This Is The Worst Idea NBN Co Has Ever Had

This Is The Worst Idea NBN Co Has Ever Had
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The rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) has been spectacularly cooked. To the point where Aussie internet has become internationally famous for being, well, a bit shit.

Rather than putting forward suggestions on how to improve the situation, or maybe ask resellers ways they can improve the end-user experience for suffering Australians, NBN Co has come up with a bold plan to make our internet even worse.

A foundational principle of the internet is what’s called net neutrality, or the principle that one packet of data shouldn’t be prioritised over another packet of data. If you want to stream a video, play a video game, read a site in a browser, your internet should treat all of that data with the same level of priority. Equity in internet usage, basically.

But with the rise of video streaming, and the effect Netflix and streaming services have had on internet usage over the last decade, conversations have been kicking around in the industry about how to cope with that.

NBN Co’s suggestion? To ask their top 50 retail service providers (RSPs), according to Commsday and iTNews, how they could charge extra for video streaming.

“Would your organisation support the development of a price response whereby charging of streaming video could be differentiated from the charging of other traffic/services?” NBN Co asked in their latest wholesale price review. “Would your organisation be likely to productise such a mechanism if developed by NBN?”

It’s impossible to understate just how much of an impact this would have on general internet usage. Practically every internet user in Australia on a landline connection would be effected, because everyone at some point – even unknowingly – ends up streaming video at some stage.

If NBN Co were to enforce traffic prioritisation for video streaming, or if ISPs signed up to the measure, it could easily result in users being asked to pay more to guarantee the same performance they receive when watching Twitch, using future streaming services like Google Stadia, and the potential discrimination of users based on their internet usage.

To the absolute surprise of no-one, industry isn’t thrilled about the idea. Former iiNet chief technology officer John Lindsay said there was “absolutely no justification” for NBN Co to artificially throttle or deprioritise video traffic just to increase revenue. “If I send NBN Co a packet, I kind of expect them to carry it unmolested to my consumer,” he told iTnews.

Others raised questions as to why NBN Co, a publicly funded corporation, was raising these kinds of questions in closed-door consultations and not being more open with the process. Regular internet users were outraged, remarking that the principle would effectively created a two-tiered, unfair internet system in Australia.

Kotaku Australia contacted Netflix for a response, but was told they “will not be commenting at this time”.

Grahame Lynch, the creator of CommsDay who originally reported the story, suggested that NBN Co’s idea was “likely intended to charge less for video bits so you can have more of it”.

Despite reportedly declining to comment on consulations with industry prior, NBN Co provided a statement to Kotaku Australia confirmed the consultation process was seeking “feedback” on video streaming. “NBN Co is building the nbn to meet the needs of Australians today as well as delivering capacity upgrades to meet growing data demands into the future, which includes the provision of additional capacity within the network to accommodate the rise of streaming services,” NBN Co’s general manager of commercial, Ken Walliss, said.

NBN Co has released an industry-wide Wholesale Pricing Review Consultation Paper, which seeks RSP feedback on balancing industry economics with affordability and choice for customers. As part of this consultation process we’re interested in engaging in a constructive dialogue with Retail Service Providers (RSPs) and the industry about any challenges and opportunities they may face. Video streaming is an important part of using broadband for many customers and a significant proportion of overall internet traffic and future traffic growth, and one of the particular areas where we are seeking feedback.

The focus of the paper is not about levying additional charges on customers, but rather to engage with RSPs and the industry on how we can collectively deliver the best possible service to customers, including for video services.

But as is often the case with any regulation or legislation, it’s not the intent that matters, but what’s permissible. And the major sticking point is still one of basic infrastructural fairness.

“This [proposal] would discriminate against people according to their usage of the internet,” Phillip Britt, Aussie Broadband managing director, told iTnews. “It’s not how it works nearly everywhere else in the world, and we don’t believe it should happen here in Australia.”

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