Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has delivered an impassioned speech (watch it in full above) arguing much of the reality around the nature of broadband has been lost in the national NBN debate, and that Australia’s blockbuster fibre to the home rollout is unusual even by the standards of international broadband centres like Korea.
“To say that the debate has become confused is an understatement,” said Turnbull, speaking to the Communications Day Summit in Sydney this morning.
Many commentators on the broadband issue – including members of the Federal Government like Communications Minister Stephen Conroy — have highlighted fibre rollouts in technologically progressive countries like South Korea and Japan as being examples of what the future of telecommunications will look like.
However, this morning Turnbull said he had recently visited Korea, and the reality was that the sort of fibre to the home connection that the NBN will deploy was very rare even in that country.
“The overwhelming majority of residences are not wired with fibre,” he said, noting he had visited a new city in the country, which he described as “an extraordinary new development, like the set of a science fiction movie”. “In the residential apartments there, the premises are wired with Ethernet,” said Turnbull, “with fibre in the basement – in effect fibre to the node”.
It’s this style of deployment which Turnbull said was the norm in Korea – planners there had decided not to run fibre into every residence, “for reasons of cost”.
The Liberal MP also highlighted the fact that the NBN rollout will see Telstra stop providing broadband over its HFC cable network, as part of its deal with the Federal Government to migrate customers onto the NBN. Optus has given hints that it is working on a similar deal, and the fibre rollout will see Telstra’s copper network removed.
And yet, in Korea, Turnbull said, the country’s communications regulator had made it “abundantly clear” to him that a key objective there was the promotion of facilities-based competition, with a number of networks running into residences and businesses – including HFC cable networks.
We have with the design of the NBN, a clear policy objective, which is entirely at odds with that, which is focused on creating a fixed-line monopoly,” Turnbull said.
The Shadow Communications Minister also received a demonstration in Korea of what he described as “really remarkable high definition videoconferencing” from US networking giant Cisco – the quality of which, he said, took his breath away.
However, he said, the videoconferencing link only required a 1.5Mbps symmetric data stream. Cisco had told him, he said, that its rivals would require as much as 6-8Mbps.
Based on this fairly high-end example of network use, Turnbull questioned what applications would run on the NBN fibre which would require anything like the 1Gbps or even 100Mbps speeds it is promising to deliver. “Nobody has an answer to that,” he said.
Overall, Turnbull made it plain that the Opposition supported a vision where all Australians got access to high-speed broadband. However, he said the key question in the matter was the cost-effectiveness of delivering that access – a test, he said, that the Federal Government’s policy didn’t pass. It was a mix of technologies with a guaranteed base speed of 12Mbps that would better and more cost-effectively deliver such a broadband vision, Turnbull argued.
“The fundamental question … is do you need to entirely overbuild your existing telecommunications network, your existing customer access network, with a new fibre to the home system or network, in order to deliver fast broadband?” he said. The answer is absolutely not.”
“This is one of the great untruths that is being promoted as part of the defence of the NBN.”
The news comes as several key players in Australia’s telecommunications market landed heavy blows on the NBN project at the same conference. Internode
AAPT chief executive Paul Broad this morning called on fellow telcos to stand up and “make noises” to protect competition in the new world order of the NBN, slamming the network as a return to a telecommunications monopoly, while Internode MD Simon Hackett yesterday described the National Broadband Network’s pricing model as “insane” for small internet service providers, warning that none will survive their walk through the “valley of death” transition from the current copper network to the fibre NBN.
Video credit: Marina Freri (Delimiter)