In my mind there’s never been any doubt that the MTM NBN has been anything more than a complete debacle. At a technological level it is an inferior idea, one that fails to provide the base infrastructure needed to support Australia’s future requirements. As time went by the claims of “Fast, Affordable, Sooner” fell one by one, leaving us with a tangled mess that in all likelihood was going to cost us just as much as the FTTP solution would. Now there’s some hard evidence, taken directly from nbn’s own reports and other authoritative sources, which confirms this is the case and it’s caused quite a stir from the current communications minister.
The evidence, released by the Labor party last week in a report to the media, includes the following table and points to numerous sources for their data:
The numbers are essentially a summary of much of the information that has already been reported on previously however it’s pertinent to see it all collated together in a single table. The first row showing that the initial cost estimates were far out of line with reality has been reported on extensively, even before the solution was fully costed out in the atrocious CBA. There was no way that the initial claims of the FTTN install costs would hold, especially with the amount of cabinets required to ensure that the speeds met their required minimums. Similarly assuming that Telstra’s copper network was only in need of partial remediation was pure fantasy as the aging network has been in sore need of an overhaul for decades. The rest of the figures simply boil down to the absolutely bullshit forecasting that the Liberal’s did in order to make their plan look better on paper.
This release has prompted a rather heated response from the current communications minister Mitch Fifield, one which strangely ignores all the points that the Labor release raised. Since the figures have been mostly taken directly from nbn’s reports it would be hard for him to refute them however he made no attempt to reframe the conversation to other more flattering metrics. Instead it focuses on a whole slew of other incidents surrounding the NBN, none of which are relevant to the above facts. With that in mind you can only conclude that he knows those facts are true and there’s no point in fighting them.
It’s completely clear that the Liberal’s have failed on their promises with the NBN and this song and dance they continually engage in to make it seem otherwise simply doesn’t work. The current state of the NBN is entirely on their hands now and any attempt to blame the previous government is a farce, carefully crafted to distract us away from the real issues at hand here. They could have simply replaced the nbn’s board and continued on as normal, claiming all the credit for the project. Instead they tried to make it their own and failed, dooming Australia to be an Internet backwater for decades to come.
Take your licks Fifield and admit that your government fucked up. Then I’ll grant you some leniency.
It’s no secret that I’m loudly, violently opposed to the Liberal’s Multi-Technology Mix NBN solution and I’ve made it my business to ensure that the wider Australian public is aware of frightfully bad it will be. The reasons as to why the Liberal’s solution is so bad are many however they can almost all be traced back to them wanting to cast anything that Labor created in a poor light and that their ideas are far better. Those of us in the know have remained unconvinced however, tearing into every talking point and line of rhetoric to expose the Liberal’s NBN for the farce it is. Now, as the Liberals attempt to rollout their inferior solution, they are no longer able to hide behind bullshit reports as the real world numbers paint an awfully bad picture for their supposedly better NBN.
The slogan of the MTM NBN being “Fast Affordable. Sooner.” has become an easy target as the months have rolled on since the Liberal Party announced their strategy. Whilst the first point can always be debated (since 25Mbps should be “more than enough” according to Abbott) the second two can be directly tied to real world metrics that we’re now privy to. You see with the release of the MTM NBN strategy all works that were planned, but not yet executed, were put on hold whilst a couple FTTN trial sites were scheduled to be established. The thinking was that FTTN could be deployed much faster than a FTTP solution and, so the slogan went, much cheaper too. Well here we are a year and a half later and it’s not looking good for the Liberals and unfortunately, by extension, us Australians.
It hasn’t been much of secret that the FTTN trials that NBNCo have been conducting haven’t exactly been stellar with them experiencing significant delays in getting them set up. Considering that the Liberals gave themselves a 2016 deadline for giving everyone 25Mbps+ speeds these delays didn’t bode well for getting the solution out before the deadline. Those delays appear to have continued with the trial now having just 53 customers connected to the original Umima trial and not a single one connected to the Epping trial. This is after they gave a timeline of “within a month” in October last year. Suffice to say the idea that FTTN could be made available to the wide public by the end of 2016 is starting to look really shakey and so is the 2019 timeframe for their completion of the NBN.
