Coalition NBN Policy

 

On January 13 2013,  Mr Abbott gave an address to the National press club on the forthcoming Coalition’s broadband plan. The plan was then released on April 9 2013.  The full details of the plan can be viewed from the following link:

readarticle  Additional background information pertaining to this plan was also provided and can be viewed here:

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This plan makes it clear that the Coalition favours a Fibre to the Node (FTTN) approach for most of the existing Australian private premises. This is in contrast to the Fibre to the premises (FTTP) approach currently being implemented. For new developments, the Coalition also plans to implement FTTP, recognising that it is a superior technology. The reason for preferring FTTN for existing homes is that they believe that it can be implemented faster and that it will cost less.

This approach is short sighted, both in terms of cost and implementation time.

Cost

It is true that FTTN can be implemented for less cost than FTTP because the costly civil works required to connect each home to fibre is not required.  However, this is only true if a conversion of FTTN to FTTP is not planned in the near future. If such a conversion takes does take place, all the civil works will still have to be done and labour cost will only rise. Much is currently being made of the problems currently being experienced in remediation of pits that have become unusable.  These problems will only become worse as time goes by.

A FTTN also requires a very large number of nodes. Current estimates are that 50,000 nodes may be required, and many more if the coalition’s aims of speeds  are to be achieved. Each of these nodes have to be supplied with power as opposed to the passive technology used in the current NBN which requires no power. Not only will the powered nodes involve substantial initial cost, they will require more maintenance. In addition, the ageing copper from the nodes to the premises (already with a huge maintenance cost) will require even more maintenance as the copper deteriorates.

Finally and most importantly, the FTTN nodes will become redundant when the inevitable switch to FTTP eventually occurs.

 Implemented Faster

The NBN is scheduled to take ten years to build. It has already taken three years to get to the point where we are now. Much of this time was spent on getting the rules and regulation in place. This included:

  • Wresting control of its “last mile”  monopoly from Telstra and how they should be compensated for that.
  • Getting  approval from Telstra and its shareholders to use its facilities
  • Getting agreement from the  Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on where service providers will connect to the network (points of interconnect or POIs).
  • What regulations should be in place to ensure that service providers get a fair deal from the NBN Co.

In addition preparation and planning had to be done:

  • The NBN Co had to be created and staffed.
  • The NBN Co’s IT systems had to be evaluated, selected and implemented.
  • Two major facilities were created for manufacturing fibre in Australia.
  • Contractors had to be found and terms negotiated.
  • A network control centre had to be built.
  • Network equipment had to be evaluated, tested and ordered.
  • Exchanges had to be prepared with the necessary equipment, not only for existing areas where the NBN replaces existing networks but for new suburbs being built.
  • The network had to be tested and fine-tuned to ensure that best practices are achieved.

All the above was done and the NBN is currently ramping up. The NBN Co monthly rollout plan issued in July 2013 lists the current areas being rolled out. The scheduled rollout for the ten year plan is here:

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A switch to a FTTN solution will not happen overnight. The rules and regulation will have to be adapted and re-negotiated and the preparation and planning done again.  By the time all this has happened, the NBN rollout would have been far advanced. All this for a solution that will probably be out of date and insufficient by the time it is completed. A switch back to FTTP will then again be required.

The “faster” part of Mr Turnbull’s “cheaper and faster” solution also does not seem to be that compelling!

Tony Abbott’s Address To The National Press Club

In an address to the National Press Club on Jan 31 2013,  Mr Abbott said:

  • On broadband, I’ve often said that the Coalition will deliver higher speeds sooner and more affordably than Labor’s nationalised monopoly NBN.
  • We’re committed to super high speed broadband that’s affordable for everyone and built sooner rather than later.
  • But with so many competing priorities, the last thing Australians need is another $50 billion plus in borrowed money to deliver higher speeds – but only in a decade’s time and at about triple the current monthly price.
  • We won’t throw good money after bad but we won’t dismantle what’s been built.
  • Our fibre-to-the-node plan will deliver superfast broadband for a fraction of the price and in a fraction of the time required to deliver fibre to the front door.
  • And Malcolm Turnbull is the right person to give Australians a 21st Century network because he is one of Australia’s internet pioneers.

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Let us discuss each of these points here:

On broadband, I’ve often said that the Coalition will deliver higher speeds sooner and more affordably than Labor’s nationalised monopoly NBN.

