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
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.
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