The unfortunate truth about telecommunications within Australia is that everyone is under the iron rule of a single company: Telstra. Whilst the situation has improved somewhat in the last decade, mostly under threat of legal action from the Australian government, Australia still remains something of an Internet backwater. This can almost wholly be traced back to the lack of investment on Telstra’s behalf in new infrastructure with their most advanced technology being their aging HFC networks that were only deployed in limited areas. This is why the NBN was such a great idea as it would radically modernize our telecommunications network whilst also ensuring that we were no longer under the control of a company that had long since given up on innovating.
To us Australians my opening statements aren’t anything surprising, this is the reality that we’ve been living with for some time now. However when outsiders look in, like say the free CDN/DDoS protection service Cloudflare (who I’ve recently started using again), and find that bandwidth from Telstrat is about 20 times more expensive than their cheapest providers it does give you some perspective on the situation. Whilst you would expect some variability for different locations (given the number of dark fiber connections and other infrastructure) a 20x increase does appear wildly out of proportion. The original NBN would be the solution to this as it would upend Telstra’s grip on the backbone connections that drive these prices however the Liberal’s new MTM solution will do none of this.
Right now much of the debate of the NBN has been framed around the speeds that will be delivered to customers however that’s really only half of the story. In order to support the massive speed increases that customers would be seeing with the FTTP NBN the back end infrastructure would need to be upgraded as well and this would include the interconnects that drive the peering prices that Cloudflare sees. Such infrastructure would also form the backbone of wide area networks that businesses and organisations use to connect their offices together, not to mention all the other services that rely on backhaul bandwidth. The MTM NBN simply doesn’t have the same requirements, nor the future expandability, to necessitate the investment in this kind of back end infrastructure and, worse still, the last mile connections will still be under the control of Telstra.
That last point is one I feel that doesn’t get enough attention in the mainstream media. The Liberals have released several videos that harp on about the point of making the right amount of investment in the NBN, citing that there’s a cut off point where extra bandwidth doesn’t enable people to do anything more. The problem with that thinking is though that, with the MTM NBN, you cannot guarantee that everyone will have access to those kinds of speeds. Indeed the MTM NBN can only guarantee 50Mbps to people who are 200m or less away from an exchange which, unfortunately, the vast majority of Australians aren’t. Comparatively FTTP can deliver the same speeds regardless of distances and also has the ability to provide higher speeds well into the future.
In all honesty though the NBN has been transformed from a long term, highly valuable infrastructure project to a political football, one that the Liberal party is intent to kick around as long as it suits their agenda. Australia had such potential to become a leader in Internet services with an expansive fiber network that would have rivalled all others worldwide. Instead we have a hodge podge solution that does nothing to address the issues at hand and the high broadband costs, for both consumers and businesses alike, will continue as long as Telstra controls a vast majority of the critical infrastructure. Maybe one day we’ll get the NBN we need but that day seems to get further and further away with each passing day.