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<p>Photo by Mike Bowers.</p>

Photo by Mike Bowers.

Who’s Afraid Of The NBN?

The National Broadband Network is on its way, but is it value for money?


There’s many a laugh to be had watching British television drama Downton Abbey, set in country England before World War One. It is a time of significant technological change, and throughout, the aristocratic family adjusts to luxuries such as electric lights and telephones.

The fantastic, perpetually frowning dowager countess — played to perfection by Maggie Smith — handles change worst, regularly expressing her dislike of the new technology.  “Electricity in the kitchen? Whatever for?” she says at one point.

“High-speed broadband is the solution to the tyranny of distance in the bush.”

A modern life without electricity is unimaginable, just as many of the innovations made possible by its invention also once would have seemed implausible.

The history of Australia’s electricity infrastructure is a hodge-podge of public and private investment and enterprise, with no overarching strategy or single body of investment. Yet this vital infrastructure has been crucial to the nation’s expansion and development. It has made possible the impossible, dragging society forward time and again. And it has done so largely unanticipated — because that’s how innovation works. In the beginning, while it seems ludicrous that you might end up relying on something then viewed as a luxury, it is hard to see where things might lead.

Electricity and its patchwork past are worth remembering when considering the federal government’s National Broadband Network and the debate that swirls around it.

The NBN is expensive. Let’s not pretend it’s anything else. It will cost an estimated AUD35.9 billion. And it won’t be fully operational for years. It has been attacked as one of the “great all-time white elephants” by Opposition leader Tony Abbott, and Coalition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull says the government should be looking for cheaper solutions to our internet challenges. Perhaps that’s not surprising coming from an Opposition that infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese has dubbed the “Noalition”.

Still, it can be difficult to know whether this investment is a good one or not, and the federal government cannot be accused of selling its big plans well. The polling shows the majority of Australians are in favour of the NBN, but it is not clear that people know exactly what it is and what it will do.

How many megabits per second does a country really need? And how do we know that won’t change in the future? In the end, that’s what this argument boils down to, and neither side knows who will be right.  What is certain is that for now, the NBN looks to be the future-proofing option. The one that can cater for our strongest demands and our highest expectations, and it is already being rolled out. The alternative, while significantly cheaper, can only cater for what we know we will need, not what we have not yet anticipated — potentially like having electricity in the kitchen.

The federal government is aiming for download speeds that begin at the “basic” level of 12 megabits per second  (12 million bits) and rise as high as 1,000 megabits per second.  Presently most Australians with broadband are on plans with advertised speeds of between 1.5Mbps and 24Mbps. But advertised speeds are not indicative of the speeds you are actually getting, so it is hard to know if we really are accessing services in the low-range of what would be offered once the NBN is complete in 2021.

Website NetIndex charts the real speed of broadband services around the globe. It regularly tests the download and upload speeds of internet connections and creates rankings based on up-to-date information about how fast our services really are working. In Australia, measured over the period between February 6 and March 6, 2012, our average download speed was 10.63Mbps. On average download speed, Australia comes in 40th in the world.

The top 10 countries, according to NetIndex, are mostly in Europe, with South Korea (30.35Mbps) and Singapore (23.47Mbps) also on the list. Number one is Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, with average speeds of 31.69Mbps. That’s an average of almost 8Mbps more than the highest theoretical speed offered on the majority of Australian plans.

So we are not yet seeing widespread high-speed broadband comparable to other countries, and it is difficult then to know just what broadband at that speed would be like. Turnbull argues that while our infrastructure does need an upgrade, the NBN will be prohibitively expensive, both at the initial investment level, and also, once built, for the consumer.

There is some preliminary evidence that on the second count at least that he may well be wrong. The wholesale prices for NBN plans released by the NBN Co in December 2010 start at AUD24 for 12Mbps, $34 for 50Mbps, $70 for 250Mbps, through to $150 for 1,000Mbps. Retailers offering NBN plans in the first areas to have the network rolled out — which include parts of Tasmania, Armidale in northern New South Wales and Brunswick in Melbourne’s inner-north — have priced services comparable to current plans for the existing network.

