“Nonsense”: Turnbull rejects ABC’s FTTN criticism


news Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has dismissed as “nonsense” claims by contracting companies deploying Labor’s National Broadband Network project that changing the project’s model to a fibre to the node rollout would be “an expensive, time-consuming hindrance”.

Last week the ABC published an extensive article on the subject based on information collected at the NBN Realised forum held in Sydney, an event looking primarily at the practicalities of deploying Labor’s NBN vision, which primarily uses a fibre to the home-style deployment model to provide next generation broadband speeds to most Australians, and satellite and wireless technologies in some rural and regional areas. The article proved extremely popular online, receiving some 366 comments from readers.

The Coalition prefers a more modest deployment style involving rolling out fibre from telephone exchanges to neighbourhoods and then continuing to use Telstra’s existing copper network for the rest of the distance to premises. This model, known as ‘fibre to the node’, is being used internationally, especially in countries such as the UK, where incumbent telco BT is deploying it across the country. Turnbull and other senior figures in the Coalition have claimed that the model could see Australians receiving next generation broadband speeds significantly faster than under Labor’s fibre to the home model, and at a significantly cheaper price, although the NBN is actually expected to make a long-term return on the Government’s investment.

After interviewing a number of contractors currently involved in deploying the NBN infrastructure, the article’s author, ABC Technology & Games editor Nick Ross, concluded: “While no one wanted to go on the record directly, there was consensus from key players in the room: building a Fibre to the Node (FTTN) infrastructure, in terms of raw construction costs, as promoted by the Coalition, is now unlikely to be a “cheaper” option than the current Fibre to the Premises plans … In essence, NBN contractors such as Silcar/Thiess, SPATIALinfo and Service Stream are now so efficient at rolling out fibre down streets – from the exchange to people’s houses – that stopping to add tens of thousands of large-fridge sized node cabinets represents an expensive, time-consuming hindrance.”

Speaking to ABC Radio this week, however (the full transcript is available online), Turnbull rejected the criticism. “Well that is, with respect to whoever wrote that, complete and utter nonsense,” he said, pointing out that BT in the UK and AT&T in the US were using the FTTN deployment model, and that the FTTN streetside cabinets didn’t need to be the size of “fridges” as they were “getting smaller all the time. The speed of rollout was also demonstrably faster, Turnbull said, pointing out that in the UK, BT had deployed its FTTN infrastructure to seven million premises in one year alone. Turnbull added that the cost was about a quarter of the cost of the fibre to the home model.

It’s not the first time that Turnbull and the ABC’s Ross have clashed over the issue. In July, Turnbull accused Ross of creating “relentless propaganda” to support Labor’s flagship National Broadband Network project, in a stance which the Shadow Communications Minister described as “embarrassing”.

The ABC’s Technology & Games sub-site has published a number of articles over the past year by Ross going into a great level of detail about Labor’s NBN project and the Coalition’s criticism of it. In general, the aim of the articles appears to have been educational, although their broad line has been positive in favour of the NBN.

In July, Ross and Turnbull engaged in a very public argument on the subject on social networking platform Twitter. “Your relentless NBN propaganda is an embarrassment to the ABC,” Turnbull told Ross. “Do you really work for the ABC or is it the NBN Co?”

In turn, Ross (see the ABC’s Tech & Games Twitter account here) in particular highlighted what he said were weaknesses in the Coalitions’ NBN policy, especially its focus on using a fibre to the node-style of broadband rollout rather than the fibre to the home approach Labor is currently taking. “I work for the Australian public. You haven’t ever acknowledged health, [education], business, upload speed requirements for NBN,” Ross told Turnbull. “Am more than happy to meet up and discuss this. We seem to think the NBN is for very different purposes.”

“You can’t say these facts about the NBN without backing them up. I back up what I say more than anyone. If you can demonstrate what facts I have said that are wrong I’ll be mortified. But you need to justify your claims. I go the science route. The facts are all that matter here. Technology is blind to politics. I’ll show my working as usual.”

