Why Internet Access in Australia Sucks

In a comment on my post about (relatively) Cheap Net Access in Australia [1] sin from Romania said “Somebody needs to whack the aussie ISP in the head with a cluebat. The prices that you pay are insane“.

In Eastern Europe you have optic fibers from Germany and other western European countries that carry vast amounts of data. As the demand for capacity increases it’s not THAT difficult to lay more fibers. You also have competition between different companies that lay fiber. To get data to Australia you must lay cables under the sea, this is expensive and can’t be done quickly. Therefore all international data transfers are expensive to cover the expense of laying the cables. I don’t think that we have any real competition in the market for International connectivity from Australia either.

Now the links between Europe and the US aren’t cheap either, but I believe that there are economies of scale (as well as shorter distances) that make them significantly cheaper than the links to Australia.

Also a good portion of the traffic that you generate as a customer of a European ISP will stay within Europe as there are heaps of good sites in Europe. The number of people living in Europe who speak English as their first language is more than twice that of Australia. The number of Europeans who communicate in English almost as fluently as the native speakers (such as about half the population of the Netherlands) is also quite significant. I expect that the amount of English-language material on the net that is published from the EU is more than three times greater than the quantity published from Australia. People who speak languages that have a more limited geographic spread (IE anything other than English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese) will have a higher portion of local traffic which is therefore cheaper for their ISP. So based on the relative population sizes we should expect to have Australians making a higher portion of their Internet bandwidth be expensive international data transfers than that of Europeans.

Then of course there is the issue of server costs. Running servers in Australia is horribly expensive, while user access to the net is merely annoyingly expensive, the costs of hosting servers are significant – and usually the offers have slower hardware and slower transfers (particularly to the important US and EU markets). My blog is hosted in Germany because the company that was offering me free hosting in Australia encouraged me to host it elsewhere due to the price. Also hosting in Germany gives me slightly lower ping times to the US and significantly lower ping times to Europe. As about half the readers of my blog are based in the US, a significant quantity of the readers are based in the EU, and Australia only contains a small portion of the readers the overall experience for readers of my blog is improved by having it hosted outside Australia. It would be better to have it hosted in the US (where most of my readers are located) but I was offered free hosting in the EU.

It would be nice if there was a cheap and easy way of getting a mirror of my blog running in Australia with Geo-DNS so that people using Australian IP addresses would get a local server. Putting the static images on an Australian server would be trivial, setting up Geo-DNs would be painful and probably increase reliability issues later on but isn’t insurmountable (I have root on both DNS servers). The Debian blog gives some basic information on how to setup GeoDNS [2]. Then I would need to set up a MySQL slave for WordPress data and modify WordPress to send it’s writes to the master server – which is probably impossible for me unless someone else has already written a WordPress plugin for this, I’m really not good at PHP programming. Another possibility would be one of the WordPress cache plugins that maintain static files to avoid needless database lookups.

Until/unless I do such things, every Australian reader of my web site (and those of my friends who do similar things to me regarding hosting) will slightly tilt the balance of Internet transfers in favor of expensive data from foreign servers instead of cheap content from local servers.

Sometimes it just sucks to live on an island.

13 comments to Why Internet Access in Australia Sucks

  • steffen

    Australia is probably just a bit late…I think the first landline from Europe to US was done pretty early on, before anybody thought about fiber. And once you have a cable channel, its cheaper to put more cable in it.

    But, living in Sydney on ADSL right now, I can’t say the connection is that bad. Its not as good as being hooked up to a university network in Germany, but its also not as painful as modem or ISDN a few years ago. My wireless experience with ‘unwired’ was pretty bad though. 3G also adds a lot of delay of course.

    Unfortunately, once the worst pain is mitigated, there is much less incentive on doing it right..

  • etbe

    According to the above URL the standard practice for repairing undersea cables is to cut them, bring the ends to the surface, and then put a long section in to connect at surface level. When they are re-laid it is in the form of a U shape on the sea floor. So it seems that all repairs will result in new positions for the cable.