Internode, one of the first providers to offer NBN plans,  has an entry-level plan that costs $49.95 a month for 30 gigabytes at 12Mbps. There are no line rental charges, and if you exceed your downloads, speeds drop but you are not charged any more. A basic “easy naked ADSL2+” plan available now — with no additional line rental and the same 30GB cap — costs $59.95, with $10 in VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone credit.

ADSL2+ has estimated speeds of between 10 and 24Mbps, so it is the most directly comparable to the low-end NBN plans. And the costs are pretty similar.

<p>Photo by Mark Graham/Bloomberg via Getty Images.</p>

Photo by Mark Graham/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Senator Conroy, the Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy Minister.

Pricing outlines from other providers are comparable, so where you are getting ‘like for like’, the costs are very similar. The more speed you want, the more expensive it becomes, but as in every market, people will choose the plan that best suits their needs and budget, and even the low-end plans far exceed the speeds offered now on many “cheap” services.

To roll out the NBN, the government established the NBN Co in April 2009. It oversees the construction of the network, and is in charge of the wholesale side of the enterprise. Essentially, the public will own the network, and private companies will then buy access to the infrastructure and deliver it to consumers.  This, the government says, will alleviate such problems as cropped up when Telstra was sold and the market opened up to competitors. In that case the playing field was never leveled; Telstra had access to an extensive network that other companies had to pay to access or build around. The NBN Co is designed to avoid that particular problem.

As part of the NBN deal, the government has split Telstra’s retail and wholesale businesses, negotiating with the company to shut the copper network down over the rollout period for the NBN, and giving the NBN Co access to Telstra infrastructure that will make the rollout smoother. Approval for the deal was granted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in February 2012.

The question of whether Australia is getting value for money out of its investment is a more complicated one. The government is fronting a significant amount of cash to make the NBN work, and the back-and-forth over the price tag looks set to continue.

According to the company’s corporate plan, the government investment in the NBN (running at some 27.5 billion) would be repaid after the network was completed. The NBN Co will raise the rest of the funds.

The broad strokes of the argument, on the government’s side, are that this kind of network will never be built by private enterprise, because to do so would be prohibitively expensive. To build fibre-to-the-home broadband to 93 per cent of Australia, and cover the rest with wireless and satellite, is too big a job for any one company to undertake.

But why do we need that kind of network? In short, the one we have isn’t up to scratch and needs to be updated —both sides agree on that. For the kinds of technological innovation anticipated in the 21st century — innovations that will change how we work, are educated, where we live, and how we receive vital health care services — the government has decided that fibre-to-the-home broadband is best placed to deliver a modern framework upon which to build. The NBN is not so much about making it faster for you to download the latest episode of Game of Thrones, it’s more about linking city and country, providing health care to remote locations, allowing people to work remotely, and — lest we forget — any number of things not yet anticipated. The capacity in the network is not for today, it is for tomorrow.

“The NBN is profoundly anti-competitive and hugely restricts economic freedom.”

In a report commissioned by the federal Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, the Allen Consulting Group says: “In the coming decade, the internet will become increasingly important, with broadband access as fundamental a requirement for social and economic participation as the telephone and electricity.” The report, published in November 2010, looks at the economic benefits of fast broadband available to all.

It does not take into account the cost involved of building a fast broadband network, nor does it factor the NBN into the analysis. But it provides some interesting food for thought. For starters, it highlights the divide between the sort of internet connections people in metropolitan areas have, as opposed to those in regional or remote areas.

“Although dial-up connections are phasing out of the market, regional households are still nearly 70 per cent more likely to connect to the internet through a dial-up connection,” the report says.