Mr Abbott is more known for having said that  the NBN  is a “White Elephant” and should be dismantled. If he thinks  a FTTN solution will produce higher speeds than the NBN,  he is sadly uninformed.  At best, for premises very close to the nodes it can achieve speeds close to that of the current NBN if the copper is still in good condition.  For everyone else it will be much less and for many it will be no better than currently available with ADSL. To get a system implemented sooner may be possible, but what will the coverage be? Will he provide it for 93% of Australian premises? How long will it take to plan and implement?  Most of the work for the NBN over the last two to there years involved detailed planning, getting agreements in place, ordering and testing equipment, creating and testing support systems and procedures. It is only now that the implementation is at a stage where rollout can be ramped up. A FTTN system will certainly be less expensive than the FTTP NBN. It is also only a interim system that will eventually have to be replaced to provide the speeds that will be required by 2020. The total cost will then far exceed the cost of the current NBN. A “nationalised monopoly”,  like roads,  is probably preferable to a privatised monopoly such as Telstra. The experience over the last 15 years showed that Telstra’s first priority was to provide a healthy profit for its shareholders whilst delivering inferior communication facilities all over the country.

We’re committed to super high speed broadband that’s affordable for everyone and built sooner rather than later.

“Super high speed broadband”  is in the eye of the beholder.  British Telecom likes to use this term and defines it as at least 24Mb/s.  Mr Turnbull has progressed from regarding 12Mb/s as sufficient.  He now says:  “fibre to the cabinet will deliver for most of its customers in those areas in less than 1,000 metres speeds of between 25 megabits per second for the people that are the furthest away, for most people speeds of 50 or better and for a third, 80 megabits per second. He does not mention that speeds depend heavily on the quality of the existing copper. “Affordable for everyone” seems to describe the current NBN, where there is already plenty evidence that the FTTP prices are in fact lower than current ADSL prices. For example refer to Andrew Brown in the Experiences section of this site. “Building sooner” is addressed in the previous answer.

 But with so many competing priorities, the last thing Australians need is another $50 billion plus in borrowed money to deliver higher speeds – but only in a decade’s time and at about triple the current monthly price.

For a discussion on how the NBN is financed and the cost to the end user refer to the Cost section of this site.  The “decade” is when the last premises are upgraded – the number that already receives this benefit increases every day! Too scare people about paying “triple the current price”  is pure scaremongering.  Already people are paying less than what they did for a lesser ADSL service.  To translate a higher NBN Co income in 2020 to higher user prices is simply incorrect.  The higher income is expected because many will use higher speeds and will be prepared to pay for it.  There will be no need to pay more if existing speeds suffice. The NBN Co has also stated that if their income exceeds expectation,  the money will be use to provide connections to more people.  Contrast this to a private monopoly with a primary goal of maximising their profits!

We won’t throw good money after bad but we won’t dismantle what’s been built.

Good to hear.  The author is in an area that  received the  NBN connection in May 2013. He is connected to the NBN, receiving a consistent internet download speed of 48mb.sec and upload of 19mb/sec which is respectively 40 and 80 times faster than the previous (Telstra RIM based copper network, similar to the planned FTTN) connection, and costing me less!  However,  a central tenet of the NBN idea is to provide the possibility of a high connection to all Australians.  Leaving the NBN half done will create a digital divide and will prevent introduction of services that require a high bandwidth.

Our fibre-to-the-node plan will deliver superfast broadband for a fraction of the price and in a fraction of the time required to deliver fibre to the front door.

No definition of “superfast broadband” is given and the point is addressed above.   Initially it may be a  “fraction of the price”,  but in the longer term it will definitely cost more as discussed above. It will probably take a little time less, but the “fraction of the time required”  may be 3 or 4 fifths!  What is more,  before a FTTN system rollout is started, many tasks has to be completed as described above, so the fraction may approach one!

And Malcolm Turnbull is the right person to give Australians a 21st Century network because he is one of Australia’s internet pioneers.

Mr Turnbull is a politician that wants to win an election.  The author is firmly of the opinion that his chances will improve even more if his party provides bi-partisan support to the NBN. He was chair of an internet company (OzeMail) which was sold to iiNet.  This hardly qualify him as an “internet pioneer”. He is not a communications expert or engineer and declines to name the sources that advise him on the topic.  He has also invested some of his own money in overseas companies that are building FTTP systems.