Turnbull has also been vocal over the past several weeks in criticising Australia’s technology press in general. Last week he said in a speech to the Innovation Bay startup networking organisation in Sydney that Australia’s technology press had a “cheerleader” approach to the NBN, adding that the nation was “let down by the so-called technology media” as it did not examine local events closely enough with reference to the global telecommunications sector.

So who’s correct here? To be honest, it’s a little more complex than black and white, and there are parts of this debate which are being conveniently overlooked by both Malcolm Turnbull and Nick Ross.

The NBN contractors who have expressed vivid doubts about the Coalition’s rival NBN policy obviously have a great deal of vested interest in doing so – billions of dollars in contract work is at stake here – but they are fundamentally on the right track in their criticism of Turnbull’s FTTN model. Turnbull has repeatedly, over a prolonged period, declined to quantify precisely how the Coalition’s FTTN model would exactly be deployed, how much it would cost, how the NBN’s existing model would be transitioned into it, where precisely he is drawing inspiration from in the model, how Telstra’s role would fit into it (including the acquisition of Telsra’s copper network) and so on. Here are some of the questions Turnbull hasn’t yet answered.

Many of these questions are directly related to the fact that Turnbull has continually glossed over the point with respect to FTTN rollouts that they have almost universally been carried out globally by incumbent telcos working on their own infrastructure. Incumbent telcos like BT and AT&T can do FTTN rollouts because they already control all aspects of their network. Turnbull’s model – which would see a third party, NBN Co, upgrade Telstra’s network for it, and probably take ownership of it, is virtually unprecedented globally, and this is where many of the questions around the Coalition’s policy come in.

Because of this, Ross is right to challenge Turnbull on these issues, and he is right to use evidence sourced from technical experts to do so. There’s also the fact that most of the telecommunications industry appears to agree with those’ contractors views at the moment. The ranks of those who currently prefer the Coalition’s FTTN model against Labor’s FTTH model are thin indeed right now; and with good reason.

However, Turnbull is also fundamentally correct. The evidence globally shows that FTTN is a highly workable broadband network deployment model which would serve Australia well, at least for a decade or so. Deploying such a model would bring Australia right into line with current events in Europe, and as we’ve seen in the UK, such a network could also be upgraded to FTTH in the long-term, or in targeted patches in the mid-term where needed.

It’s possible to argue that Turnbull hasn’t provided enough detail yet to make his case for FTTN against FTTH; and that’s an argument I would agree with. However, it’s also the case that if you look at the history of telecommunications policy in Australia, or indeed policy in any other area, Turnbull has provided an extraordinary level of detail for a Shadow Minister. It’s time to compare apples with apples and acknowledge that Turnbull has done a much better job as Shadow Communications Minister than anyone within living memory in Australia; and certainly a better job than current Communications Minister Stephen Conroy did as shadow; Labor’s broadband policy in 2007, for example, was quite threadbare compared to the details Turnbull has laid out over the past several years.

My personal opinion – and I think that of most Australians – is that Labor’s NBN policy is a much better policy than the Coalition’s. A better policy for all Australians. And I don’t think this will change, no matter how much detail Turnbull provides about his vision. FTTH is simply a better long-term option for Australia’s telecommunications needs than FTTN, and Labor’s NBN policy is already substantially down the road to being delivered.

But equally, that doesn’t mean the Coalition’s policy is unworkable. It is simply a fact that similar FTTN deployments are happening internationally and that Turnbull’s vision for Australa’s broadband needs could plausibly become reality. In my view, Australians should be happy about that. It’s a damn sight better than the situation at the last Federal Election in 2010, when the Coalition’s then-rival NBN policy would not have delivered substantially better broadband to Australians; only Labor’s would have. Now the worm has turned and both sides have substantial policies that will deliver fundamental service improvements. Now that’s a situation which we can all agree is a good one.

Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull


  1. So who do you believe? The experts in the field with the vested interest, or the layman politician with the vested interest?