The service divide between the country and the city is one of the key reasons why the government is building an entirely new network — to alleviate the discrepancies. Signing up to support the Gillard minority government in 2010, the independent member for New England in northern NSW, Tony Windsor, nominated the NBN as the most important reason for his decision.

In February 2012, Windsor welcomed the government’s announcement of a contract to build the satellites that will help supplement fibre-to-the-home in remote areas saying, “high-speed broadband is the solution to the tyranny of distance in the bush”.

And it’s not just the lack of broadband in the bush.  The report cites a 2008 study that found indigenous Australians are 69 per cent less likely to have any internet connection at all; just 42 per cent of people in very-remote areas have a connection, a clear inequality that the government cites as yet another justification for such a big spending program. Again, the argument goes, a market-driven private system won’t build super-fast broadband in small towns and regional backstops, because there aren’t enough customers to recoup the money spent.

But why go all out and build fibre-to-the-home, the oppositions says, if you could spend significantly less running the fibre-optic cables to exchanges and then let the existing copper wires carry the internet into our homes? It’s cheaper, quicker to build, and adequate for what we need the internet to do.

<p>Photo by Mike Bowers.</p>

Photo by Mike Bowers.

That model, put forward by Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition, rests on some key arguments. First, that in the future we won’t need speeds significantly greater than we already need. Second, that other technologies such as wireless will become better at delivering more, faster. And third, that by as early as its completion in 2021 the NBN will be outdated, and will have proved itself to be an expensive waste of money that isn’t even the latest technology.

It is true that the NBN plan relies on assumptions. Namely that fibre will continue to be the best way to deliver super-fast internet and that our capacity to find uses for all that wonderful speed will continue to grow, and not stagnate.

Turnbull had this to say at the Young Liberal convention in January 2012:

“Let me concisely summarize our main objections for you. The NBN is expensive — far more expensive than it needs to be. Completing the network and migrating customers onto it will cost $50 billion and very likely more.

“More capital employed in the network inevitably means higher prices for consumers and businesses. It is plain that a more rational approach involving running fibre closer to end users but not all the way to every house or business in Australia could achieve largely similar performance for almost all users at perhaps a third of the cost.”

He went on to argue that the plan was a thumb to the nose of current economic wisdom about the role government should play in markets, and the way it engages with private enterprise.

“The NBN is profoundly anti-competitive and hugely restricts economic freedom. As it is rolled out, three existing networks — Telstra’s copper, the Optus HFC cable network, and Telstra’s HFC network — will no longer be permitted to carry voice or broadband, and the first two will be decommissioned. This is economically wasteful and detrimental to competition. But it no doubt will prove helpful to an over-capitalized government monopoly keen to recover its costs,” he told the young party faithful.

“We simply do not have the copper availability and quality to deliver the speeds and performance Mr Turnbull describes.”

“And the NBN puts the Government back in a conflicted position as the owner of a large player (that at some stage will likely be privatised) in a market it regulates. It goes directly against the economic liberalism, the successful policy lessons, of the economic reform era [of the 1980s and 90s].”

Government monopoly versus free-market competition. Though Malcolm Turnbull points out that many of the principles espoused in his speech have in recent decades been firmly embraced by the modern ALP, what is obvious is that the NBN debate is right down in the trenches of political economic warfare.

The Government, in response to accusations this is a throwback to mid-20th century big government, argues the NBN is a traditional Labor reform, designed to secure a future digital economy far greater than what we have today.

In a speech to the National Press Club in December 2011, the communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, said the evidence that usage would continue to grow is there in the history of how we have adapted to the internet over time.

“There continues to be dramatic growth in the volume of data moving around the internet, and in demand for broadband speeds… evolving technology has increased download speeds exponentially since 1985. Download speed requirements have increased at 25 to 35 per cent per year for more than two decades,” he said.

“The trend of exponential growth in download speeds has been consistent.

