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Australia's poorest are getting screwed on the NBN

NBN aims to connect all Australians, but new research shows the most disadvantaged people in our society are getting the most "inferior" technology.

The richer you are, the better the NBN getting rolled out in your area.

That's according to a new study that maps Australia's disadvantaged communities against the NBN technology they're receiving. The findings show that when it comes to accessing the technology of the future, the poorest in our community are being left behind.

Conducted by the Centre for Research Excellence in the Social Determinants of Health Equity at Flinders University, the study ranked Australia's richest and poorest communities according to ABS data. The team used the ABS's 2011 socio-economic indexes for area (SEIFA) and index of relative socio-economic advantage and disadvantage.

Matching these metrics against NBN technology, the researchers found "areas of greatest socio-economic disadvantage [shown on the left of the graph below] overlap with regions typically receiving NBN infrastructure of poorer quality."  

There is a massive difference in the NBN technology rolled out to the least advantaged parts of our society (on the left-hand side) and the most advantaged. The wealthier you are, the more likely you are to be using fibre (shown in blue). 

Centre for Research Excellence in the Social Determinants of Health Equity

While NBN has been tasked with rolling out technology to every Australian, not every Australian is getting the same flavour of broadband.

The rollout began with fibre to the premises technology (FTTP), before a change of government brought a change to a "multi-technology mix" rollout, favouring fibre to the node, HFC and fixed wireless. By piggy-backing off existing technologies, NBN says the new strategy targets "the most cost-effective and efficient technology" to each area for a faster rollout.

Even in regional areas, the wealthy still win out. 

Centre for Research Excellence in the Social Determinants of Health Equity

This change in strategies has resulted in a patchwork of different NBN technologies being used across Australia. But the Flinders University research says our poorest are losing out.

"Across Australia, we found only 29 percent of areas [in the lowest socio-economic group] had fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) -- considered the best broadband technology solution available -- or fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) connections," the report said.

"So far, around 71 percent of the NBN technology available in these areas involves inferior options, including hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC), fixed wireless or satellite technologies."

Those so-called "inferior" technologies have certainly skewed toward more regional and remote areas, where wireless and satellite are far more feasible means of delivering the NBN.

But taking that out of the equation, the research showed poorer city areas are still doing worse. In major cities, the least advantaged 10 percent of society had a fibre penetration of 65 percent. Compare that with the top rung of society, which has fibre going to 94 percent of premises. 

"A faster internet connection is increasingly central to people's social connections, education opportunities, employment prospects and ability to access services," the researchers wrote. 

"When populations already facing disadvantage receive poorer quality digital infrastructure, those with the greatest need will continue to slip farther behind."

A spokesperson for NBN said the company is rolling out broadband to every Australian home and business, "regardless of location or any other socio-economic profiling.

"NBN is committed to providing access to minimum wholesale download speeds of 25Mbps or above for all homes and businesses, and up to 50Mbps for 90 percent of the fixed line footprint, as soon as possible."

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