Improved access to key online services during COVID

10 December 2020

Increased broadband speeds have improved performances of popular streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube during mid-September and October when compared to a pre-COVID baseline of February 2020.

The ACCC’s second Critical Services Report released today, tracks the performance of the NBN fixed-line broadband connections that support popular streaming and video conferencing services.

“These improvements are welcomed given the sustained increase in the use of video streaming services due to the pandemic,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said. 

In the first two weeks of October, Netflix’s daily download speed improved to be between 6 to 7 per cent higher than its February 2020 baseline. Over the same period, YouTube’s daily download speed was between 1 to 4 per cent higher than its February 2020 baseline.

Results also show that streaming services, Netflix and YouTube had typically faster download speeds than in the first Critical Services Report, which showed performance during May 2020.

“The free network capacity boost offered by NBN Co at the outset of the pandemic has been key to the continual uplift in access quality to online applications,” Mr Sims said.

NBN Co and service providers introduced mitigation measures to alleviate congestion on broadband networks due to COVID-19. These included reductions in the bitrates or the picture quality of their services. Most video streaming services returned to full bitrates by October 2020 with the relaxation of pandemic restrictions.

“The MBA program data has allowed us to see how the mitigations and network boosts have improved streaming quality, and benefitted consumers, since the last report,” Mr Sims said.

The report shows broadly consistent results to the first Critical Services Report, which monitored performance during May 2020. In October 2020, NBN consumers continued to have very good access to video conferencing applications, with low round trip latency on all domestic hosted conferences for those on a NBN25, NBN50 or NBN100 and regardless of NBN technology or choice of conference host.

Higher latency was seen for consumers in Western Australia accessing conferences that are hosted on servers on the East Coast, and for all consumers where international server locations were used to host a conference.

Video conferencing applications hosted in Australia connected with a low latency of around 25 milliseconds or less in October 2020, while internationally hosted video conferencing applications had latency of over 100 milliseconds. This indicates that users of the applications with domestically hosted servers would have had less lag or delay compared with video conferencing applications hosted overseas.

It is more likely that a video conference will be hosted overseas if consumers are using a free account, however there are some situations where even a paid video conference application could be hosted overseas.

Notes to editors

The Critical Services Report is produced as part of the Measuring Broadband Australia (MBA) program. Testing infrastructure for the regular MBA reporting has been used to collect additional data during early October 2020 on the performance of nominated applications in the context of the COVID-19 environment. This is the second Critical Services Report, building on the observations from the July 2020 report.

Latency refers to the delay in receiving and responding to data and is driven by, for example, the distance to servers where applications are hosted. When in a video call, longer delays are likely to lead to disjointed conversations.

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Critical Services Report Part 1

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The Federal Government funded the ACCC to run a national broadband performance monitoring and reporting program from 2017-21.

Data for Measuring Broadband Australia is provided by UK-based firm SamKnows using methodology based on established speed testing programs in the UK, US and Canada.

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