Worst still the idea that the MTM NBN would be significantly cheaper than the full FTTP NBN is yet again failing to stand up to scrutiny. Additional cost analysis conducted by NBNCo, which includes opex costs that were previously excluded under previous costing models, has seen the cost per premises estimate for brownfields (deployed to existing houses) rise to $4316. That’s a substantial increase however it’s a more accurate representation of how much it actually costs to get a single house deployed. Taking that into account the total cost for deploying the FTTP NBN comes out to about $47 billion, very close to the original budget that Labor had allocated for it. Whilst it was obvious that the Liberal’s cost-benefit analysis was a crock of shit from the beginning this just adds further proves the point and casts more doubt over the MTM NBN being significantly cheaper.
I’m honestly not surprised by this anymore as its clear that the Liberals really had no intent of adhering to their rhetoric and were simply trashing the FTTP NBN because it was Labor’s idea. It’s an incredibly short sighted way of looking at it, honestly, as they would have won far more favour with a lot of people if they had just continued with the FTTP NBN as it was. Instead they’re going to waste years and multiple billions of dollars on a system that won’t deliver on its promises and we’ll be left to deal with the mess. All we can really hope for at this point is that we make political history and cement the Liberal’s reign under the OneTermTony banner.
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.
There seems to be this small section of my brain that’s completely disconnected from reality. At every turn with the Liberal’s and the NBN it’s been the part of my head that’s said “Don’t worry, I’m sure Turnbull and co will be honest this time around” and every single time it has turned out to be wrong. At every turn these “independent” reports have been stacked with personnel that all have vested interests in seeing Turnbull’s views come to light no matter how hard they have to bend the facts in order to do so. Thus all the reports that have come out slamming Labor’s solution are not to be trusted and the latest report, the vaulted cost benefit analysis that the Liberals have always harped on about, is a another drop on the gigantic turd pile that is the Liberal’s NBN.
The problems with this cost-benefit analysis started long before the actual report was released. Late last year Turnbull appointed Henry Ergas as the head of the panel of experts that would be doing the cost-benefit analysis. The problem with this appointment is that he’d already published many pieces on the NBN before which where not only critical of the NBN but were also riddled with factual inaccuracies. So his opinion of the NBN was already well known prior to starting this engagement and thus he was not capable of providing a truly independent analysis, regardless of how he might want to present it. However in the interests of fairness (even though Turnbull won’t be doing so) let’s judge the report on it’s merits so we can see just how big this pile of horseshit is.
The report hinges primarily on a metric called “Willingness to Pay (WTP)” which is what Australians would be willing to pay for higher broadband speeds. The metric is primarily based around data gathered by the Institute for Choice which surveyed around 3,000 Australians about their current broadband usage and then showed them some alternative plans that would be available under the NBN. Problem is the way these were presented were not representative of all the plans available nor did they factor in things like the speed not being guaranteed on FTTN vs guaranteed speed on FTTP. So essentially all this was judging was people’s willingness to change to another kind of plan and honestly was not reflective of whether or not they’d want to pay more for higher broadband speeds.
Indeed this is even further reflected in the blended rate of probabilities used to determine the estimation of benefits with a 50% weighting applied to the Institute for Choice data and a 25% modifier to the other data (take-up demand and technical bandwidth demand) which, funnily enough, find in favour of the FTTP NBN solution. Indeed Table I makes it pretty clear that whenever there was multiple points of data the panel of experts decided to swing the percentages in ways that were favourable to them rather than providing an honest view of the data that they had. If the appointment of a long anti-NBN campaigner wasn’t enough to convince you this report was a total farce then this should do the trick.
However what really got me about this report was summed up perfectly in this quote:
The panel would not disclose the costs of upgrading [to] FTTP compared with other options, which were redacted from the report, citing “commercial confidentiality associated with NBN Co’s proprietary data”.
What the actual fuck.
