The Liberal’s NBN Plan is Just Plain Bad.

Last week I regaled you with a story of the inconsistent nature of Australia’s broadband and how the current NBN was going to solve that through replacing the aging copper network with optical fibre. However whilst the fundamental works to deliver it are underway it is still in its nascent stages and could be easily usurped by a government that didn’t agree with its end goals. With the election looking more and more like it’ll swing towards the coalition’s favour there has been a real risk that the NBN we end up with won’t be the one that we were promised at the start, although the lack of a concrete plan has left me biting my tongue whilst I await the proposal.

Today Malcolm Turnbull announced his NBN plan, and it’s not good at all.

Malcolm Turnbull Nice NBN You Have There

Instead of rolling out fibre to 93% of Australians and covering the rest off with satellite and wireless connections the Liberal’s NBN will instead only roll fibre to 22%, the remaining 71% will be covered by FTTN. According to Turnbull’s estimations this will enable all Australians to have broadband speeds of up to 25MBps by 2016 with a planned upgrade of up to 100MBps by 2019. The total cost for this plan would be around $29 billion which is about $15 billion less than the current planned total expenditure required for Labor’s FTTP NBN. If you’re of the mind that the NBN was going to be a waste of money that’d take too long to implement then these numbers would look great to you but unfortunately they’re anything but.

For starters the promise of speeds of up to 25MBps isn’t much of an upgrade over what’s available with the current ADSL2+ infrastructure. Indeed most of the places that they’re looking to cover with this can already get such services so rigging fibre up to their nodes will likely not net much benefit to them. Predominantly this is because the last mile will still be on the copper network which is the major limiting factor in delivering higher speeds to residential areas. They might be able to roll out FTTN within that time frame but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see any dramatic speed increases, especially if you’re on an old line.

Under the Liberal’s plan you could, however, pay for the last mile run to your house which, going by estimates from other countries that have done similar, could range anywhere from $2500 to $5000. Now I know a lot of people who would pay for that, indeed I would probably be among them, but I’d much rather it be rolled out to everyone indiscriminately otherwise we end up in a worse situation we have now. The idea behind the NBN was ubiquitous access to high speed Internet no matter where you are in Australia so forcing users to pay for the privilege kind of defeats its whole purpose.

Probably the biggest issue for me though is how the coalition plans to get to 100MBps without running FTTP. The technologies that Turnbull has talked about in the past just won’t be able to deliver the speeds he’s talking about. Realistically the only way to reliably attain those speeds across Australia would be with an FTTP network however upgrading a FTTN solution will cost somewhere on the order of $21 billion. All added up that makes the Liberal’s NBN almost $5 billion more than the current Labor one so it’s little wonder that they’ve been trying to talk up the cost in the past week or so.

You can have a look at their policy documents here but be warned it’s thin on facts and plays fast and loose with data. I’d do a step by step takedown of all the crazy in there but there are people who are much more qualified than me to do that and I’ll be sure to tweet links when they do.

Suffice to say the Liberal’s policy announcement has done nothing but confirm our worst fears about the Liberal party’s utter lack of understanding about why the FTTP NBN was a good thing for Australia. Their plan might be cheaper but it will fail to deliver the speeds they say it will and will thus provide a lot less value for the same dollars spent on a FTTP solution. I can only hope come election time we end up with a hung parliament again because the independents will guarantee that nobody fucks with the FTTP NBN.

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  1. FTTN with a user pay FTTP is far better and will result in a cash flow stable NBN company. With the FTTN you will see better speeds sooner 25MBps-100MBps and as we all know the current 24MBps “capable” ADSL2+ network on average delivers less that 5MBps.

    Rolling out FTTP is a waste. Uptake in areas with access to FTTP is on average 15% so under a government funded FTTP network, the majority subsidies the minority, as we all pay for it in our taxes. Most Australians will find speeds under the FTTN network more than sufficient and shouldn’t pay for gamers and HD porno movie watchers when majority internet users simply don’t require it.

  2. You do realize that NBNCo is expected to become profitable shortly after completion with it paying back the entirety of the government investment by 2033 right? Do you have any numbers to support the claim that FTTN would accomplish this sooner with a user pays model? Because I can’t find anything because, frankly, it isn’t true.

    The problem with the current ADSL2+ copper network is that it will be powering a FTTN solution leading to the exact same problems as we have now without the benefits that FTTP would provide. The copper just isn’t up to the standard required to support the speeds so either we have to have VDSL cabinets everywhere (ask TransACT how that went) or the speeds just won’t reach the levels the Liberals say they will. Even Telstra admits this.

    The uptake numbers are double that according to the latest report from NBNCo about 31.5% according to my calculations. The graphs also show pretty clearly that over time the uptake rockets up quite quickly with most of them trending towards over 50% with only 3 sectors showing stagnant growth rates below that percentage. Your argument then of the majority subsidizing the minority doesn’t hold up because it’s pretty clear that most of Australia wants this and the speed profiles (also in the linked report) show that the majority of people are on speeds above what they could get on ADSL2+. Those speeds are guaranteed too, not “up to” like it is with ADSL2+.

    The NBN isn’t just an investment for today it’s one for the next century or more just like the telephone exchanges were before them. The benefits of building it are far more than just faster Internet for all Australians as it will be the backbone of our communications network for centuries to come. If you think the copper network has any legs left in it you’re dreaming as it reached is capacity at ADSL2+ and the only way to get it up to scratch would be to remediate all the copper in Australia. That’d be far more expensive than the NBN and it wouldn’t provide the room for growth in the future either. FTTN is a stop gap solution that just can’t deliver on its promises and will eventually need to be made FTTP anyway (and at a much higher cost than the NBN can be delivered for).

  3. Tim, you dumb. 🙁
    You missed the point.

    Also, I doubt the majority of people could really afford to pay anywhere near $2500 to have fiber run to their house. Renters don’t really have a choice regardless.

    After taking a look at a few different websites, reading statements from Telstra, etc. and hearing from different people in different parts of the industry, it’s really not hard to come to the realization that FTTN is a bad plan.

  4. Indeed, the whole idea of the NBN was to make access to reliable, high speed Internet ubiquitous. ADSL2+ and the Coalition’s FTTN plan can’t guarantee this due to the reliance on the old copper network. FTTP can however thanks to the fact that it doesn’t suffer from all the issues that copper does.

    Realistically there’s only one point you need to consider: how long will FTTN last? Nearly every country that’s had a FTTN rollout has agreed that it will eventually need to be replaced by FTTP and most are doing it within the next decade. Why then should we upgrade to a technology now that will just have to be replaced when its far more efficient to skip that intermediary step altogether.

    I honestly hope their current plan is just done to win over some votes and then, should they get into power, they renege on the changes and leave it be. There’s no one in the tech sector who can honestly say that FTTN is better than FTTP and I’d hope that a few of the Coalition’s advisers would tell them as such.

  5. FTTP is the only way to go! With the money that been spent already.Telstras old network which is predominately brown fields ie: established home sites is in absolute decay, it is no different than making smaller exchanges in the suburbs (FDH ,s) you are still left with the copper on the end !, which I can tell you is disgraceful, having seen first hand through working for a particular carrier for 18 years in the field at customers premises.

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