news The Coalition has published an extensive document with which it appears to be hoping to answer all of the ‘frequently asked questions’ regarding its rival National Broadband Network policy, including points of contention such as its cost, technical aspects when compared to Labor’s existing fibre solution, and future telecommunications industry structure.
Several weeks ago, when it first formally published its rival NBN policy to stack up against Labor’s current NBN vision, the Coalition published a number of lengthy policy documents regarding the policy, including a background briefing paper which it hoped would answer the questions of many in the telecommunications industry.
However, in some quarters the Coalition has struggled to convince segments of the population and technology sector experts that its vision is comprehensive enough. “The Opposition’s NBN plan has as many, if not more, questions attached to it as they claim the government’s plan has,” wrote analyst Paul Budde after the plan was published. “All the issues they have raised regarding cost blowouts and delays are equally present in their own plan. There are no guarantees that their plan is technically workable – nor, indeed, that it will deliver a cheaper and faster outcome. Far more detailed plans will be needed to make such judgements.”
In another example, technology media outlet The Register has complained that the Coalition has not answered all the relevant NBN questions. Last week it published an extensive list of questions about its policy which it said the Coalition had not answered. “We’re not asking these questions out of any desire to promote the Government’s NBN policy,” The Register wrote. “We at Vulture South feel instead feel answers to the above would go a long way to explaining the NBN installation experience the Coalition imagines.”
In addition, polling data continues to show Australians overwhelmingly continue to support the current Labor NBN plan over the Coalition’s alternative policy. A Fairfax/Nielsen poll of some 1,400 people several weeks ago, for example, found that about 63 percent of those who had heard of Labor’s NBN project supported the initiative, while only 41 percent who had heard of the Coalition’s proposal supported it.
This morning Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull published on his website a comprehensive article listing answers to several dozen frequently asked questions about the Coalition’s NBN policy. For example, in a section labelled ‘costs’, the document publishes an extensive amount of information relating to how much the Coalition’s policy will cost both the Government as well as individuals connecting to the Coalition’s version of the NBN infrastructure.
It attempts to debunk, for example, the claim by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy that individuals will pay up to $5,000 to have fibre extended all the way to their premises under the Coalition’s policy, as well as the claim that accessing the Coalition’s NBN will be more expensive in remote areas of Australia.
“Labor’s reference to paying for a connection is classic spin,” the document notes. “While we anticipate that for the vast majority of consumers in the areas serviced by FTTN the speeds offered will be more than adequate, there is the technical possibility to run fibre to one or more customers in an area served by a node. In the UK this product, known as “fibre on demand” is made available for a fee. For a customer living 500 metres from a node, for example, the charge is GBP1500 or about $2,250.”
The document also publishes extensive information on how many ‘nodes’ will be needed under the Coalition’s vision of fibre to the node (or streetside corner) infrastructure, as compared with Labor’s fibre to the premises vision which would see fibre extended all the way to premises. “Recent plans for FTTN networks in Australia indicated that around 50,000 nodes would be needed (many of them in the basement of apartment blocks),” the document notes. And it also goes into issues such as how the network will cope with future demand, for example.
One of the most contentious issues surrounding the Coalition’s NBN policy is that it does not set mandated upload speeds — unlike Labor’s policy. This is due to the variable speeds achievable under fibre to the node infrastructure, where those living further away from telephone exchanges or with poor quality copper cables to their premises would see different speeds than those living closer or with better quality copper.
“We have not set minimum upload speeds because everywhere in the world, operators allocate upload speeds according to consumer demand,” the document notes. “The limitations on upload speeds are often a function of the allocation that operators decide consumers will value most between up and download links. To give you an idea, in the UK where BT offers an ‘up to’ 76mbps product for downloads, the upload speed is 19mbps – so quite considerable uplink capacity is available over FTTN. So we will leave that to the NBN to decide how best configure their networks – but our main focus is on greatly enhancing the capacity of the network sooner and more cost effectively.”
Other issues addressed include the issue of the aesthetics of fibre to the node cabinets on street corners, which some architecture and building commentators have described as “hideous”.
“Every network requires distribution points, which require cabinets located on the street,” the Coalition’s FAQ document notes. “Under Labor’s FTTP rollout, there will be around 60,000 fibre distribution hubs which are 1.1m in height. It’s true that FTTN distribution points, the nodes, need to be slightly larger because they also house active electronics and some remote power sources. However, the nodes being deployed around the world continue to get smaller, with BT recently deploying nodes 1.1m in height but 1.3m wide.”
“It should also be noted that this technology is moving very rapidly. We would anticipate many of the nodes in our design would be located inside apartment buildings rather than on the street. Further vendors are now selling compact nodes which are small enough to fit within a Telstra pit. One of the advantages of abandoning Labor’s “one size fits all” strategy and instead following a flexible, technology agnostic approach is that we can take advantage of improved technologies as they become available.”
The documentation which the Coalition has produced so far with respect to its policy — consisting of its actual policy document, its background briefing papers, a series of extensive interviews and press conferences by Turnbull and others such as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and the FAQ document released this morning — far exceeds the extent of policy documentation produced by any political party with respect to a telecommunications policy before an election; including the two versions of Labor’s NBN policy (2007 and 2009) and the Coalition’s own previous policy taken to the 2010 Federal Election; in each prior case only brief policy documents, accompanied by a policy launch press conference, were provided, leaving substantial analysis and background briefing information out.