    Also it seems that putting a second cable in the same place increases the probability of them both being damaged at the same time. As well as the risk that laying one cable might damage another.

    It seems that it would be best to not lay the cables in the same trench. Do you have a reference showing them doing that?

    3G is noticably slower. But it is bearable for doing sysadmin work via ssh. For checking email and browsing the web it’s pretty good as long as you don’t go to any overly bloated web sites.

  • I know it is ridiculous, but here my numbers. I live in Sofia, Bulgaria.
    100MB LAN (pppoe) to my ISP (which also hosts — it costs something like (actually I forgot the exact numbers;-) ~60-70EUR/year (yes per year); there is no traffic quota or any silly games like that. I believe the upstream connectivity goes through Germany and France, where there is a plenty of fast tubes. Having a Debian mirror at home would be silly, but certainly doable ;-)

  • steffen

    Wikipedia is correct on this one, I remember reading about it when we had the problems in 2008. Hmmm…I can’t find any hard facts on this but I also remember reading about companies adding XXX Gbit cables to existing XXX GBit cables, so it is possible you’re right. Though the reason might be different: It appears the those cables are as think as your thumb. There’s a lot of pressure down there and you can’t put a lot of air in it, so I imagine adding a cable is quite difficult. Regarding repairs, the cables are probably reselled at least once and as we saw in 2008, every large provider has multiple routes or contracts.

    Hmmm…there are some detailed maps here:

    You can see a category “jointly operated cables”.

  • sin

    Here, when internet was expensive for just one user to get, people in a tennant building would put money together, buy wholesale at lower prices and used a NAT box to give everyone internet access at reasonable speeds. And these networks grew so much that they were like mini/micro ISPs and from building to building they soon started to own entire neighborhoods. This forced the hand of bigger ISPs to lower prices to match them and now the small ISPs are being bought by the bigger ISPs. Fortunately, the prices remained low.

    Regarding bandwidth quota, that was something that died very quickly here as ISPs competed very much in this space and it was enough for one of them to offer unlimited traffic even if it was at lower speeds.

    I’m sorry if I was a little harsh on your previous post, but in a country more evloved than ours it’s kind of hard to believe that monopolies thrive with impunity.

  • etbe

    George: That is insane!

    steffen: That zip file appears corrupt to me.

    sin: Sharing connections makes sense if the wholesale connections are better value for money. That hasn’t always been the case in Australia, at the moment connections with an upstream speed that are better than the default for ADSL2+ can be very expensive, more expensive than multiple independent connections that give the same speed in aggregate. Not long ago connections with an upload speed more than about 256Kb/s were very expensive in the same way.

    One thing to note about Australia is that pay rates are very comparable to US pay rates when you convert the currency – IE they are significantly higher than those in many Eastern European countries. The installation price for ADSL of $100 or more probably sounds like a lot, but you won’t get much change from $100 if you call an electrician or plumber to fix a minor problem. Of course $100 or $150 for the purchase of a 3G modem is unreasonably expensive, that’s just price-gouging by the vendors.

    You weren’t unreasonably harsh, you were just harsh for the wrong reasons! ;)

    Sol Trujillo is the root cause of many problems with the Internet in Australia, he was so awful I used him as an example of CEOs misbehaving, destroying shareholder value, and giving bad service to customers.

  • etbe

    sin: As for monopolies in a supposedly developed country (I would be interested to read a blog post by you explaining what you consider a “developed country” to be), you might note the capture of the US government by the banking industry and the military-industrial complex. It vastly exceeds anything that you will see in Australia.

    In fact Sol Trujillo returned to the US in disgrace precisely because he tried to run Telstra in the US manner and the Australian government didn’t give in and hand him a monopoly.


