. ( But that was promised (and I believe the promise was actually kept) to be spent within 4 years. 2001 + 4 = 2005...

      Wrong linda, sorry. Thanks for the interest.
      I was wrong, it was $3 Billion that was set aside in 2005 ,from the (2nd sale?) sale of Telstra in 2005 (mainly to pay for federal public servants uncontributed super entitlements/$50 Billion owed then). Sen. Joyce refused to vote for the sale until the the money (eventually $1.5 billion to improve broadband services in the bush) was set aside. It was, he then voted yes. Then in 2007 when the new Rudd government got in, the first parliamentary sitting was on the Tuesday, then on the following Thursday night at 1:30am the money was "stolen". I live well off the grid, I supply my own water, power, roads, rubbish removal etc, etc. I only have an old copper line into to my "camp", I use the internet extensively, the hassles I have had to get on the net and get a :quality" service, have been major. Dial up, 3 very, very clunky expensive satellites, then eventually adsl, its been years of struggle. No votes in the bush for Rudd, so the money got taken and p#$%@ up against the wall.
      I have a long memory.

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