The National Broadband Network Maze
The com­plex­i­ties of the NBN maze

Pri­or to the elec­tion I had engaged in a run­ning e‑mail dis­cus­sion about the NBN (Nation­al Broad­band Net­work) with an inter­net ISP sup­pli­er I know, shared with mutu­al friends. Inter­est­ing­ly (or strange­ly enough) he did not see the ben­e­fits of Labour’s NBN mod­el FTTH (Fibre-to-the-Home) and found that the alter­na­tive FTTN (Fibre-to-the-Node) was ade­quate because it would “prob­a­bly get Aus­tralia to where we want to be with­out break­ing the bank … “. I found that an inter­est­ing view, espe­cial­ly as inter­net tech­nol­o­gy under­wrote near­ly every­thing he did busi­ness-wise. Most of what I write here was part of a reply I wrote back then. I actu­al­ly nev­er sent it, as it was obvi­ous he felt “ade­quate to our needs” was suf­fi­cient and going beyond that was a waste of mon­ey and we’d already argued about it for a while. I con­fess I thought these were views held because of a polit­i­cal view­point and intractable in nature, (as he prob­a­bly did about myself) so why con­tin­ue the argu­ment when there was lit­tle pos­si­bil­i­ty of mak­ing ground.

We both under­stood the tech­ni­cal basics. He under­stood that “with a fibre optic cable, we don’t have such a prob­lem with noise or band­width…” and also said … “For a long line, exam­ple a cop­per tele­phone line, the band­width is about 1 to 5 MHz. With clever mod­u­la­tion tech­niques we can get 10s of megabits per sec­ond (for exam­ple ADSL), but the sig­nal to noise ratio lim­its this, and the longer the line, the high­er the noise, and the low­er the data rate.” No argu­ments with these facts. He con­tin­ued, … “Short pieces of cop­per can oper­ate very fast, giga­bits per sec­ond. The speed of cur­rent­ly ADSL2 (i.e. cop­per wire is about 10Mbps — Megabits per sec­ond) — glob­al aver­age on is cur­rent­ly 13.9Mbps. (megabits)”. So his basic argu­ment was, “So if we use opti­cal fibre for the long runs, and only short pieces of cop­per at either end, we can still obtain poten­tial­ly giga­bits per sec­ond of speed …. There­fore … the last mile .. that is short bits of cop­per wire (con­nect­ed to a fiber back­bone) … can go very fast … that is … A LOT faster than cur­rent ADSL speeds.” Most tech­ni­cal folks under­stand these dynam­ics but ques­tion the fit for pur­pose and pos­si­bly the “last mile’s” capac­i­ty.

True? — poten­tial­ly? My argu­ment was “poten­tial­ly” and “real­i­ty” were a lit­tle far apart, that the runs of cop­per were for most peo­ple are not going to be short (unless you lived next door to the node /exchange) and that we had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ensure we had an “unlim­it­ed” future speed as opposed to an “ade­quate” one. As I said, after writ­ing and research­ing much of what is below, I decid­ed to dis­con­tin­ued this argu­ment for rea­sons that it was get­ting heat­ed & not worth affect­ing the “friend­ship”. The elec­tion came and went, folks tried to get the new com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter, Mal­colm Turn­bull, to see the rea­sons behind FTTH but have had no trac­tion either. Again polit­i­cal view­points do make folk intractable in nature. Then I read this Syd­ney morn­ing Her­ald arti­cle. [] It was at this point I realised how big the gap between “poten­tial­ly” and “real­i­ty” was. If you want more detail than the very cur­so­ry & light on arti­cle in the SMH then read Nick Ross’s arti­cle. So I have changed what was my orig­i­nal E‑mail reply … into a blog.

Hope­ful­ly you, as a read­er, are more amenable to rea­son ??? Let me warn you I am sum­maris­ing some rather large blogs with sig­nif­i­cant detail. I would encour­age you to read them prop­er­ly before demon­strat­ing how intractable you can be. First off, let’s get my bias out in the open. I am a film mak­er with a strong inter­est in the new mod­els of con­tent deliv­ery over the inter­net exem­pli­fied by Magnolia/Magnet & IFC Mid­night dis­trib­uters as opposed to the old the­atri­cal release mod­els sup­port­ed by both gov­ern­ments (Labor and Lib­er­al) in their sup­port of the Screen Aus­tralia dis­tri­b­u­tion par­a­digm. Look up these Cin­e­ma dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­els here if you seek to under­stand how the Art’s indus­tries would ben­e­fit. On with what I wrote months ago — slight­ly mod­i­fied to remove a few per­son­al remarks and bring the past/present tense to ref­er­ence an, “after the elec­tion” status .… .

Many experts say that fibre-to-the-node sim­ply can’t deliv­er the same speeds to most house­holds as the labor government’s more expen­sive fibre-to the-home roll-out. Some folk think you just have to get fibre to a node and let the cop­per take care of the rest. ABC’s Nick Ross has been writ­ing exten­sive­ly about the NBN crit­i­cal about the han­dling of it by the gov­ern­ment (Labour) and crit­i­cal about the oppo­si­tions (Lib­er­al) alter­na­tives. [Note: I wrote this month ago, remem­ber?] He has writ­ten exten­sive­ly on the sub­ject from tech­ni­cal, cost­ing and polit­i­cal aspect of it and while it is true to say his pub­lic advo­ca­cy for it is evi­dent, it is also true (to quote Media Watch) it “is made by a per­son with pro­fes­sion­al exper­tise or spe­cial­ist knowl­edge about the sub­ject mat­ter being analysed”. His most sig­nif­i­cant analy­sis is
[] and called “The great NBN fail”. Again to quote Media Watch .. “Ross’s NBN opus is not only long … it’s impec­ca­bly well-researched.” It is damn long and you would only read it if you were acute­ly inter­est­ed in it. I fig­ure you lot are because your read­ing this.

