There’s 2 main reasons why I’ve avoided writing about the NBN for the last couple months. For the most part it’s been because there’s really been nothing of note to report and sifting through hours of senate talks to find a nugget of new information to write about isn’t really something I’m particularly enthused about doing. Secondly as someone who’s deeply interested in technology (and makes his living out of services that could make heavy use of the NBN) the current state of the project is, frankly, infuriating and I don’t think people enjoy reading about how angry I am. Still it seems that the Liberal’s MTM NBN plan has turned from a hypothetical farce into a factual one and I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to lay down criticism where criticism is due.
The slogan the Liberal’s ran with during their election campaign was “Fast. Affordable, Sooner.” promising that they’d be able to deliver at least 25Mbps to every Australian by the end of 2016 with that ramping up to 50Mbps by the end of 2019. This ended up being called the Multi-Technology Mix (MTM) NBN which would now include the HFC rather than overbuilding them and would switch to FTTN technology rather than FTTP. The issues with this plan were vast and numerous (ones I’ve covered in great detail in the past) and suffice to say the technology community in Australia didn’t buy into the ideas one bit. Indeed as time as progressed the core promises of the plan have dropped off one by one with NBNCo now proceeding with the MTM solution despite a cost-benefit analysis not being completed and the speed guarantee is now gone completely. If that wasn’t enough it’s come to my attention that even though they’ve gone ahead with the solution NBNCo hasn’t been able to connect a single customer to the FTTN solution.
It seems the Liberal’s promises simply don’t stand up to reality, fancy that.
The issues they seem to be encountering with deploying their FTTN trial are what many of the more vocal critics had been harping on for a long time, primarily the power and maintenance requirements that FTTN cabinets would require. Their Epping trial has faced several months of delays because they weren’t able to source adequate power, a problem which currently doesn’t have a timeline for a solution yet. The FTTP NBN which was using Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) technology does not suffer from this kind of issue at all and this was showing in the ramp up in deployment numbers that NBNCo was seeing before it stopped its FTTP rollouts. If just the trial of the MTM solution is having this many issues then it follows that the full rollout will fare no better and that puts an axe to the Liberal’s election promises.
We’re rapidly approaching the end of this year which means that the timeline the Liberals laid out is starting to look less and less feasible. Even if the trial site gets everyone on board before the end of this year that still gives only 2 years for the rest of the infrastructure to be rolled out. The FTTP NBN wasn’t even approaching those numbers so there’s no way in hell that the MTM solution would be able to accomplish that, even with their little cheat of using the HFC networks.
So there goes the idea of us getting the NBN sooner but do any of their other promises hold true?
Well the speed guarantee went away some time ago so even the Liberals admit that their solution won’t be fast so the only thing they might be able to argue is that they can do it cheaper. Unfortunately for Turnbull his assumption that Telstra would just hand over the copper free of charge something which Telstra had no interest in doing. Indeed as part of the renegotiation of the contract with Telstra NBNCo will be paying some $150 million for access to 200,000 premises worth of copper which, if extrapolated to all of Australia, would be around $5.8 billion. This does not include the cabinets or remediating any copper that can’t handle FTTN speeds which will quickly eat into any savings on the deal. That’s not going into the ongoing costs these cabinets will incur during their lifetimes which is an order of magnitude more than what a GPON network would.
I know I’m not really treading any new ground by writing all this but the MTM NBN is beyond a joke now; a failed election promise that’s done nothing to help the Liberal’s waning credibility and will only do damage to Australia’s technology sector. Even if they do get voted out come next election it’ll be years before the damage can be undone which is a royal shame as the NBN was one of the best bits of policy to come out of the tumultuous time that was Labor’s last 2 terms in office. Maybe one day I’ll be able to look back on all my rants on this topic and laugh about it but until that day comes I’ll just be yet another angry IT sector worker, forever cursing the government that took away my fibre filled dream.