So a completely government owned company is citing commercial in confidence for not disclosing data in a report that was commissioned by the government? Seriously, what the fuck are you guys playing at here? It’s obvious that if you included the cost of upgrading a FTTN network to FTTP, which has been estimated to cost at least $21 billion extra, then the cost-benefit would swing wildly in the direction of FTTP. Honestly I shouldn’t be surprised at this point as the report has already taken every step possible to avoid admitting that a FTTP solution is the better option. Hiding the upgrade cost, which by other reports commissioned by the Liberals is to be required in less than 5 years after completion of their FTTN NBN, is just another fact they want they want to keep buried.
Seriously, fuck everything about Turnbull and his bullshit. They’ve commissioned report after report, done by people who have vested interests or are in Turnbull’s favour, that have done nothing to reflect the reality of what the NBN was and what it should be. This is just the latest heaping on the pile, showcasing that the Liberals have no intention of being honest nor implementing a solution that’s to the benefit of all Australians. Instead they’re still focused on winning last year’s election and we’re all going to suffer because of it.
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.
Not so long time readers will know that a month ago (exactly, strangely enough) I posted about the issues that a FTTN NBN wouldn’t fix, namely that of the horrendous nature of the copper network that Telstra currently maintains. When I posted it I figured that my almost unusably slow Internet was the byproduct of the incumbent weather and would soon rectify itself, something which had happened in the past. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case at all and after many days of sunshine and no improvement in sight I decided to do the thing I had been regretting: calling up Telstra to get the line investigated.
You can then imagine my elation when I saw that they now have a handy online form for you to fill out instead of calling them. Like a dutiful consumer I filled it out and sent it on its way, not caring about the multiple warnings about getting charged $120 if there was no fault found. The site guaranteed me a response within a week and so I waited for them to respond. Almost like clockwork a response appear from Telstra a week later claiming that the problem had been resolved and inviting me to take a survey about my experience. If my problem hadn’t been fixed, it said, I could say so on the survey and they’d continue investigating the issue.
Of course the fault hadn’t been fixed as no one had contacted me since lodging the fault so it was obvious that they hadn’t done any troubleshooting at all, that was just the system automatically closing out a ticket that had no action on it. I replied to the survey in kind, outlining the issues I was experiencing and the troubleshooting steps I had taken to fix it. I received a call back a day later from an agent who was going to handle my case who was very understanding of the situation I was in. However the earliest he could send out a technician was a month away although he promised he’d get that moved up.
I never heard back from him after a couple call backs where he told me he couldn’t do anything for me (even though he promised to keep me updated). Luckily the technician did arrive on the scheduled date although at 8AM rather than the agreed time of after 5pm. Upon inspection of my outlet he asked if I was able to get a connection at all as the line was essentially unusable by his diagnostic tools. After a quick trip to the pit he came back with an assessment that shouldn’t shock anyone but should make you lose all faith in the state of Telstra’s copper network.
Essentially the pit had been uncovered for quite some time, much like the above picture, with the terminals exposed to the elements. Another technician had been by recently though as they had put a temporary cover the terminals to protect it however this had to have been done after my terminal had degraded. A simple rewiring job fixed the issue but the pit still remains uncovered although, hopefully, the terminals are now protected from the elements so that it won’t happen again in the future.
The issue here is that I know this isn’t exactly uncommon as I’ve managed to pass multiple pits in my travellings around Canberra that are in a similar state. To get speeds higher than what I get right now would mean that a lot of remediation to the copper network would need to be done and no where in the government’s NBN plan does it stipulate that happening. This makes their promise of getting higher speeds to everyone cheaper and faster hollow as the infrastructure they’re relying on to provide it simply isn’t capable of delivering the required outcomes. I could go on but I feel like I’ve said my peace about this a dozen times over already. I just wanted to highlight the amount of rigmarole I had to go through to get a single connection fixed which, when multiplied by an entire nation, shows how infeasible a FTTN NBN really is.
Governments often avoid long term policy goals for fear of never seeing them completed. This unfortunately means that large infrastructure projects fall by the wayside as it’s unlikely that they’ll be finished in a single term, leaving a potential political win on the table for an incoming government. The National Broadband Network then was something of an oddity, forced into being due to the lack of interest the private sector showed in building it (despite heavy government funding) it was one of the few examples of a multi-term policy that would have tangible benefits for all Australians. Like any big project it had its issues but I, and many others, still thought it was worth the investment.