“Just as dial-up rapidly became insufficient for our needs, so too will copper-based technologies become insufficient very soon.” Conroy should have added, we just don’t know when.

On average download speed, Australia comes in 40th in the world.

And his rebuttal of the fibre-to-the-node, copper-to-the-home plan put forward by the Coalition?

“To achieve the speeds Mr Turnbull speaks of over FTTN (Fibre-To-The-Node) requires bonded copper pairs – which means using at least two copper lines per connection. Australia's network has not been designed or built with two copper lines available to every premise. We simply do not have the copper availability and quality to deliver the speeds and performance Mr Turnbull describes,” Conroy argues.

He went on to cite the example being set by our eastern neighbour, New Zealand, where a FTTN network has been abandoned part-way through to make way for fibre to the home.

“Unlike our Opposition, New Zealand's Conservative government understands the importance of super-fast broadband infrastructure,” the minister told the press club.

The one certainty in this debate is that the test for the NBN can’t come now because we simply don’t know where we will be technologically in 10, 20 or 30 years.

That’s making all sides a little bit tense, especially with $38 billion on the table.

18 comments on this story
by George

It is true that the NBN is both expensive, and from a reductionist economics perspective fraught with issues of concern.

It would be false to draw the conclusion that those concerns of themselves render it a failure, or impose either structural, or costs, which are not worth being borne.

An argument against utility provisioning of this nature needs to explore the differences in capital investment which permitted widescale electrification, water reticulation, and our feelings about ownership of those costs, and the assets associated with them. I do not believe we would all, as voters and taxpayers say EITHER that we prefer them to be wholly in public hands, or exclusively let to competitive tender. And, in the light of transition from one state to the other, we would have a range of views on the benefits and consequences (speaking personally, I think electricity supply and pricing has been a tremendous disaster in privatization, and I do not know anyone who prefers the current regime to the prior state most of us grew up in, but I also know many business people disagree. I just don't know them)

When you consider a telephone, the basic service it offers is twofold. Firstly, it does its job: its voice. it doesn't try to be a microwave oven, or a camera. Secondly, its ubiquitous. Thats a really amazing thing, I am probably in the generation which can faintly recall this NOT being true, but nobody born after 1980 can really say they understand telephones to be something many people don't have (I am talking about Australia here, although worldwide penetration is of course now amazingly high).

But, the Internet is not like this. What we get, in terms of something called 'end to end' data service, is much more generic than voice. Yes, you can send facsimile over a phone, and hook up modems, and we did that. But data is an underpinning, its far closer to electricity related to power for a microwave oven, or power for a radio, than voice is as a vehicle for a modem, or a facsimile. The other part, ubiquity, is of course the same, and I think this is what Abbot and (surprisingly, for a smart man) Turnbull have failed to understand: Its not that I want to be able to run a CT scanner in my home: I'm not a radiographer. But if I was a radiographer, and because I had crappy thin copper wires I had no choice in the matter, and couldn't do it, I would feel very ticked off that my neighbour, the competing radiographer up the road, *can* do it. That kind of ubiquitous, 'anything they can do I can do too' level of service, is an amazing thing, and it IS worth paying more for. This is what the fibre future is about: not 'game of thrones' downloading, in fact most people's fibre will be idle 99% of the time. But, for people who choose to work from home, or change their work patterns and INVENT work from home of a new kind, in a way which can exploit ubiquitous, always on, high speed Internet, its going to be transformative: and that potential is going to exist in almost any home, in Australia.

Before we had ubiquitous water, the idea that we could all afford not to smell was unthinkable: rich people washed, and poor people had a peg on their nose. Skin rashes like impetigo were a matter of course in primary school, scabies was uniform. The ability to wash did not materially contribute to the balance of payments. It would have made no sense to a rational market economist: if people want to smell nice they can bloody well pay for it. I think overall, I prefer a world where we accepted that water should be a utility.