  • steffen

    Hm, the zip still works for me. I repacked it here:

    Pretty detailed but a bit outdated(1999). It appears one can order posters :-)

  • sin

    Let’s see what I think about an evolved country: have decent hospital care without bribing doctors/nurses/janitors in a hospital so that someone can actually give a damn about your condition and your treatment, a good highway infrastructure, law enforcement that won’t take bribe in the middle of the street to let you off and so on and actually catches bad guys no matter what government job they have and so on, schools where you won’t freeze in the classrooms because nobody gives money to repair windows or pay the heating bills, teachers that actually tell things that are useful in life and don’t just make you memorize tens of pages of crap and then giving you control papers on that. The list is longer, but you get the general idea.
    Pretty simple, eh ?

  • as i live in australia i can tell u how in the largger city areas u can get a maxximumin of 30Megs internrt conection speed with about 120gig of download limit and u paying 170 a mounth and that dont include phone calls or line rental if u wanna come to australia just dont expect to use the net unless u wanna pay a arm and a leg. and in country areas u can get a max of 8meg conections and most of australia is counrty area so yeah it suxs and iam still paying 130 a mounth for 110 gig with 8 meg conecction and if i go over that 110 gig download they slow the connection speed down too 75kbps witch is not even worth using i hate internet companys in ausustralia they r all ripp of dogs well later all i hope u like my story


  • Dan

    I live in the Western suburbs, 20 mins from Melb CBD.
    No one in my street can get adsl, everyone’s forced to use wireless or dial-up.
    We have a signed petition that we sent to telstra asking them to fix this problem, Everyone in our neighbourhood signed it. Telstra could be making $14,700 a month just from my area, yet they still refuse to lay new cables and give the western suburbs broadband. Australia is stuck in the stone age. And instead of working towards a solution, everyone insists on playing the blame game, It’s not Telstras fault it’s the governments fault, It’s not the governments fault it’s Telstras fault.
    I don’t care who’s to blame, just fix it.
    Give me the National Broadband Network you promissed me back in 2007.

  • Cireshka

    I’ve just moved to Australia after living in Europe and I agree that Internet here is atrocious! We live just 30 minutes from the center of Melbourne and can’t even get ADSL because there are no more open ports (maybe in 3-4 months we will have a chance…??!!). Most wireless modems have very weak signal and the only thing we managed to get working is the Telstra one which is extremely expensive – $150 for the device and 5GB of data included. The recharge would be $40/GB. I really can’t understand how this is possible and how in the 21st century you still get Internet limited on quantity! Maybe some other things here work better than in Eastern Europe, but that is not an excuse for the lack of quality related to telecommunications – apart from Internet, I also find telephone and TV networks low quality and too expensive. Europe has abolished the connexion fee for mobile calls a long time ago (what exactly do we pay for when they charge the flag fall???) and in many countries the contracts can be canceled without exorbitant penalties! I think there is a lack of political interest in liberalizing the market and making services accessible. Australia must like its corporations more than it’s citizens, i reckon…

    And just to give some terms of comparison, in Romania, most Internet connections use coaxial cable or optic fiber, the slowest connection you can get is 5MB/s, the fastest around 100MB/s (of course, unlimited traffic, at anytime) and the prices range from the equivalent of $3/month to $20/month ($3 is a pack of cigarettes).There is no installation fee, no cancellation fee and you usually get the service working in maximum 1 week from when you made the request.

  • etbe

    Cireshka: Telstra is a good 3G provider for regional areas. I’m surprised that you only managed to get Telstra going if you are only 30 mins from the center of Melbourne. I would expect Three/Vodaphone and Optus to work well in such areas. I’m about 30 mins from the center of Melbourne and I get quite reasonable (but not great) 3G performance from Three. For most things I do Three would suffice (but ADSL is good for low latency on ssh, downloading iso files and TED talks).

    I agree that we should have government action. I’ve been thinking of writing some blog posts about how to properly implement it.

    Also do you use Linux? If so then you really should join LUV.