NBN shenanigans: someone wants broadband speeds hidden

'Organisation' asked Bureau of Statistics to abstract advertised broadband speed data

Last week The Register brought you news that the Australian Bureau of Statistics' most recent Internet Activity data combined data for broadband services advertised as “8Mbps to less than 24Mbps” and “24Mbps or greater” into a single category titled “8Mbps or greater.”

At the time we suggested this was an odd categorisation, because who has anything to lose by revealing advertised broadband speeds of more than 24Mbps? It's obvious who has something to lose if there aren't many advertised plans over 24Mbps: nbn, the entity building Australia's national broadband network (NBN), which could find it hard to explain poor availability of 24Mbps or faster services.

We've since learned that someone thinks they do have something to lose, because the Bureau of Statistics has been in touch to tell us that “an organisation” asked it to alter its output regarding advertised broadband speeds.

Regular readers may recall we've been here before: the Bureau last year hid the value of an identifiable transaction of networking equipment. That's an entirely legitimate thing for the Bureau to do. And before you ask, the Bureau is not bound to reveal who makes such requests.

As a spokesperson told us in this case “All information provided to us is protected by strict legal confidentiality provisions. When we release statistics the law requires us to do so in a manner that protects the identity of any particular person or organisation.”

“This means we use a number of 'disclosure control' safeguards to prevent inadvertently releasing information that could be used to identify a person, or in this case, organisation.”

The spokesperson went on to say that “The figures for the 8-24Mbps range for December had to be confidentialised as they were a disclosure risk, but as a consequence of this we would also have had to confidentialise the 24Mbps or higher figures, too.”

“Instead, we chose to combine the ranges so that there was no disclosure risk.”

Which leaves us with a further question: given that the whole point of advertising is to tell people the speed of your broadband, who wanted to hide their advertised speeds from the statistical record? And why?

The Bureau tells us that it reviews disclosure risk for all of its publications “and if possible, for the next release of Internet Activity, we will produce statistics for each of the ranges.” ®

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