I am looking forward to a world where we think Internet can be a basic utility.

March 13, 2012 @ 4:27pm
by Markie

“In the coming decade, the internet will become increasingly important, with broadband access as fundamental a requirement for social and economic participation as the telephone and electricity.”

That the NBN, once built, will benefit the whole country is a lay down mazaire.
What is more interesting that in the economic debate that seems to clouding our view of this enormous undertaking, I read recently that the savings to both the health sector and the power sector alone will more than cover the cost of building it.

On the Turnbull proposed wireless front, even now the nimby brigade is already out in my neck the woods. Fighting local councils over the construction of monopole 40 metre tall NBN towers and winning (the first rounds at least). And as for copper to the home; well that's just a bad joke.
It's the equivalent of laying dirt road on/off ramps to our freeways (tollways?)

NBN, can't wait…

March 13, 2012 @ 7:06pm
by Tony

The bottom line is this. Businesses of any size already use dark cable which is at least as fast as the NBN service. It is also cheaper than the prices that NBN users will have to pay. The ADSL services are already available in most city areas. ADSL is normally adequate for their needs. They are normally not big users of upload and download video where high speed is necessary. The bulk of country areas will still be on wireless. The NBN service will not be a useful upgrade. Gamers and movie watchers, though, will love it. But why should we subsidise them?

March 13, 2012 @ 7:10pm
by mc

A major effect of the NBN will be to greatly lessen the tyranny of distance. The other side of this is that it will also greatly lessen the protection of distance.

Much is made of the NBN enabling regional areas to support the sorts of businesses that currently tend to exist in the major cities.

Little is made of it enabling city businesses to much more easily serve the bush, killing local businesses. Even less is made of overseas businesses being much more able to serve all parts of Australia.

Because we have few and small tariffs on goods, it is largely the cost of transport that benefits locals over those further afield. Because of our great transport networks, (and the low-low price of the fuel used by container ships), it is economically unviable to produce many things in Australia.

The NBN will do the same for services.

March 13, 2012 @ 9:28pm
by GD

All this talk of the future and what will be. Have we forgotten the VCR, cassette deck, CD, DVD and even blue ray. The bottom line is that the NBN is too expensive for such a sparsely populated country like Australia. And like Telstra's copper network it will be thrown out before it wears out. By 2020 it could very well be old hat in the developed world. Unfortunately Australia will still be paying for it. As mentioned in this article, the Government is hoping that the fastest speed of the NBN will rise as high as 1,000 mega-bits per second. Initially we will find this stunning. However scientists have already achieved 186 gigabits per second (Gbps), a rate equivalent to moving two million gigabytes -- or 100,000 full Blue-ray discs -- in a single day (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/16/worlds-fastest-internet_n_1154065.html) making. This is 186 times faster than the NBN will ever hope to achieve

As good as it will be to have the NBN, the argument for it is very weak to non existent. There is of course talk of 'the bush' and the improved health services that will flow because of the NBN. At 2.8 people per square kilometre in Australia the very thought of such an expensive toy appears to be economically absurd. Australia averages 2.6 people per household. Therefore the cost per household will be approximately $6000 or $2300 per person. We have a legal and health system for the rich. We have more education systems than Western Europe because of State hood and we have a pension scheme that the Government struggles to find money for.

No benefits to cost analysis of the NBN has been done unless one considers that we know the answers so we just have to ask the right questions. The bottom line could be that we are replacing the postie bike with a Prius, high tech but impractical and wasteful at performing the task at hand.

March 13, 2012 @ 10:58pm
by calyptorhynchus

Absolutely we need it, get on and build already...

