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NBN’s new monthly progress reports don’t tell us enough

NBN Co is talking up its achievements in a new monthly progress report. But there's one detail missing (and it could really impact your speeds).

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The good news: NBN Co is going to start releasing monthly reports to let you know exactly how the rollout of your national broadband network is going.

The bad news: There are still some really important details they won't be sharing -- details that could massively impact your speeds.

The NBN rollout is rolling on. Every month, the company responsible for Australia's biggest digital infrastructure project says it's connecting a town the size of Hobart to our new broadband network. For everyday Australians, that means the NBN is changing from vague political concept to physical broadband reality. And people are having mixed experiences.

With that in mind, NBN Co has announced the launch of a new customer experience progress report to keep Australian taxpayers informed about the service that they're ultimately paying for.

The report will include details like the number of homes and businesses capable of connecting to the NBN, how many premises are on 50Mbps speed tiers, how many installations are completed right the first time and the average number of faults.

Here's what those numbers look like in February 2018 compared to a year ago.

February 2017

February 2018

Premises ready to connect

4.2 million

6.3 million

Premises connected

1.9 million

3.6 million

Minutes of congestion (per week)

4 hours, 50 minutes

12 minutes

Premises on 50Mbps or higher speed tier

16%

25%

Faults per 100 premises per month

0.90

1.00

Speaking about the new report on Monday, NBN Co's chief customer officer for residential, Brad Whitcomb, called out the decline in congestion as a major highlight of the first customer experience report.

On the face of it, the numbers are impressive.

In February 2017, NBN users faced an average of 4 hours and 50 minutes a week of bandwidth congestion. By February 2018, that number was down to 12 minutes a week.

(That congestion is calculated by looking at the bandwidth internet service providers consume versus the bandwidth customers use. If Australians are using 95 percent of the bandwidth their ISPs have made available, that's classed as congestion. The bandwidth is measured in terms of CVC -- you can read our nifty CVC explainer here.)

But here's the rub. Congestion is only measured as an industry average, not by individual ISPs. And if you're having a rubbish experience on the NBN on a given day (because your ISP hasn't bought enough bandwidth and you're in Congestion Central) then those average figures will mean nothing to you.

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NBN does record this congestion on an ISP by ISP basis, but says it will not be releasing that data. When pressed on a media call on Monday, NBN Co's Brand Whitford said it was a matter for ISPs to share that information with customers to "make their proposition clear" when it comes to the service they offer.

In a further statement, NBN Co said it is not a regulator and therefore was "not in a position" to share this commercial-in-confidence data.

"We would recommend that end users speak to the their internet and phone providers about what speeds they can get on an NBN-powered plan and what speeds they can expect in the busy period," the statement read.

To be fair, there are moves in the industry to give Australians more clarity about what to expect from their ISP. The ACCC has a program to monitor NBN performance at the coalface, with everyday Australians volunteering to share their experiences. NBN Co itself has also changed its wholesale pricing to encourage ISPs to buy more bandwidth.

But at the end of the day, changes happening at the Australia-wide level are only so good for individual Australians battling with broadband speeds at home.

You might choose an ISP based on what looks like a good monthly data allowance for a good price, knowing that all ISPs are essentially selling the same wholesale download speed. But if you don't know how much bandwidth your ISP is paying for (and how much congestion to expect with that ISP) then you don't really know where you stand.

Getting more homes connected to the NBN with fewer faults is great news for NBN Co. Now we just need to know who to look for when we're choosing an ISP. 

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