Experts say COVID-19 is exposing gaps in the NBN.

With access to high-speed broadband (HSB) and the internet via the NBN now central to people’s livelihoods, education, healthcare delivery and even social connections, Flinders University researchers say the “short-term politics of the 2013 federal election” led to decisions which caused an expensive rollout and current problems with the network.

“Our research shows that the way Australia’s NBN was implemented has meant that access to HSB is expensive compared to other countries,” Flinders University researcher Dr Matt Fisher says in a new paper.

“This contributes to more than one million Australian households not having an internet connection at home, in particular lower income suburbs and rural and remote areas.”

A team has examined NBN policy and implementation from 2008 to 2018 through Australian Government policy documents and interviews with experts.

“We found that equity considerations competed with political and commercial imperatives during the rollout of the NBN,” the Flinders researchers conclude.

“This resulted in positive and negative consequences for equity of access to HSB, with a change in policy and implementation in 2013 bringing greater risks to equity of access."

Dr Fisher says the NBN rollout also created differences in the quality of HSB services in different areas.

“This is likely to mean that people already well-off will gain more health and social benefits from the NBN than those less well-off,” he said.

“As work, education, employment, healthcare and other social services increasingly go online, the inequalities built into the NBN could add to health inequalities in Australia.”

The study is accessible here.