March 14, 2012 @ 10:42am
by John

Why is it we always have people advocating second best,why the hell are we Australians so afraid of doing a world class internet.
Abbott and co you can understand as they still think its 1950 and we all should return there ASAP

March 14, 2012 @ 12:42pm
by Ronl

I think the main idea is to "future proof" the communications network. Optical cable transmission speeds are in the terabytes per second, depending on the cable (up to about 60 tbps). What I would like to know is what kind of optical cable the NBN is putting in - is the absolute maximum only 1 Tbps? This is still way over the maximum of wi-fi. Also, the wireless broadcasting wavelengths are pretty much crowded already, I understand.

March 14, 2012 @ 2:23pm
by Jim

I have to reply to the comment from GD of the 13th March 2012. Its one thing to disagree with the NBN and present an agreement with reference to facts. Its another to write things that have been shown to be FUD (Fear, uncertainty and doubt) or just plain wrong.

GD 1. The bottom line is that the NBN is too expensive for such a sparsely populated country
- fair point to make but note this project is costed over 20 odd years 2011 to 2027 at 27.5 billion (which is not counted in the Federal budget) borrowing and a further 9 billion self-funded from revenue. The borrowing will be repaid by the end of the project with a profit to the govt. Borrowings at about 4.5% and Return On Investment (ROI) of 7%.
- yes its a big country with a small population. The private sector (eg Telstra) could have built this network in the 1990's and early 2000's but didn't for lots of reasons like it wanted a larger RIO like 20% and wanted total control for pricing. The Howard govt quite rightly said no to that. So nothing was built. Australia was very much the poorer for this non decision.

GD 2. And like Telstra's copper network it will be thrown out before it wears out.
- This is wrong because the copper network, built from the 1950's (for a price lag of about 250 million pounds - about the same as the price of the NBN in today’s dollars) is already worn out. It should have been upgraded years ago but wasn't. Note item 1 again.

GD 3. By 2020 it could very well be old hat in the developed world. Unfortunately Australia will still be paying for it.
- The fibre cable is a glass tube and the data is sent in the form of light, at the speed of light. It will not wear out. But the encoders sending and receiving the data well may. And the encoders may well be upgraded to enable larger amounts of data to be sent.
And Australia as such will be paying for it, only as the users like the users of the electricity network, or the water network or the road or rail network.

GD 4. the Government is hoping that the fastest speed of the NBN will rise as high as 1,000 mega-bits per second. Initially we will find this stunning. However scientists have already achieved 186 gigabits per second (gbps), a rate equivalent to moving two million gigabytes -- or 100,000 full Blue-ray discs -- in a single day (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/16/worlds-fastest-internet_n_1154065.html) making. This is 186 times faster than the NBN will ever hope to achieve.
- Gee GD, this is the same point made by Alan Jones of 2GB fame. Like him you fail to mention the this faster speed is made on the same fibre (glass tube cable) as the NBN is rolling out. Its just the encoders are upgraded as noted in point 3.

GD 5. At 2.8 people per square kilometre in Australia the very thought of such an expensive toy appears to be economically absurd.
- I have not checked your numbers in this para but I take them as face value.
They will be 3 technologies used in the roll out of the NBN plan (Fibre/Wireless/Satellite). These were decided on to over come the issue between distance and cost. It is on this point that different points of view can be had. So I can only say to your basic position on the cost most people in Australia think all Australians should have access to a good standard of communications. This is were the federal govt can step in and do stuff. I for one think this is nation building and the right type of project to be done.

GD 6. No benefits to cost analysis of the NBN or as Malcom Turnbull would say do a Cost Benefit Analysis on the NBN project.
- This is a mantra of the Coalition. OK seems like a great idea but Turnbull seems be saying now: stop everything: do the study: then what. Do we stop the project for 2 or so years and spend many millions. How would you cost all the nation building aspects of the NBN. This is not just a Telstra/business project, its a national project with many benefits for the whole of the country. How would the structural separation of Teltra be costed.
This is one of many significance features of the NBN.
Link
http://www.abc.net.au/technology/articles/2012/02/21/3435975.htm - a great read on the NBN

GD 7. The bottom line could be that we are replacing the postie bike with a Prius, high tech but impractical and wasteful at performing the task at hand.
- Well we have been replacing the 'posie' (or people like him) for the last 100 years or so. What about the blacksmith when the car came along. The candle stick maker when electricity networks were built. The 'night man' when sewers were built. And the list could go on. I do not want to go back to the 1950's comms just because someone has an old dialler phone they have always used.

