The NBN has long been a dream of many Australians; fast ubiquitous broadband that can keep pace with our ever growing data needs. It was a modest plan in many ways, portrayed by opponents as the ‘Rolls Royce of broadband plans’. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The original NBN was to deliver FTTP to 93% of Australians via a technology called GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Networking), not the fastest fibre technology around at the time, but a good start to step up to XG-PON (10Gigabit Passive Optical Networking) and eventually NG-PON or TWDM-PON (Next Generation or Time and Wavelength Division Multiplexing – Passive Optical Networking).
This would lead us to ever faster speeds with minimal investment.
In fact, the flexibility of fibre to upgrade for decades, maybe even past a century, made it the obvious choice to keep costs down while still offering fast network speeds.
Conroy, Husic, & (I'm not sure who) standing before the first FSAM in a new development; See http://www.nbnco.com.au/corporate-information/media-centre/image-gallery...
Turnbull's demolition plan
Then along came Malcolm Turnbull, the man with a plan – to demolish the NBN.
First Turnbull said we didn’t need 100Mbps, but 12Mbps, then he said he could do it for $12 billion, then $20 billion, then $29 billion. All along, Turnbull made bold assertions based on bald faced lies, and people believed him. People believed his antiquated copper network would deliver 25Mbps minimum by 2016: it hasn’t; people believed they would be getting the same speeds as an FTTP NBN when using Telstra’s dying copper network: they didn’t; and worst of all, people believed they’d be getting gigabit speeds on Telstra and Optus’ laughable HFC (Hybrid Fibre Coax) network: not a chance.
Labor's policy initiatives
Which leads me to ask: what the hell is going on at Labor HQ?
The policy Labor has released is as laughable as it is terrible.
For Labor to lampoon Turnbull’s MTM (Multi-Technology Mix) for 3 years, only to release a policy that continues the rollout of FTTN, and even worse, HFC (which will only offer ~1Mbps per user), beggars belief.
The policy, which is heavy on the attacks for a ‘positive policy’, clearly states Labor will continue the HFC rollout, they will also continue the FTTN rollout that’s currently underway. The policy is as vague as it can be about any increase in FTTP premises, using the same language many railed against when describing FTTN speeds, the dreaded ‘up to’.
So ‘up to’ 2 million more premises will get FTTP? Yeh, of course, even 1 additional premises delivers ‘up to' 2 million. While I have no doubt Labor intend to deploy FTTP, this may become more difficult than it seems by the time the FTTN rollout has been completed.
Not only will all the companies set up to deploy FTTP have either retrained staff, retooled their work crews, and ordered in copper-based equipment, or they’ll have gone bust waiting for fibre optic work. There will be thousands of qualified copper techs, and almost no qualified fibre techs left in Australia. Labor are betting that somehow they can turn around this MTM ‘fail boat’ at a later stage, when there just won’t be the infrastructure in place to do so.
This is the same problem Turnbull has been facing for the past few years, and why FTTN is taking so long to deploy; 80 areas have been delayed by, on average a month, some are out to six months.
What frustrates tech-minded people like me is that we’re being told to choose between two second rate policies that will hamstring Australia’s tech sector. Both parties can harp on about teaching kids to code, making maths and science mandatory, and becoming the ‘innovation nation’, but the reality is all this is for nothing if we don’t have fibre optic broadband.
Labor could make the bold step of writing off what’s been spent on FTTN and HFC, moving ahead with the FTTP rollout, and upgrading FTTN areas with decent broadband. Alas, Labor have gone with the small-target politics of releasing the policy late in the campaign, with few details, and an eerie similarity to Turnbull’s plan.
If Turnbull could cancel FTTP contracts after the 2013 election, I see no reason why Jason Clare couldn’t do the same after this election.
Labor could have made this election about the NBN, offering up a radical policy that, while costing more, put the NBN back on track. This could be enough to sway some voters (not me) to ignore Labor’s parliamentary voting record, or their refugee policy, but we’ll never know as Labor have opted for a safe, simple, and stupid NBN policy.
The 'sunk-cost' fallacy
The whole policy is based on the ‘sunk cost fallacy’, believing it best to keep spending money on something people do not want, will not fulfil their needs, in the hope that it will save money later. The reality is, even if you throw out the $1.6 billion HFC deal, and most of the FTTN funding pipeline, you will still do better than continuing the rollout.
Maintenance costs of HFC and FTTN over the next 5 years alone would eat up any savings, add to this the loss in revenue due to 90% of the network being unable to achieve top tier speeds, and you’ve got a recipe for massive loses over the next decade. And even if you believe that the productivity commission will come up with a plan to deploy FTTP, it’s hard to argue this will be within 10 years of the rollout completing. We’re talking about tens of billions of dollars to go from FTTN and HFC to FTTP, not exactly ‘saving’ anything.
The importance of time
I know there’s a few arguing it will cause the rollout to take longer if Labor would commit to moving to FTTP straight away, and I say: so what? The Telstra Definitive Agreement does not need to be renegotiated, and really, who cares about Foxtel? Any delays would be minimal as the infrastructure is still around to cope with an increase in FTTP connections.
Alas, it’s too late for Labor to change their policy, so my advice to anyone wanting fast internet: move house, that’s what I’m going to do.
Over to you!
sortiusThis is 4th in the BloggerMe Series "who2vote4 & Y?" A series of blogs by independent thinkers on the coming Australian federal election 2016