Friday 24 May 2013

Ripping off the consumer - the cost of internet access in Australia

My uni research has started chewing through a few extra GB of data each month, now that I'm remotely monitoring the data reduction routines running on my uni workstation. So I'm in danger of exceeding the data allowance of the 10GB/mo Optus 'data plan' we're currently on for our 3G wireless broadband. Any excess data use is charged at an exorbitant $20/GB ($0.02 per MB), which provided a nasty shock once earlier this year when I went over the limit on the final day of the month by mistake. At least the optus rate is slightly 'better' than Telstra charge of $100/GB for excess data that applies on some of their mobile broadband plans!.

So I was looking at the options for upgrading to a higher standard monthly data allowance, although I'm wary of paying an extra fee every month for extra data when most months the 10GB cap is more than adequate. I had expected that the cost per GB/mo would decrease as you contract for a higher monthly 'plan', as most commodities enjoy economies of scale, or encourage their customers to 'upsize'. And, given the fairly high monthly cost for paying off the wireless device is constant regardless of data plan size, the effect should be quite noticeable if normal economic rules applied.

Therefore I was somewhat shocked (but not particularly surprised, given the track record of telcos ripping off consumers at every opportunity in Australia) to see that both Telstra and Optus actually charge MORE per GB/mo for plans with higher data allowances. For example, Optus costs about $35 for data on their 10GB/mo plan (ie. $3.50/GB/mo), whereas the 20GB/mo plan costs $75 for data (ie. $3.75/GB)! This is highlighted in the 'cloud' region of the chart below.

It is interesting to note that the 200GB/mo and 500GB/mo NBN plans from Telstra lie close to the expected log-log line of cost per GB vs. GB/mo plan size. Unfortunately a) NBN isn't 'coming soon' to our suburb for at least 3 years, b) I only need ~15-20 GB in high use months, with normal use around 5-10 GB, so even 100GB/mo seems excessive, unless I start downloading lots of movies, or spend hours a day Skyping overseas colleagues, and c) while the Telstra and Optus plans both support 4G and fall-back to 3G where needed, our house is in a valley and only has (rather poor) 3G coverage available.

What I'd like to see is wireless broadband plan that charges, say, $60/mo for a 20-GB/mo data plan, and charges something reasonable for excess data usage, say $3.50/GB, up to a reasonable limit (eg. twice the plan's standard data allowance). That would be enough to 'tide me over' until the NBN (or the coalition's NBN-lite) is rolled out to our suburb around 2016... I won't be holding my breath though.

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