news The National Broadband Network Company has issued a product specification document in which it openly considers the possibility of allowing customers on its planned Fibre to the Node or Basement (FTTN/B) infrastructure to order speeds between 50Mbps and 100Mbps which their connections could not actually deliver.
Under Labor’s NBN policy, some 93 percent of Australian premises were to have received fibre directly to the premises, delivering guaranteed maximum download speeds of up to 1Gbps and maximum upload speeds of 400Mbps. The remainder of the population was to have been served by a combination of satellite and wireless broadband, delivering speeds of up to 25Mbps.
Originally, the Coalition’s policy was to have seen fibre to the premises deployed to a significantly lesser proportion of the population — 22 percent — with 71 percent covered by fibre to the node technology, where fibre is extended to neighbourhood ‘nodes’ and the remainder of the distance to premises covered by Telstra’s existing copper network. The Coalition’s policy was also to continue to use the HFC cable network operated by Telstra and would also target the remaining 7 percent of premises with satellite and wireless.
However, NBN Co’s Strategic Review published in December last year changed the paradigm, with the company recommending (and the Coalition supporting) a vision in which up to a third of Australian premises will be served by the HFC cable networks of Telstra and Optus, and Fibre to the Node and Fibre to the Basement used in other areas not already covered by Labor’s FTTP approach.
In April, NBN Co issued a product consultation paper to retail ISPs such as Telstra, Optus, TPG and iiNet with which it hopes to gain feedback on how those FTTN and FTTB connections will actually be sold, both to retail ISPs as well as to end user customers.
The document notes that the FTTN/B connections are expected to be used to connect about 40 percent of Australian premises. Early trials of the deployment model has shown the FTTN infrastructure capable of delivering raw download speeds of 105Mbps over a distance of 100m from a local test node, while the FTTB trial has delivered speeds of 90Mbps.
In its document, NBN Co noted that it planned to offer five speed tiers for the FTTN/B infrastructure — 12/1Mbps (download/upload), 12/5Mbps, 25/10Mbps, 50/20Mbps and 100/40Mbps. These tiers mimic NBN Co’s existing speed tiers for its Fibre to the Premises infrastructure.
However, NBN Co noted that selecting the correct speed tier would be “the responsibility of the end user and the provider”.
“For example, NBN Co does not intend to prevent end users and/or providers from ordering the ‘Up to 100Mbps’ speed tier for a service that would typically experience speeds of less than 50Mbps,” the document states. “To assist in ordering FTTN/B services, NBN Co will consider developing a service qualification tool that enables providers to check the estimated speeds available to premises.”
It appears possible that NBN Co’s option of allowing end users to order broadband speeds which their copper lines may not be capable of delivering may actually contravene consumer law, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission having come down heavily on ISPs and telcos in the past for advertising services that they could not deliver, or at prices which were deemed to be misleading of the actual cost involved.
NBN Co’s product specification document also opened the door for a FTTN/B product model which would do away with set speed tiers entirely, similarly to the way that current ADSL broadband plans are advertised as offering speeds “up to 24Mbps”, but typically deliver substantially less.
“In this model, FTTN/B end users would receive whatever speed that their premises can deliver — as long as that speed is above the agreed performance minimum of 25Mbps,” the document states. “NBN Co proposes retaining speed tiers, to enable wholesale and retail providers to better monetise the improved value proposition of the many services that will be able to receive 50-100Mbps downstream speeds.”
NBN Co is also considering offering traditional ADSL-based services (but still delivered through FTTN/B) in order to next-generation VDSL services. Such services would be limited in speed to 24Mbps, but would have the advantage of offering the highest ADSL speeds possible while allowing end users to retain their existing ADSL modems.
Lastly, NBN Co is also considering offering selectable speed/stability profiles for its FTTN/B services, similar to the way that some ISPs currently offer different ADSL profiles. This would enable users to trade-off better line stability against better line speed, latency and jitter.
NBN Co also made a number of other revelations in its document. For example, contrary to the current system, NBN Co is considering forcing end users and retail ISPs to provide their own in-house model equipment, and the company is also considering dumping plans to provide users with their own battery backup equipment to keep its network operational inside users’ premises, in the case of power blackouts.
Similarly, the company is considering passing on the cost and organisation of in-premises equipment installation onto ISPs.
It is my clear opinion that NBN Co should not be allowed to advertise broadband services either to retail ISPs or end user customers without being able to deliver those speeds. I believe this would be a contravention of the Trade Practices Act and would speedily attract the attention of the ACCC.
Beyond this, of course, the bigger picture here is that we are seeing just how stark the difference is between Labor’s existing FTTP-based NBN plan and the Coalition’s ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ alternative. Under Labor’s plan, NBN Co had no problem guaranteeing end user speeds as high as 100Mbps, and then eventually 1Gbps. Under the Coalition, NBN Co has explicitly stated that its services must only be able to deliver minimum speeds of 25Mbps, and that everything above that is up for question. Wow. That’s basically not even next-generation broadband. And visionary, it is not.
We’re also seeing the culture of NBN Co change significantly here. I cannot imagine NBN Co under its previous management canvassing the possibility of openly deceiving its end user customers with regard to their broadband speeds. The fact that the company is now doing so under its new management speaks volumes about how it has changed in just a few short months. No wonder we’re seeing a huge management and staff exodus. I wouldn’t stand for this kind of crap either.