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How the NBN turns you into a data pig


Signing up for an NBN plan with a low download limit? Think again.

The plan for the National Broadband Network (NBN) was always that the rate of deployment would speed up over the life of the project, and that is actually happening. As we reported yesterday, there are now 2.9 million premises in Australia that can connect to the NBN, which is around 300,000 ahead of expectations. It's predicted that by this time next year, that figure will go up to 5.4 million.

We're still not seeing huge demand for the higher-priced options, with the majority of customers settling for the 25/5 speed tier. For any home user who has previously been on an unreliable ADSL connection, that still represents a major improvement.

Even at those lower speeds, connecting to the NBN clearly drives people to consume more data. In December 2015, the typical monthly usage for an ADSL customer was 83GB, while for an NBN customer is was 112GB. In the latest figures, the NBN customer usage is even higher, at 131GB per month.

There's a lesson there for new NBN customers: you may well underestimate your data requirements. Once you've established when the NBN is available in your area, don't assume that a plan with even 100GB a month is going to cut it. The data suggests that it won't, with demand growing around 40% each year.

Expectations around both speed and data limits are likely to shift over the 12 months, because many more customers will end up connected to fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) services, which use the existing copper network to actually connect to your house. If you live in a residence where the current Internet is flaky and stops working every time it rains, this prospect may not fill you with joy.

That concern is downplayed by nbn officials. "FTTN has delivered exactly what we expected," CEO Bill Morrow said at yesterday's annual results briefing. "We've been pleased to find the copper in a state that only requires modest remediation."

Even with the improved rate of progress, the NBN still has a lot to do to meet its 2020 deadline for completion. One big question lurking this year is how it will come up with the money to continue building, since government funding is officially supposed to end this financial year and be replaced with outside investment. Morrow said that planning for this was well underway, but declined to give many details.

"The government of course has options," Morrow said. "These are issues that the Department of Finance is considering. We're not pressed for time on this issue, we're not lacking any kind of confidence that they will be able to produce whatever source of funding is required." My prediction? Don't be surprised if extra government funding ends up being part of the mix.

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 Monday through Friday on

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