Look I can understand how frustrating it can be to live in a place with crap cell phone reception. I spent the majority of my life living only 30 minutes outside Canberra and even that short distance was enough for the reception to basically drop off to nothing unless you were with Telstra. Even then you were lucky to be able to place a call indoors (especially if you had the typical colourbond roof) with most mobile calls being made from the nearest hill you could scurry up. I still suffer from spotty coverage even in town thanks to my current network provider but not once have I thought that a femtocell would be the answer to my problem.
Like I’ve said previously femtocells seem to be like a cash grab from cellular providers who instead should be spending their own money on fixing their coverage problems. Their use case is almost too narrow to be of any use since you need to have a broadband connection (which usually puts you in mobile phone range) and since nearly every broadband router comes with a wireless access point there’s no need to use 3G when you’re at home. In essence you’re just giving yourself full coverage so you can pay the exorbitant cellular data rates whilst at the same time using your own data cap, in essence double charging yourself for the privilege. Just like there doesn’t seem to be a case for a cellular tablet I struggle to find a use for a femtocell other than for a cellular provider to bilk their customers.
It seems that these useless devices have finally made their way onto Australian shores with Optus, the carrier with the worst record for coverage (in my experience at least), beginning trials of the devices:
Dubbed the ’3G Home Zone’, the new Optus femtocell device is a small base station that plugs into a wireless router and uses a fixed-line broadband Internet connection to boost mobile coverage. Once operational, the Optus femtocell device should typically provide full mobile coverage within a 30 metre range.
Optus recommends that the 3G Home Zone be connected to a broadband service with a minimum download speed of 1Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 256kbps — if the speed is capped at 128kbps or lower, the device will no longer work.
The most insulting part about Optus’ introduction of these devices is that they’re charging for them, and it’s not a trivial amount either. You either pony up $60 initially and another $60 over 12 months (with a $70/month plan) or you pay $240 outright. Now far be it from me to get in the way of a company trying to make a profit but it would seem that the investment they spent in getting these devices functional could have been far better spent upgrading the spots where reception is a problem. Getting 3G indoors is all well and good but the vast majority of use cases for that are already covered off aptly by wireless, and you don’t need to pay an additional monthly fee to use that.
What I would support however would be something along the lines of what AT&T is doing in the USA, giving all users who request it a free femtocell. Of course it would seem like a silly move to begin with but having been an actual AT&T customer and seeing the coverage problems they had a free femtocell would go a long way to keeping people on their network. Of course they didn’t start out free (they definitely weren’t when I was there) but obviously the cost can’t be too high or they wouldn’t be offering it. Hopefully it won’t be too long before Optus follows suit.
Femtocells feel like a solution in search of a problem. Sure it might be great to have full coverage in your house (I currently get 1 bar) but the reason for doing so seems almost non-nonsensical when you look at the requirements needed to do it. I can’t see a future where I’ll ever need a device like this unless they somehow make it affordable with a satellite connection, but even then if I’m that far away from humanity I’d be guessing I wouldn’t want to bring the Internet with me. So hopefully these silly devices will disappear into the dark niche they belong in: the technically ignorant and woefully misinformed.
THE Rudd Government has indicated that it may back away from its mandatory internet filtering plan.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy today told a Senate estimates committee that the filtering scheme could be implemented by a voluntary industry code.
Senator Conroy’s statement is a departure from the internet filtering policy Labor took into the October 2007 election to make it mandatory for ISPs to block offensive and illegal content.
Responding to questions from shadow communications minister Nick Minchin on how the government may go about imposing the internet filtering scheme, Senator Conroy said that legislation may not be required and ISPs may adopt an industry consensus to block restricted content on a voluntary basis.
“Mandatory ISP filtering would conceivably involve legislation … voluntary is available currently to ISPs,” Senator Conroy said.
“One option is potentially legislation. One other option is that it could be (on a) voluntary basis that they (ISPs) could voluntarily agree to introduce it.”
In response Senator Minchin said he had never heard of a voluntary mandatory system.
Senator Conroy responded with “well they could agree to all introduce it”.
It’s becoming more and more obvious that this is unpopular legislation and it seems the government has been in damage control ever since. This has barely hit the news for over 2 months and the next part we hear about is Conroy saying that all ISPs could voluntarily implement the filter, something which I find incredibly naive.