You don’t have to go very far into Ross’s arti­cle before I could sim­ply say, let’s take this out of your polit­i­cal pref­er­ences and say quite sim­ply … “per­haps you need to think about one’s par­ents?” And if you can’t fig­ure out what I mean by that, you haven’t begun to read the arti­cle. Mul­ti­ply that by a lot of oth­er elder­ly moth­ers and fathers and let’s face it, none of my gen­er­a­tion are get­ting any younger. Again what has that got to do with NBN? Read the arti­cle!! It’s not about bits and bytes. It nev­er was and argu­ing about it at that lev­el is miss­ing the point, as most of the media (ABC aside — only some­times) is doing.

Some of you may have chil­dren. I do. When you get to his sec­tion on Schools per­haps you will rethink. If you don’t have chil­dren, I expect you won’t find this impor­tant. And since most of you are urban dwellers I assume rur­al com­mu­ni­ties don’t rate either. [OK that was sar­cas­tic but I hope you get my point]

It was to cost $50 Bil­lion the coali­tion said. Not entire­ly accu­rate if you have read past the sec­tions on affil­i­at­ed ben­e­fits. But what if they were actu­al­ly right by some mir­a­cle. [OK that was sar­cas­tic too.] The crit­i­cism of the short­sight­ed­ness of the set­up of NBN Co are reflec­tive of the time I had worked in I.T. in the Pub­lic Sec­tor. A more inef­fi­cient bunch of clowns I have nev­er met, and thank­ful­ly I no longer have to apol­o­gise for refer­ring to them as such. What if McK­in­sey and KPMG assess­ment was wrong and the coali­tions is right (not that they have an agen­da <sigh>). So what! Look at Ross’s Syd­ney Har­bour bridge anal­o­gy. $50 Bil­lion is prob­a­bly a drop in the ocean. Look at the returns on invest­ments — finan­cial AND social.

There are very good argu­ments that have been around a long time that sug­gest that Aus­tralia is wast­ing time and mon­ey being in the man­u­fac­tur­ing game. There is enough in recent press arti­cles about the unsus­tain­abil­i­ty of sup­port­ing it long-term. Coun­tries like Chi­na do it so much bet­ter than we do. Instead it is intel­lec­tu­al “prop­er­ty” where a still rea­son­ably edu­cat­ed coun­try can make progress. NBN facil­i­tates mak­ing this a com­pet­i­tive realm where we can com­pete inter­na­tion­al­ly. Or can we…. ???

As for the sub­ject of speed, here we are already behind the eight ball as a coun­try. (Note that Aus­tralia does not even get a men­tion — even though we sup­ply India with so much out­sourced work) or try this link to the state of the inter­net. Depend­ing of cri­te­ria you select the sta­tis­tics may vary (but that all depends on the col­lec­tion meth­ods and tim­ing of the data, obvi­ous­ly). Nev­er­the­less it is hard to find a coun­try in Europe or State in Amer­i­ca with slow­er aver­age con­nec­tion speeds than Aus­tralia. So are we com­pet­i­tive inter­na­tion­al­ly? Are we going to be social­ly advan­taged or dis­ad­van­taged? Are we real­ly invest­ing in a future or “the future” be damned?

A few extra things to think about when con­sid­er­ing the future of the inter­net in this country.

.… .

Alternative Broadband options
Alter­na­tive Broad­band options

The above (between the dots) is large­ly what I wrote back at the end of July. I real­ly don’t think any­thing has changed except that it will at least be anoth­er three years before Aus­tralia has a remote chance com­mence down a path to be com­pet­i­tive inter­na­tion­al­ly, in the intel­lec­tu­al futures of the Inter­net. The con­tent deliv­ery mod­els for film, I spoke of ear­li­er, will not be realised in this coun­try over the next three years, so the old par­a­digm will con­tin­ue, while Amer­i­can and Euro­pean mar­kets streak ahead of us.  And if you are real­ly inter­est­ed in what the future needs for an inter­net com­pet­i­tive coun­try I would sug­gest you read this arti­cle by the com­pa­ny See-Change and see where Tony Abbot­t’s vision of “more than enough” will leave us.

For a con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ment that pur­ports to be inter­est­ed in sup­port­ing big busi­ness mod­els that pro­vide inter­na­tion­al­ly com­pet­i­tive strate­gies, the fallover to the FTTN mod­el — giv­en the real unsus­tain­abil­i­ty of the cur­rent cop­per net­work in this coun­try — is just short-sight­ed. Ulti­mate­ly it is not about good sup­port for for­ward look­ing and com­pet­i­tive busi­ness mod­els but about the pol­i­tics of intran­si­gence that refus­es to see the val­ue in some­one else’s ideas.