If you were to believe the Liberal’s rhetoric of the past couple years however you’d likely be thinking otherwise. Whilst the initial volleys launched at the NBN were mostly focused on the fact that it was an expensive ploy by Labor to buy votes it soon metastasised into a fully fledged attack that had little rhyme or reason. It’s ultimate form was the Liberal’s FTTN NBN, a policy which many saw as a half hearted attempt to placate Liberal voters who saw the NBN as an expensive Labor policy whilst trying to retain the tech vote which they had spent so many years losing. After they got into government however many of us, myself included, thought that it was all a load of hot air and that they’d simply continue with the current NBN plan, possibly with someone else building it.
Oh how wrong we all were.
I mentioned last week that Turnbull needed to start listening to the evidence that was piling up that the FTTP NBN was the way to go, figuring that the unbiased strategic review would find in favour of it given the large body of evidence saying so. However the report was anything but saying that the current NBN plan was woefully behind schedule and would likely end up costing almost 50% more than it was currently expected to. The new NBNCo board then recommended a plan of action that looked frightfully similar to that of the Liberal’s FTTN NBN, even touting the same party lines of faster, cheaper and sooner. Needless to say I have some issues with, not least of which is the fact that it seems to be wildly out of touch with reality.
For starters I find it extremely hard to believe that NBNCo, a highly transparent company who’s financials have been available for scrutiny for years, would be unaware of a cost blow out exceeding some $28 billion. The assumption for the cost blow out seems to stem from an ill formed idea that the cost per premise will increase over time, something which is the exact opposite of reality. There also seems to be a major disconnect between the Liberal’s figures on take up rates and plan speeds which makes it appear like there’s a huge hole in the revenue that NBNCo would hope to generate. Indeed if we look at the 2013-2016 corporate plan the figures in there are drastically different to the ones the review is using, signalling that either NBNCo was lying about it (which they weren’t) or the strategic review is deliberately using misleading figures to suit an agenda.
I won’t mince words here as it’s clear that many aspects of the review have a political agenda behind them. The $28 billion blowout in the FTTP NBN seems to have been calculated to make the $11 billion increase in peak funding for the Liberal’s NBN seem a lot more palatable, even though its cost is now basically the same as the original costings for the FTTP NBN. Honestly we should have expected this when the majority of the new NBNCo board is staffed with former executives from telcos who have large investments in Hybrid Fiber Coaxial networks, something which the new NBN will be on the hook for (even though the Liberals seem to think they’ll get those for free).
In short the review is laughable, an exercise in fudging numbers to suit a political agenda that has absolutely zero groundings in reality. The end of it is that we, the Internet users of Australia, will get horrendously screwed with outdated technology that will have to be replaced eventually anyway and at a cost that will far exceed that of a pure FTTP solution. Of course it’s now clear that it was never Turnbull’s intention to do a fair and honest review and was only interested in being given evidence to support his skewed view of technology.
Convincing the wider tech community that the the FTTN NBN is a bad idea isn’t exactly a hard task as anyone who’s worked in technology understands the fundamental benefits of a primarily fibre network over one that’s copper. Indeed even non-technical users of Australia’s current broadband network are predominately in favour of the fully fibre solution knowing that it will lead to a better, more reliable service than anything the copper network can deliver. The was a glimmer of hope back in September when Turnbull commissioned NBNco to do a full report on the current rollout and how that would compare to his FTTN solution however his reaction to a recent NBNco report seems to show otherwise.
The document in question is a report that NBNCo prepared during the caretaker period that all government departments enter prior to an election. The content of the document has been rather devastating to the Coalition’s stance that FTTN can be delivered faster and cheaper with NBNCo stating in no uncertain terms that they would not be able to meet the deadlines promised before the election. Additionally many of the fundamental problems with the FTTN solution were also highlighted which should be a very clear signal to Turnbull that his solution is simply not tenable, at least in its current form.
However Turnbull has done as much as he can to discredit this report, taking the stance that it was heavily outdated and written over 6 months ago. However this is clearly not the case as there’s ample evidence that it was written recently, even if it was during the recent caretaker period (where, you could potentially argue, that NBNCo was still under the influence of Labor). In all honesty though the time at which it was written is largely irrelevant as the criticisms of it have been echoed by myself and other IT pundits for as long as the Coalition has spruiked their FTTN policy.