With the proposal in such a shambles, with them admitting that they’d need to write laws to get it implemented, one has to wonder why are they continuing with something like this? Whilst I’m sure this is a move done to keep Rudd at bay it would seem that Conroy is caught up the old dollar auction game. With such an investment in pushing this considerably unfavourable policy he can’t be seen to be backing down now and be forever seen as being weak on unpopular but “just” causes. So now he’s reduced to this vocal gymnastics to describe what really would be a voluntary mandatory system.
Whilst the policy isn’t completely gone, what with the joke of the trial still continuing, even if it gets implemented it will be horribly ineffective and will prove a talking point for the next election. I’m actually quite surprised how little attention this policy has received in the media considering that it would be a great point of ridicule for the opposition to bring against the Rudd government. They missed the boat when it came to slugging them on the budget but this has been an ongoing joke for over 6 months now. Maybe the opposition thinks no one cares.
That’s probably the most scary part about policy like this. When it first came out I was fine with the idea, allowing someone like me to continue to use the Internet as I wished and anyone who wanted filtering at the ISP level could get it. However when it began to change into something much more hideous I realised I couldn’t stand idly by, but I can’t say that much of the public at large. Talking to my family and relatives I found that most of them were in favour of such horrible ideas, mostly because they had no idea about what it actually meant for them. This kind of ignorance is what scares me as it allows things like this to slip under the radar, slowly eating away at our civil liberties.
This was also why I began to take an interest in politics. Staying ignorant of what my government in power was doing on helped them to pass legislation I disagreed with. Keeping myself informed about what they were doing enabled me to make sound voting choices when it came time, and I’m (mostly) thankful for it. Sure I voted in the party that brought this policy on us but that’s exactly what my previous post on micro democracy was all about. Had I had the option to vote out “Internet Filter” I would have, but we’re still in an age where democracy (and society) isn’t granular enough to handle people like me who would love to micro manage their government.
One day I’ll hear the death knell of this policy, one day.
In this rapidly changing technologically driven world many new up and comers find it hard to differentiate themselves from amongst the hundreds of similar projects. In an effort to drive people to use their services we’re seeing more and more companies going the route of providing some or all of their products completely free to the end user. Whilst I believe this is a great idea there is, of course, always some catches when it comes to accepting free gifts from corporate overlords.
A great example I can think of is the good old de facto corporate communication device, the Crack(Black)Berry. Recently at my current gig for the Australian government my department decided to do a trial of these in order to see if there was any value in implementing it. Of course Telstra comes to the table offering a free 3 month trial with pretty much everything included. The handsets were sent out to the executives and we went through about 2 days of configuration work to get it all done for them. It didn’t matter that we’d already installed Exchange Activesync, which would allow them to use any Windows Mobile device and wouldn’t cost them a cent since we’d bought the license in a bundle. So since the Blackberrys had been in the Qantas lounge magazines we were basically stuck with trialling this technology for them, and we all knew where it was going.
Fast forward to the end of the trial and we have half the execs praising the new system, a few dissenters and the rest on the fence. It was pretty obvious from the onset that once this was in place they would not give it up, even though the corporate directive is to investigate all possible solutions and judge them on their merits.
The same situation has been used in many different situations with online services. LinkedIn used to be a completely free service for professional social networking, and it did a great job at that. It was basically a no frills Facebook, something which is handy when you’d be browsing it at work. Of course the creators saw that they could then add in extra features and offer them as premium accounts, something which is akin to buying an expensive car in real life. Sure, it will probably improve people’s impression of you (if they’ve never met you before) but past that it’s value is rather small. Since many people use LinkedIn in order to build a professional network and hopefully generate business from that the paid services might hold some value there. There’s still no substitute for good old fashioned real life networking though, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to charge for that, either.
However, there are those that still buck the trend when it comes to providing services for free and staying away from the premium service charge. Google has released service after service that, whilst most of them still carry the beta tag on them, remain free after many years in service. This can all be put down to their ruthless precision in refining down an advertising model that appeals to every business, which is built upon their solid leadership as a search engine.
