Why are the people you work with paying for your data use?
It’s a problem that’s been around since the dawn of the internet and is often cited as the single biggest reason why so many people choose to not use a single data service provider.
Now, with the introduction of data caps and data throttling in Australia, that question seems even more pressing.
But while the rise of data limits is undoubtedly a big issue, what is actually happening with the vast majority of Australians’ data usage?
And why does this data use matter?
While data caps have been around for a long time, they’ve come under scrutiny after the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) revealed that only 20% of Australians use them, and that the vast vast majority (86%) of data usage happens without their consent.
In fact, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, data caps are actually “less damaging to competition” than data limits and that “a data cap doesn’t stop anyone from using data”.
The issue of how much data Australians are using is still a very controversial one, with data caps often seen as an unfair way to force ISPs to charge more for data usage, but it’s also a question of basic fairness.
“The way it works is the person is not technically being asked to do something.
It’s just the provider that wants to charge higher prices,” said David Farrar, a senior lecturer in consumer law at Griffith University.
“So, if the ISP says that they can’t charge a higher price for data, that’s not a problem.”
So why is the average Australian using so much data?
According to the latest data from Optus, almost 70% of all Australian households have access to a phone and over 75% have internet access.
And while the majority of these households are using the internet for the first time, there’s a huge disparity between those who use data and those who don’t.
“For people who don, it’s probably the case that they don’t really care about the difference between internet and phone,” Farrart said.
“They’ll use both of them, but they’ll use it for different things.
For those who do, it might be that they’re more concerned about data use and it’s easier to justify that in terms of costs.”
Farrar believes this is because internet users tend to want to keep their phone data and data plans to themselves.
“A lot of these people will have a phone but they’re not using the data plan.
They’re just using the phone to do their job,” he said.
“But for people who do use the phone, they’re very keen to keep that data to themselves.”
And this data usage disparity could be due to the way the NBN is currently working.
As of March this year, Optus has revealed that there’s over 80 million connections in the network, which is a huge jump from just under 18 million in October 2015.
“Optus has been pretty clear from day one that the NBN will be a service-neutral network, that it will be able to provide high-speed fibre, it will have fibre to the node, and it will offer gigabit speeds,” Fargar said.
However, as NBN Co has announced that it’s looking at whether or not it should be required to offer fibre-to-the-node as a means of connecting Australians to the NBN, it seems that those data usage differences are starting to emerge.
“When you look at NBN Co, they have a very different approach to the whole data issue than other ISPs,” Farart said.
“They don’t want to charge the people who use their data to the detriment of other ISPs.
They don’t think that they should charge users for data they don.
They think they should be able offer fibre and not charge users to access the network.”
While data usage in Australia appears to be growing, the problem of why it matters is still unclear.
“As it stands, there are a lot of Australians who are actually using less data than they should, and there are some Australians who aren’t,” Fassar said, adding that while the issue is “very, very important” it’s unclear why it’s a big problem for a very large proportion of people.
“It could be that the people that have the data use it and don’t care, or it could be people that don’t have the option to switch,” he added.
“We just don’t know.
We just don [know].”
How does the NBN work?
The NBN has been built on the premise that there should be no “backbone” to the network.
“You don’t build an internet network from scratch, you build it from the ground up,” Fasrart said, referring to the fact that the network is built on top of the copper network.
“That’s why you need to have fibre optic lines, because if you don’t then you have to build it all from scratch