The main thing wrong with the NBN story is the terrible way the NBN co and Gillard Govt have told this story. This has made is so easy for false stories to be made about the project.

Finally, what is on offer from the Coalition. A quote from Michael Wyres:
http://michaelwyres.com/2012/03/should-we-believe-the-opposition-on-broadband/
"the Coalition passionately believe in their hybrid FTTN/FTTH/HFC/Mobile Wireless/Satellite alternative to the Labor Government’s NBN solution – that their thinking is still very narrowly focussed, ignores the long term, and is not as “cheap” as they would have people believe.
But the suggestion by the Coalition that an intermediate FTTN solution provides an adequate migration path to an eventual FTTH network – (which is a common refrain) – is simply bogus. The jury is in, and it is just not correct."

March 14, 2012 @ 8:25pm
by Kristian

Tony, you've said that businesses are already paying for dark fibre at the same price as those offered by future NBN.

iiNet (one example) are offering Ethernet equivalent (100/40Mbps, 500+500G) for $130/month.

I'd be very interested to know what telco's are offering equivalent services for that price (I'm not being facetious - I am geniunely interested!).

And that's the monthly cost - what about the large startup cost for dark fibre when Telstra need to run the cable from the nearest access point to your building?

March 15, 2012 @ 1:15am
by jim

An easier grasp bottom line: With or without the NBN the majority of Australian businesses and homes will have fibre within 10 or maybe max 20 years, and it will be paid for somehow. The bandwidth upside of fibre is too great.

The key questions are:

(1) Why wait? It's not a big cost on a per per household. Many people have TVs that would cost more than their NBN cable. Guess which one will still be in use in 50 years?

(2) Do you want your fibre owned by someone (like Telstra) determined to screw the most possible cash out of you, or publicly owned and available at cost for competitive deals from multiple suppliers. We all know how business works monopolies, and we know why.

March 15, 2012 @ 10:01am
by Mick

I live near a small rural town, 2.3 kilometres from Telstra's exchange as the copper travels. Too far for ADSL2 so have to accept ADSL1. We pay for the maximum speed possible, 8MBPS, and receive 3-4MBPS. For this I pay $90 per month. If it rains the speed reduces further or drops out all together.
Complain to your internet provider I hear you say. I have. Telstra is only obliged to provide a line capable of carrying 1.5MBPS.
Last night when the ADSL went down again I hooked the iphone up to the computer. Every one else was doing the same thing and wireless speed was down to less than 1MBPS. How can it be upgraded? By replacing the worn out copper. If you are going to replace the copper doesn't it make sense to do it with fibre?
Bring on the NBN!

March 15, 2012 @ 10:46am
by Steve

This is just fan mail. Kudos to the quality of the journalism, and the pointedness of the debate.

March 15, 2012 @ 11:52pm
by Tim

I'm with Mick on this one and I'm living in a regional city. ADSL2 is out of the question and our speeds vary considerably from zero, when the network is unaccountably down to pretty good.
Weather is another thing again.
And as the for the cost, just pay for it. We're spending $46 billion on electricity infrastructure that's already obselete and that's driving electricity prices through the roof. But instead of looking at the real cause of the price hike, it's blamed on the carbon tax, that's not even in place yet.
The NBN can't get here quick enough.