In reality most new up and coming technologies these days are being offered as a free baseline with the additional features costing you a couple pennies more. It’s all done to drive up market adoption and it is a great thing for the consumers, who get a lot more for their dollars since they can try before they buy. Just don’t be too shocked when your favourite free service starts asking for your credit card
So I’ve gotten reports that Senator Conroy has actually managed to get his rediculous proposal off the ground and has a total of 6 ISPs on board with him. Here’s some more info:
The Federal Government’s controversial internet filtering trial has moved a step closer with the announcement of six internet service providers ready to take part.
Primus Telecommunications, Tech 2U, Webshield, OMNIconnect, Netforce and Highway 1 will take part in the first trial, to run for six weeks and start once filtering equipment has been installed.
Clients of participating service providers will be able to opt out of the trial.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has been the subject of heavy criticism for the trials, with civil liberties groups labelling the plan ”draconian” and warning a mandatory ”clean feed” internet filter could severely reduce internet speeds in Australia.
Service provider iiNet has previously said it planned to take part in the filter trial to prove to the Government it would not work, while Optus has delayed participation until March. Telstra is not taking part.
But Senator Conroy has rejected the warnings, saying the Government was committed to an ”evidence-based” approach which was why it would trial the filter first. ”The live pilot will provide evidence on the real-world impacts of ISP content filtering, including for providers and internet users. It will provide evidence to assist the Government in the implementation of its policy,” he said.
Now call me cynical but apart from Primus Telecommunications I haven’t actually heard of any of these ISPs before the announcement. This is exactly the kind of behaviour that was expected if big players like iiNet and Internode hadn’t taken part. The Government would cherry pick small providers which would then give a very skewed view of the impact. Just a quick glance at these companies reveals:
Needless to say this doesn’t inspire confidence in the filter trial. If I saw iiNet, Optus and Internode on that list I might be able to say that it would be getting a fair go but come on, this is a sideshow. There is a deliberate selection bias with these ISPs and I must say that I’m not suprised.
I’d love to hear from anyone who’s actually on these services so I can get an idea about how you heard about them. I’d be really interested to hear from anyone on Netforce, since I’m sure they’re not really an ISP. Email me at email@example.com
Well it comes of little suprise that the trial has been delayed until mid January, with no explanation (other than straight up incompetence). Source from the ABC:
The Federal Opposition says it is not surprised the Government’s mandatory internet filtering trial has been delayed.
The trial, which was meant to begin today, has been postponed until mid-January 2009 and the internet service providers (ISPs) who will participate will be announced at the same time.
ISPs iiNet and Optus both said yesterday they had not heard anything about their applications to participate in the trial, and doubted the Government would meet its own deadline.
The article also mentions a report comissioned by the Howard government on Internet filtering:
Senator Conroy was unavailable to speak to the ABC today, but released a report commissioned by the Howard government into internet filtering.
The Internet Industry Association-produced report concluded that mandatory filtering would slow internet speeds, be easy to get around and would not block all undesirable material.
But Senator Conroy said the report included no empirical testing, instead relying on literature review, interviews and surveys.
Senator Minchin says he disagrees with Senator Conroy’s attempt to devalue the report, saying it is an “insult to those involved”.
[They] are leading experts in this field, particularly the lead author of the report,” he said.
“[His] frustration with the Government in hiding this report led to the Fairfax newspapers having a detailed briefing on the content then forcing Senator Conroy last night to release the report 10 months after he received it.
“The report does identify some very, very serious issues with any attempt to impose this mandatory ISP-level filtering system, but it leads me to believe it’s almost impossible to do this with any degree of effectiveness.”
This shows a blatant disregard for expert opinions and singals the fact that the Clean Feed proposal is nothing more than an appeal to emotion and an attempt to censor information that should be rightly available to Australians. Whilst that sounds alarmist, if Senator Conroy had taken these opinions and acted on them then he might’ve redone the proposal to something a bit more sane than its current incarnation.