Initially budgeted at 29.5 billion Australian dollars, the NBN’s cost and completion date have been moving targets for over half a decade. In 2020, the budget had reached 51 billion Australian dollars and the initial 2016 completion date had been moved by four years to mid-2020. However, despite criticism of the cost and timeline, NBN Co has performed well in recent years. In 2019, NBN Co brought in 2.83 billion Australian dollars in revenue, showing a year-on-year increase of almost one billion Australian dollars two years running. The network is also growing rapidly as it nears the finish line, with over 10 million premises connected at the end of the 2019 financial year and NBN Co announcing that the network was more than 90 percent complete in early 2020 and on track for completion by mid-year.
As the monopoly wholesaler of broadband internet in Australia, NBN Co is closely regulated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). As such, NBN Co is unable to provide internet connections as an ISP in its own right. Instead they manage the wholesale contracts for Retail Service Providers (RSP) and the RSPs sell retail broadband internet connections to their customers. TPG, Optus, Vocus group, and the formally public owned Telstra, all hold considerable portions of the retail broadband market. While wholesale prices are regulated at a fixed price, there is still some variation in retail pricing from RSP to RSP, depending on the speed tier, and how it is bundled.
So far it appears mobile broadband users have seen the greatest benefit from the NBN. Since 2018, the entire mobile internet network had transitioned to broadband and was enjoying download speeds significantly higher than fixed broadband connections. The cost of internet and data has also favored the mobile network since the expansion of the NBN. In 2015, the median price of post and prepaid mobile data was over 25 Australian dollars per gigabyte, compared to less than half that amount for mobile broadband data. By 2019, post- and prepaid mobile data prices were slashed to match that of mobile broadband which was then at less than three Australian dollars per megabyte.
With almost 90 percent of the population actively using the internet, Australians rely on their internet connections for both work and leisure. However, even with the impending completion of the NBN, Australia ranks relatively poorly in terms of internet speed, compared to other countries. In 2020, average download speeds for fixed broadband were around 45 Mbps whereas world internet speed leaders, Singapore and Hong Kong, left Australia in the dust with speeds of around four times that of Australia. These lower speeds may be partially due to the NBN’s use of mixed technologies and preexisting copper connections to complete the network, but it is also important to take into account the size of the NBN given Australia’s size and low population density.