Why do one-third of NBN customers wish it had never happened?

Angus Kidman 8 June 2018 NEWS

Broadband blues driven by poor service and high prices.

It's not a good look after spending upwards of $50 billion on the National Broadband Network (NBN). Over a third (34%) of current NBN customers think they were better off with the broadband they had before the network was introduced, according to a new finder.com.au survey of 984 Australians with an NBN service.

Why would Australians prefer to go back to their old ADSL service rather than use the NBN, which is supposed to deliver better connections for everyone? The most common reason cited by respondents (12%) was that their old service was more reliable. Remarkably, 10% said they actually had faster Internet before the NBN was connected. Pricing was also a big issue, with 7% saying they got better value from their previous deal and 4% outright saying it was cheaper.

Are those reasonable concerns? Well, yes. Eliminating congestion has been a big problem for the NBN, and one which its builder NBN Co has been trying to address with pricing alterations that mean ISPs are less inclined to short-change customers by not buying enough capacity. Early indications suggest these changes have had some effect, with more people signing up for faster services. However, reaching the point of even making those changes took most of 2017. The intervening chaos has clearly put a lot of customers offside.

Congestion issues further drive speed concerns. Paying for a 100/40 service is of little help if in practice you can't watch streaming video in the evening. On top of that, many customers don't get anywhere near the theoretical maximum speed, an issue which led to Telstra, Optus, TPG, iiNet and Internode all offering refunds.

Pricing is also a problem. For most of the network's life, NBN plans have been priced similarly to their predecessors. Indeed, the price for an unlimited 12/1 service has often been identical to that for an ADSL plan from the same company. So when it's time to switch, it's tempting to stick to the same price point. But a 12/1 service is likely to be no better than ADSL, and might be considerably worse. To get a better connection, you'll often have to pay more, especially if you don't shop around.

As consumers, we've been conditioned to expect that our communications services will get better and cheaper. I'm getting twice as much data on my mobile plan as I was three years ago, but I'm not paying any more. That pattern hasn't kicked in yet with the NBN, although again the wholesale price changes introduced last year should improve things eventually.

NBN Co can reasonably point out that 66% of Australians who have switched do seem happy with the service. But when you're rolling out to 8 million premises, having one-third of people unhappy means that you've got a massive tranche of 2.3 million annoyed customers. Just saying that's the responsibility of individual providers, or that customers need to check and make sure they have the right modem, isn't enough.

The NBN is not about to be rolled back, and by 2022 everyone will need to have switched, however unhappy you might be with the prospect. When that happens, make sure you compare plans carefully and check the maximum evening peak speeds your ISP promises. Our NBN quiz can help you compare what's available in your area.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on finder.com.au.

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