In defending the FTTP NBN I’ve seen nearly every argument imaginable as to why we shouldn’t be doing it. Whilst I can understand the concerns around rollout times and the total cost the NBN stands as one of the few multi-term, nation-wide infrastructure projects that has tangible benefits that will last for decades to come. Some of the more esoteric arguments I’ve received have hinged on the idea that consumers are quite ok with the current state of Australian Internet and that anything above that is a wasteful exercise that will only support consumers of pornography and illegal downloads. This could not be further from the truth but it still seems to remain as a valid talking point for anti-NBN stalwarts.
Shown above are the take up rates from NBNCo released back in March this year and it’s pretty easy to discern a common trend here. Whilst there are a couple places showing stagnant growth most are showing very strong upward trends. Indeed most of them track the 2 highest take up rate areas pretty closely and so it is reasonable to conclude that they will eventually all see similar adoption rates. Considering that the service is still in its infancy overall take up rates of 30% are pretty amazing and will only get better as the offerings from various ISPs improve. So there definitely seems to be a demand for the NBN although the question then becomes do people want higher speeds or are they just looking for a more reliable Internet connection?
The report that NBNCo presented to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Broadband network contains some pretty in depth analysis of the current consumers of the NBN and the data is quite telling. Initially it was thought that the bulk of the NBN’s customers would be on the lowest plan possible (12Mbps down /1Mbps up), on the order of 49% or so with the next biggest sector being 25/10 at 27%. Actual deployed numbers differ from that significantly with the lowest sector accounting for 39% and the next biggest sector being the top tier plan (100/40) with 31%. This means that there’s a large number of Australians who want the fastest Internet they can get their hands on and the majority of them want speeds above what they’re currently getting.
This echoes the sentiment that’s been seen oversees with similar projects like Google Fiber in Kansas City. This runs contrary to the Liberal’s position that 25Mbps would be enough for the average household as it seems like many would like to take advantage of higher speeds. Whilst its looking more and more like the NBN will remain untouched in its current form (although it might end up being rolled out by Telstra) those ideas still seem to permeate the rhetoric of NBN detractors. As the numbers show Australians are craving faster, more stable Internet connections and given the opportunity they’ll take the best options available to them.
Honestly I know this shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, especially considering that the rhetoric has died down considerably since the election, but the idea that the NBN isn’t needed, or even wanted, by the Australian public is just so wrong that it borders on offensive. The NBN is going to elevate Australia to being one of the most connected countries in the world, rivalling some of the top technologically advanced nations. I know that I, as well as many of my technically inclined friends, have big plans for when those high speed connections become available and I’m sure many businesses will have the same.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m no fan of our dear Senator Conroy, but credit where it’s due he at least understands technology better than our current PM or opposition leader, even if he doesn’t listen to the tech community at large. Whilst I abhor the Internet Filter policy in its entirety I’m almost salivating at the possibility that one day soon I’ll have access to a 100Mbps fiber connection at my house. Not only is it awesome because of the raw speeds it also opens up opportunity for someone like me who’s looking to host his own services but doesn’t necessarily want to spend the cash on proper hosting just yet, but still deliver a decent service to his end users (this lightweight blog is about the limit of my current connection).
Last week saw the Liberal party finally release their planfor upgrading Australia’s Internet infrastructure. To say it was unimpressive would be putting it gently as whilst they did outline a plan for upgrading our infrastructure it was a far cry from what the NBN is currently shaping up to be. In essence their plan was just a continuation of what would have been done eventually with no fundamental change in the way Australia’s Internet infrastructure was done. This would not free Australian consumers from the problems that have plagued them thanks to the botched privatisation of Telstra (read: not keeping their retail and wholesale branches at arms length) and wouldn’t increase speeds for anyone who didn’t already have broadband at their homes. It was in essence the lowest cost option they could come up with, done to try and bolster their image of being fiscally responsible. We all know that is complete bollocks anyway.
Still for some reason the Labor party the need to kick the Liberals while they were down and announced that their NBN would reach speeds of up to 1Gbps, ten times that of what they originally promised:
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy confirmed today that the National Broadband Network NBN would reach speeds of up 1Gbps, ten times faster than the originally announced speeds of up to 100Mbps.
Conroy said he had only found out about the 1GB speeds yesterday when NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley called him last night. Quigley will make further announcements regarding the faster speeds at a lunch time conference in Sydney today.
The announcement was made at the official NBN launch this morning at Midway Point in Hobart, Tasmania, one of the first townships to receive the NBN, as part of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s campaign trail. The official launch was a chance to differentiate Labor from the Coalition — which has vowed to bin the NBN if elected.
On the surface it would sound like a bit of over-promising in aid of boosting numbers for the coming election but realistically there’s no fundamental issue that would stop the NBN from achieving these speeds and even exceeding them in the future. With so much mud being slung (as is the norm for election time) I would have thought the Liberals would’ve jumped all over this but the statement came and went without much fanfare at all. Conroy’s statement does highlight the fact that the NBN is a fundamental shift in the way Australian’s get their Internet and how it will remain with us for decades to come.
You see the current backbone of our Internet infrastructure in Australia is primarily copper wire, stuff that’s been around since the 1880’s. Right now the fastest connection you can push over our current copper based lines is around 24Mbps and that’s highly dependent on factors such as distance to exchange, back haul capacity and how over subscribed the exchange is. Theoretically if you used a technology like VDSL (ala Transact here in Canberra) you could squeeze 250Mbps out of the same copper, however that signal would drop dramatically if you were a mere 500 meters away from the closest repeater. Transact manages to get it done because they have a fiber to the curb network ensuring most houses aren’t that far away from the repeater, but the last mile is still copper.
Fiber to the home means that the underlying technology that we use for our communications in Australia changes to our generation’s copper: optical fiber. Whilst the current copper infrastructure has theoretical peaks double that of what the NBN originally planned to deliver optical fiber has current, working implementations that run all the way up to 10Gbps. Using a combination of single-modefor back haul and multi-mode it is entirely possible for any house that has a fiber connection to have speeds of up 1Gbps. The only limitation then is on the bandwidth at the local exchange but problems like line attenuation are completely removed. Additionally higher speeds than those currently possible could be achieved by upgrading the endpoints on their side of the fiber connection, ensuring the longevity of the multi-billion dollar infrastructure upgrade.
The NBN as it stood in its original incarnation would have put Australia right up there with the leading countries in terms of Internet infrastructure. Whilst the 1Gbps claim doesn’t fundamentally change what’s going to happen with the NBN it does mean that it is being built with a vision for the future. Compare this to the Liberal party’s plan of just carrying on as we have done for the past 2 decades you can see why I believe that the NBN needs to go ahead because as it stands right now Australia just doesn’t compare to the vast majority of other developed countries. I believe that the NBN is fundamental in making Australia attractive as a base for Internet companies worldwide, as well as existing businesses looking to extend their reach into our area.
It’s not often that you see a government project that will outlast its party’s term but the NBN is a shining example of long term planning. When it is implemented all Australians will reap the benefits of cheap, ubiquitous, high speed Internet that will spur innovation on a national scale of the likes we haven’t yet seen. With the current completion date hovering around 2018 we’re still a way off from seeing the benefits of such a network unfold but if we’re to have infrastructure that will last us as long as the copper has done up until now the NBN must be completed, lest we be left behind by the rest of the Internet world.