Go back in time about a dozen years, and the majority of Australian Internet users were on dialup. Speeds, to put it kindly, weren’t great, but we were at least (largely) removed from the era where ISPs gave you a set number of hours of dialup time. You might be disconnected at “peak times” if you’d been connected for too long — or if a random seagull landed on a line somewhere, or something — but you could, for the most part, download as much as your poky 56kbps connection could handle.
These days, the majority of Internet users in Australia are on a broadband connection of some kind, but (again, with certain exceptions) those plans are limited by the quantity of data you’re permitted to shift around. Downloads isn’t quite the right word there; the vast majority of plans count any data you upload against your quota. This makes picking a plan with enough data a rather vital consideration. Choose too little, and you’ll either pay hefty excess fees (especially for mobile broadband) or get shaped down to speeds last seen in the dialup era. Choose too much, and you’re paying for data you’ll never use.
How much data does the average Australian use, anyway? The latest figures from the Australian Communications And Media Authority (ACMA) paint an interesting picture. Its latest report (which can be found here: http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_410070) suggests that in the December 2010 quarter, the average fixed line (that’s ADSL, ADSL2+ and Cable) connection downloaded 18.8GB of data; that’s a little over 6GB per month for the quarter. Switch to a mobile broadband service and the figures tumble down to around half a gigabyte per month. Whether that’s to do with the higher cost of mobile broadband or its sometimes spotty availability is rather hard to say, but I’d bet more on the former case.
That’s a whole lot of streaming video, or if you’re feeling uncharitable, a lot of torrented episodes of Top Gear, and undoubtedly there are edge cases on both sides of the equation; those folks who consistently use their entire massive quota each month, and those who only scrape through on a few megabytes here and there. The latter case customers are the ones that ISPs love, by the way, as they’re both far more profitable and less hassle. If every user tried to access their full data quota each and every month, most ISPs would simply collapse; like mobile telephony it’s built on a slightly oversold premise.
The broadband usage figures are interesting, but what’s their take-home value? Most ISPs will allow you to view a rough breakdown of your ongoing figures, and if you’re paying for a connection you barely touch the edges of, it’s well worth examining if you can switch down a pricing tier. That 6GB per month figure seems like a good base point to grow up from, bearing in mind that vital upgrades such as operating system patches and Antivirus software signature upgrades can rather easily eat up a few GB each month by themselves if things get busy. That’s without ever touching a single Web page, and as I’ve covered before, it’d be a very bad idea to leave your PC unpatched and unprotected.