Worse still the official NBNCo report, which Turnbull has previously stated he’ll bind himself to, was provided to him almost 2 weeks ago and hasn’t seen the light of day since. It was even brought up during question time during a recent sitting of parliament and Turnbull was defiant in his stance to not release it. We’ll hopefully be getting some insight into what the report actually contains tomorrow as a redacted version of the report will be made available to some journalists. For someone who wanted a lot more transparency from NBNCo he is being awfully hypocritical as, if he was right about FTTN being cheaper and faster to implement, would have supported that view. The good money is then on the fact that the report is far more damning about the Coalition’s policy than Turnbull had hoped it’d be.
If Turnbull wants to keep any shred of creditability with the technically inclined voters he’s going to have to fess up sooner or later that the Coalition’s policy was a non-starter and pursuing the FTTP solution is the right way to go. Heck he doesn’t even have to do the former if he doesn’t want to but putting his stamp on the FTTP NBN would go a long way to undoing the damage to his reputation as the head of technology for Australia. I guess we’ll know more about why he’s acting the way he is tomorrow.
The resignation of the National Broadband Network board was an expected move due to the current government’s high level of criticism of the project. Of course while I, and many other technically inclined observers, disagreed with the reasons cited for Turnbull’s request for their resignations I understood that should we want to get the NBN in the way we (the general public) wanted it then it was a necessary move that would allow the Liberal party to put their stamp on the project. However what followed seemed to be the worst possible outcome, one that could potentially see the NBN sent down the dark FTTN path that would doom Australia into remaining as an Internet backwater for the next few decades.
They hired ex-Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski.
For anyone who lived through his tenure as the head of Australia’s largest telecommunications company his appointment to the head of the NBN board was a massive red flag. It would be enough to be outraged at his appointment for the implementation of data caps and a whole host of other misdeeds that have plagued Australia’s Internet industry since his time in office but the real crux of the matter is that since his ousting at Telstra he’s not been involved in the telecommunications industry for a decade. Whatever experience he had with it is now long dated and whilst I’m thankful that his tenure as head of the board is only temporary (until a new CEO is found) the fact that he has approved other former Telstra executives to the NBN board shows that even a small amount of time there could have dire implications
News came yesterday however that Turnbull has appointed Simon Hackett, of Internode fame, was appointed to the NBN board. In all honesty I never expected this to come through as whilst there were a few grass roots campaigns to get that to happen I didn’t think that they’d have the required visibility in order to make it happen. However Hackett is a well known name in the Australian telecommunications industry and it’s likely that his reputation was enough for Turnbull to consider him for the position. Best of all he’s been a big supporter of the FTTH NBN since the get go and with this appointment will be able to heavily influence the board’s decisions about the future of Australia’s communication network.
Whilst I was always hopeful that a full review of the feasibility of the NBN would come back with resounding support for a FTTH solution this will almost certainly guarantee such an outcome. Of course Turnbull could still override that but with his staunch stance of going with the review’s decision it’s highly unlikely he’d do that, less he risk some (even more) severe political backlash. The most likely change I can see coming though is that a good chunk of the rollout, mostly for sites where there is no current contracts, will fall to Telstra. Whilst I’m a little on the fence about this (they’d be double dipping in that they’d get paid to build the new network and for disconnecting their current customers) it’s hard to argue that Telstra isn’t a good fit for this. I guess the fact that they won’t end up owning it in the end does make it a fair bit more palatable.
So hopefully with Hackett’s appointment to the NBNCo board we’ll have a much more technically inclined view presented at the higher levels, one that will be able to influence decisions to go down the right path. There’s still a few more board members to be appointed and hopefully more of them are in the same vein as Hackett as I’d rather not see it be fully staffed with people from Telstra.
