Internet Activity, Australia

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Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)


There is policy interest in promoting internet use in the business and household sectors, as access to the internet has the potential to deliver economic and social benefits. Business use of the internet can improve business productivity and international market access, while household use of the internet has various social implications related to skill development and service access. There is also policy interest in equality of access to internet services Australia wide, particularly in regional locations.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are the main avenue of internet access for households and businesses. Hence, there is interest in statistics on the nature and growth of the ISP industry, characteristics and location of customers, and related telecommunications infrastructure. As the ISP industry is dynamic and continually evolving, there is also interest in a time series which measures changes to the industry and technologies. The Internet Activity Survey (IAS) survey is designed to meet these needs.


The main purpose of the ABS IAS is to provide a set of regular partial indicators of internet activity in Australia. This survey complements other IT surveys already produced, including Business Use of IT (BUIT), Government Use of IT (GUIT), Household Use of IT (HUIT), Farm Use of IT (FUIT) and supplementary IT questions on the Agricultural Survey and the 2006 Census of Population and Housing.

Key users of this data are: the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC); the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA); the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE); and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which utilises IAS data for international comparisons. Ongoing relationships with these key users allows the ABS to ensure their requirements are met by the IAS.


The scope of the collection is all resident Australian ISPs (i.e. all businesses that supply internet connectivity services to individuals, businesses and other organisations).

Organisations that provide internet access on a casual basis are excluded from the scope of the survey population. Examples of these types of organisations include:

  • Libraries
  • Internet kiosks
  • Internet cafes
  • Hotspots or hotzones

Most IAS survey cycles are conducted with a reduced scope format. A full census cycle will be conducted approximately every three years, with the last census conducted in respect of the June quarter 2010 and the next census planned for the June quarter 2013. Details of the reduced scope and census cycles are as follows:


All Australian ISPs with active subscribers are surveyed in a census cycle. One of two form types is sent to each ISP depending on the ISP's total number of active subscribers.
  • ISPs with more than 1,000 active subscribers are sent a long form which asks all questions and covers all data items (i.e. type of subscriber, access technology, download speed, mobile handset internet subscribers, volume of data downloaded, location of subscriber, and SPAM filtering and other services offered); and
  • ISPs with 1,000 or less active subscribers are sent a shorter version of the form which asks a subset of the questions (i.e. type of subscriber, access technology, and download speed).

Reduced scope

Only Australian ISPs with more than 1,000 active subscribers are surveyed in a reduced scope cycle. These ISPs are sent a long form which asks all questions and covers all data items (i.e. type of subscriber, access technology, download speed, mobile handset internet subscribers, volume of data downloaded, location of subscriber, and SPAM filtering and other services offered).

This approach to the IAS scope provides frequent and timely data on key trends, while keeping resource usage and provider load to acceptable levels, particularly for small ISPs.


Conceptual framework
The IAS was originally a quarterly census survey which collected details of internet activity services provided by all ISPs in Australia. The population is derived by the ABS from a list of ISPs registered with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. The collection frequency was reduced from quarterly to biannual from September 2001 and continued to be collected every March and September until March 2005 when the collection was suspended for review.

Following the review, the collection frequency reduced to annual from September 2006. However, a subset of the population (i.e. those ISPs with more than 10,000 active subscribers) were surveyed in the March quarters so as to continue to collect frequent data on key industry trends.

In response to the OECD's need for more timely data, another review was undertaken in August 2007. An outcome of this review was to change the collection reference quarters from March and September to June and December. This commenced in December 2007, when the December quarter became the census of ISPs and the June quarter collecting data only from those ISPs with more than 10,000 active subscribers.

A further change was made in June 2009, when the collection scope changed to two biannual collections both covering only ISPs with more than 1,000 subscribers. This enables the release of data that would otherwise be confidential. It also represents a more efficient use of resources, as the ISPs with less than 1,000 subscribers accounted for 71% of ISPs but contributed less than 1% to aggregate data for June quarter 2010. It is planned that a census cycle will be conducted approximately every three years, with the next census due in June quarter 2013.

Prior to December 2009, IAS excluded internet subscribers via mobile handsets. In December 2009, based on a change in OECD methodology, the IAS broadened the definition of mobile wireless subscribers to include mobile handset internet users. This was to facilitate international comparisons and to provide statistics to key users on a rapidly growing internet technology in Australia. These changes were made in consultation with key users and respondents. Data on internet subscribers via mobile handsets were collected in December 2009 but were not published due to respondent reporting issues. In June 2010, the IAS published its first set of statistics on numbers of internet subscribers via mobile handsets and volumes of data downloaded by these subscribers. Data was presented in experimental form as an appendix. For December 2010, two quarters of data is now available, enabling percentage movement to be extracted. The data is now included in the main body of the IAS web release.

Main outputs
ABS catalogue number 8153.0 contains details of internet activity supplied by ISPs in Australia. It includes information on internet subscribers, types of internet connections, sector of the users (i.e. business/household), volume of data downloaded, speed of the internet connection and location of the subscriber (by state or territory).

The frequency of the collection provides an indication of the growth in the number of Australian households and businesses obtaining access to the internet. In addition, the IAS indicates movements in the type of internet technology accessed in Australia.

ISPs are classified by size ranges according to the number of business and/or private subscribers they report in the IAS. The size categories have been determined in consultation with the ABS Economic Standards Section. The size classifications are:

Size of ISPDefinition of Size
no. of subscribers)
Very small1 - 100
Small101 - 1,000
Medium1,001 - 10,000
Large10,001 - 100,000
Very large100,001+

Other classifications used, including access type and access speed ranges, have been developed in consultation with key providers and users of IAS data and are regularly reviewed to ensure they remain current. They are consistent with similar demand-side questions used in BUIT, FUIT, GUIT and HUIT.


New South Wales
South Australia
Western Australia
Northern Territory

Comments and/or Other Regions
There is strong demand for regional data but most ISPs are unable to provide this level of detail without incurring significant costs. Other means of collecting this information are being explored by users.




Reference periodEvent
December 2010Two quarters of mobile handset data published, enabling users to extract percentage movements.
June 2010Triennial census conducted. Also, data on internet subscribers via mobile handsets published.
December 2009Definition of mobile wireless broadened to include internet subscribers via mobile handsets.
June 2009Reduced scope changed to include ISPs with more than 1,000 active subscribers.
December 2007Collection changed to December (census) and June (reduced scope) quarters.
September 2006Collection recommenced as an annual collection following review and further development. However, for March quarters a reduced scope sample of ISPs with more than 10,000 active subscribers was collected.
June 2006Data collected only from ISPs with more than 10,000 active subscribers operating in Australia. The reduced scope survey was undertaken to measure growth in the industry prior to the September 2006 collection.
March 2005Collection suspended pending review.
September 2003Substantial redevelopment of the collection form including new and revised data items.
September 2002Responsibility for collection transferred from Queensland to Western Australia.
March 2002First biannual collection.
September 2000First (quarterly) collection.