Opinion: We Don't Need The NBN To Have Decent Netflix

Yesterday I penned a story, referencing a rumour that Netflix would set up shop in Australia within a year, and the comments exploded. "It looks like Netflix has not heard the NBN is (effectively) dead, buried and has a Coles/Woolies built on top of its grave. Seriously, if Netflix sets up shop here how are they going to keep up with the bandwidth demands? The infrastructure only exists for the lucky few who have an NBN connection," wrote one commenter. People also sent forlorn tweets my way, saying exactly the same thing. Call me crazy, but I don't think we need the NBN to get a decent Netflix experience.

I don't buy it.

I'll give you one thing: the NBN would be useful for media streaming plays like Netflix. The online content network is busy mastering its content in 4K/Ultra-High Definition, which does require a cable internet connection to view. But right now, the majority of Netflix content is in standard definition, with the option to play in HD where available.

Sure, the NBN might have once been about fast, ubiquitous, nation-building internet for all, but that dream is dead. The government is capping its equity contributions to NBN Co, meaning that the company now has to finance its ground-breaking infrastructure build via private sector funding, and the board is packed to the gills with ex-Telstra cronies and conflicted parties. At the centre is Malcolm Turnbull, a vicious free-market economist who was put in his Shadow role a few years ago to "dismantle the NBN". He's doing well so far.

Now, all the NBN Co can hope to achieve is closing the digital divide as much as it can before it either runs out of money or gets its lunch cut by other ISPs keen to make a buck on fibre. The dream of the NBN has been dead for some time, so we must once again readjust our expectations as to what this nation can accomplish with the copper-based broadband we have rather than the fancy fibre we're not getting.

Thankfully, you don't need the NBN and its speed to give you a decent Netflix experience. All you need is a decent ADSL connection that will carry around 10Mbps downstream.

According to Netflix, you need a minimum speed of 500kbps to access Netflix, with a recommended minimum speed of 1.5Mbps. Ideally, the content streaming network recommends you have at least a 3Mbps connection for standard definition content, and a connection of 5Mbps for HD. 4K quality bumps you up to a recommended 25Mbps, but very few titles have that extreme definition right now, and even fewer connected devices can play it.

So let's look at some numbers about what this all means for our great nation.

According to Malcolm Turnbull's broadband survey, less than a million people have access to internet at a speed of less than 4.8Mbps. We're actually doing alright when it comes to streaming media online, with 7.1 million getting access to 24.1Mbps down, while 3.7 million others have access to speeds of 9Mbps. All of those people can stream either standard definition content from Netflix, and some can even muster a HD connection.

At the other end of the scale, there are 3.7 million Aussies with access to fast cable internet already, which means they can crack on with all the 4K content they like.

So what's the problem? I don't see one.

Sure, it sucks that the NBN as we wanted it under Labor is dead, but that doesn't mean we have to miss out on everything online.

Instead of moaning about what's mostly BS surrounding the desperate need for the NBN to make Netflix a tenable experience, go bellyache all over the internet about the sorry state of net neutrality. If you want to stop what's really going to hit your hip pocket and slow down your favourite internet streaming services, get out there and spread the word: internet fast lanes are not acceptable anywhere. Bitching about the NBN can wait.