The Internet situation I have at home is what I’d call workable but far from ideal. I’m an ADSL2+ subscriber, a technology that will give you speeds up to 25MBps should you be really close to the exchange, on good copper and (this is key) make the appropriate sacrifices to your last mile providers. Whilst my line of sight distance to the exchange promises speeds in the 15MBps range I’m lucky to see about 40% of that with my sync speed usually hovering around the 4~5MBps range. For a lot of things this is quite usable, indeed as someone who had dial-up for most of his life these speeds are still something I’m thankful for, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that my reach far exceeds my grasp something which as a technology centric person is fast becoming an untenable position.
Honestly I don’t think about it too much as it’s not like it’s a recent realisation and, since the difference between the best and worst speeds I’ve had weren’t that great in retrospect, I’ve developed a lot of habits to cope with it. Most of these are running things over longer periods when I wouldn’t be using the Internet anyway but not all tasks fit nicely into that solution. Indeed last night when I wanted to add in a video that I recorded to my post, one that was only ~180MB in size, I knew there was going to be a pretty long delay in getting the post online. The total upload time was around 30mins in the end which is just enough time for me to get distracted with other things and completely forget about what I was doing until later that night.
Sure it’s not an amazing example of why I need faster Internet but it does highlight the issue. The video wasn’t particularly large nor super high resolution (720p, 60fps), it was produced on technology that’s over 2 years old and uploaded to a service that’s been around for 7 years. The bottleneck in that equation is the connection that all of them share from my home network, something which hasn’t changed that much in the last decade that I’ve been a broadband Internet user.
For me it’s even worse when I run up against the limitations of paltry connection for things like services I’d like to host myself. In its infancy this blog was hosted from my little server at home but it became quickly apparent that little things like pictures were simply untenable because they’d take forever to load even if I shrunk them down to near unusable sizes. It became even worse when I started looking into using the point to point VPN feature in Azure for connecting a small home environment to the virtual machines I’m running in the cloud as my tiny connection was simply not enough to handle the kind of traffic it would produce. That might not sound like a big deal but for any startup in Australia thinking about doing something similar it kills the idea of creating using the service in that fashion which puts a lot of pressure on their remaining runway.
It’s reasons like this which keep me highly skeptical of the Liberal’s plan for the NBN as the speeds they’re aspiring towards aren’t that much dissimilar to what I’m supposed to be getting now. Indeed they can’t even really guarantee those speeds thanks to their reliance on the woefully inadequate copper network for the last run in their FTTN plan. Canberra residents will be able to tell you how much of a folly their idea is after the debacle that is TransACT (recently bought for $60 million and then its infrastructure sold for $9 million) which utterly failed to deliver on it’s promises, even when they deployed their own copper infrastructure.
It also doesn’t help that their leader thinks that 25MBps is more than enough for Australian residents which, if true, would mean that ADSL2+ would be enough for everyone, including businesses. Us IT admins have known that this hasn’t been the case for a while, especially considering how rare it is to get those speeds, and the reliance on the primary limiting factor (Telstra’s copper network) for the Liberal’s NBN plan effectively ensures that this will continue on for the foreseeable future.
All those points pale in comparison to the one key factor: we will need to go full fibre eventually.
The copper we have deployed in Australia has a hard upper limit to the amount of bandwidth it can carry, one that we’re already running up against today. It can be improved through remediation by installing thicker cables but that’s a pretty expensive endeavour, especially when you take into account the additional infrastructure required to support the faster speeds. Since there’s no plan to do such remediation on the scales required (either by Telstra or as part of the Liberal’s NBN plan) these current limitations will remain in place. Fibre on the other hand doesn’t suffer from the same issues with the new cables able to carry several orders of magnitude more bandwidth just with today’s technology. The cost of deploying it isn’t cheap, as we already know, but considering it will pay for itself well before it reaches the end of its useful life.
My whinging is slightly moot because I’ll probably be one of the lucky ones to have fibre being rolled out to my neighbourhood before the election but I do feel the NBN’s effectiveness will be drastically decreased if its not ubiquitous. It’s one of the few multi-term policies that will have real, tangible benefits for all Australians and messing with it will turn it from a grand project to a pointless exercise. I hope the Liberal’s policy is really just all that much hot air to placate their base because otherwise the Internet future of Australia will be incredibly dim and that’s not something that I, or any user of technology, wants for this country.