March 16, 2012 @ 9:16am
by psalty

We have to remember that at the last election one of the main factors was the NBN. In the Abbott's eyes the NBN was/is an evil thing that should be killed off because it cost him the election. He chose Malcolm Turnbull for the job and the mandate if I remember correctly was to "kill it".
After lots of effort it seems that it won't die and slowly the Liberals have moved some ground to at least admit they won't pull it all out if they win next time.
The Abbott does not care if it is a good thing for the country or Nation Building. To him it is something popular for the other side and therefore must be killed off so that he can win. It doesn't matter if misinformation or lies are spread to try and smear this project.
I am always surprised at Malcolm Turnbull's arguments, but its hard to tell if he is just trying to tow the "Liberal Kill It" no matter what mantra when he doesn't really beleive in it. He has taken the liberty with Climate Change but not with NBN.
To anyone with a technical background in Communications, it is utter garbage to hear stuff about how fibre will be superseded as a technology, and something else will come and replace it.
Thanks to Jim for a well argued technical comment above.

March 17, 2012 @ 1:24am
Show previous 15 comments
by John

I would rather have a government owned and regulated fibre network, than one owned by Telstra (and I say this as a Telstra shareholder) or another private company that provides services on that network.

Failure to consider that a network owner would stifle competition and be anti-competitive, as well as fail to innovate, has left Australia's internet services where they are today: overpriced and slow.

March 18, 2012 @ 9:42am
by udi

The argument over our future needs obviously can't be answered now but any reasonable and competent assessment of the technology shows that fibre to the home has the best promise of longevity. while some of the specifics of technology change, it is very rare for a new transmission medium/system to be developed. we have metal wires (copper), atmosphere (air, space etc) and we have optical fibre. it is unlikely that apart from incremental improvements to fibre technology, anything else will come along in the next century that is better. Implementations of optical fibre systems are now mature enough for this to be just the right time to build this network and while 38 billion is a lot of money, it is not exorbitant for a major improvement to national infrastructure. consider our spending on roads which is estimated at between 50 billion and 80 billion a year and 38 billion doesn't seem all that much as a one off expense. some people thought the cost of railways was too much, likewise the cost of electrification and telephone networks. nobody likes the government spending money but we are all happy to enjoy the benefits. let's not let a handful of luddites determine our future. Let's spend the money now and get this thing started.

October 30, 2012 @ 5:33pm
by Robert

it basically pans out like this:

fibre via copper (FTTN) - affected by rain, affected by distance from exchange, affected by availability of bonded copper pairs, requires a node to be installed in the street within 2 kms of everyone, theoretical maximum of about 24Mbps which under current data growth gives it a life of 5-10 years before it is useless and fibre to the home would be needed anyway, up speed is very limited, nodes all must be powered so has a much larger carbon footprint, etc.

fibre to the node - not affected by rain, not affected by distance, fibre is only the medium so when light technologies are upgraded it is only the hardware at each end of the fibre that actually needs updating, uses the fastest information carrier in the universe (light!), will provide up to 1Gb/s but can do higher because that is an arbitrary capped limit, whose capacity can be doubled simply by using a different colour over the same strand of fibre, up and down speed is potentially the same (but won't be initially under the current roll out), can handle the 40Mbps average throughput required for the new 4K TV's now being advertised in the media while still carrying your telephone and computer traffic, the list of benefits is endless.

FTTH will almost certainly future-proof Australia's internet for AT LEAST 100 years. I suspect more. But perhaps the one thing continually missed in the MSM - at $39B to get all of the above benefits under FTTH when the FTTN solution proposed by the Libs will not only cost what they've budgeted initially (and believe me, there are many costs left out), but given the 50,000 or so nodes that need to be in every street in Australia in an estimated 5-10 years time, will not only be out of date by completion but will be unable to handle our data growth. Therefore, FTTN will have to be replaced by a FTTH rollout anyway, but this time at 2018-2023 prices!

If there is a bigger no brainer out there in the political landscape, I would certainly like to hear it... but then I am sure the MSM will find one given the threat to old Mr Murdoch's business empire...

June 22, 2013 @ 2:26am
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