    • Actually Gong, take into account the penalty clauses and payouts, then consider who will actually do the work for the FTTN, same people, so a nice double dip. At least it will provide a sheltered workshop for the copper desperadoes doing the copper bit and then maintaining and replacing the copper and batteries.

  2. Any positive story on the NBN is declared “nonsense” by Turnbull.

    Go and have a look, you’ll struggle to find a positive story he hasn’t declared to be “nonsense” or “misleading” or “incorrect”.

    Despite all the evidence to the contrary.

  3. Nice article and summation.

    A thought occurred to me when you wrote that line about “Turnbull has done a much better job as Shadow Communications Minister than anyone within living memory in Australia”.

    It could also well be that its the first time we’ve had such passionate journalists challenging the Shadow Communications Minister – and a Minister willing to try and counter them with in-depth research, as well he should, given its such a broad reaching network.

    • That’s the thing isn’t it? Until the last few years, Shadow Ministers, communications in particular, have not been subject to scrutiny, their policy ideas gone over to show detail (or lack thereof) or even taken seriously. Really, most of the previous communications ministers have only ever had to deal with regulation of the industry and that was done with Telstra in mind being the ten ton gorilla it is. Have someone there who might actually have an idea and be willing to put a modicum of effort in is also a plus.

      • Yes glass half full time Idryss…

        I think for all his negativity MT is a vast improvement over his Coalition predecessors, such as Tony (whatshisname)… Smith (wasn’t it? iirc).

        In saying that (sans the filter, of course) I also believe Conroy is a vast improvement over previous ministers, et al.

        For the record I also believe Conroy should have been given the NBN as a special separate ministerial task and the comms minister should be Kate Lundy, but that’s another story :)

        But love them or hate them (and love or hate their political views) at least in SC and MT, we have two passionate people involved, instead of stuffy suits and skirts who really DGAF, like before.

        And let’s be derious now… that pic of them which Renai loves to use, of the two pretending to sip tea together, obviously proves it ;)

  4. If you look at what will be saved IF FTTN is 3 times cheaper than FTTH it isn’t as much as MT is implying. Not giving costings he can say FTTN is 3-4 cheaper than FTTH and people start thinking about $10B.

    The cost of running fibre to the premises is only part of the overall cost. About $12B. So if MT is correct, he can get the copper for nothing, there are no additional costs due to contract breaks etc, the most that he could save is $8B.
    It would also be nice to see costs for upgrade to FTTH that will be needed over the next 20 years. Will it cost less than the maximum $8B saving? I doubt it. Show us the numbers Malcolm.

  5. I don’t care about politics, what I care about is the fact that less than 5 minutes ago I just walked past contractors in a pit hauling REAMS of the fat green stuff under the street I was walking on (Toowoomba). It’s happening, right now. I nearly gave them a high five, but they looked busy, so instead I just talked to them – crazy local guy yelling down into a pit. I said these words “It’s good to see the green stuff going in!” bet they thought I was some looney guy.

    I don’t want to know what lesser being the Coalition will vomit from is bowels in 3-6 years time – the green stuff is coming now, just let it go already – focus on other issues.

    They shouldnt have called it the National Broadband Network as all the uneducated folk think its just for ‘teh internets’. Should have called it National Communications Network and people would be like “yep ok whatever do it I don’t care”

    • @Nicholas: Interesting point at the end there… would the “backlash” be as bad if it was branded as a “Communication Network”? I bet a lot more people would be more behind it if it was marketed as an “upgrade to phone lines/communications”.

      Irony here is that the project is technically doing that already but it’s just being portrayed as “a useless internet upgrade” by other folks.

      • Ironically, I recall an early interview with the Malcolm Turnbull where he repeatedly referred to the NBN as the National “Broadcasting” network…

      • I had a heated debate on this topic some months ago with a good friend. She simply didnt get the benefits of the NBN, and as a non-internet user couldnt see the benefits from her perspective. When I explained to her that it wasnt just about internet use, but a complete overhaul of our telecommunications in general, she got it.

        Now, even though she doesnt have a landline or internet, she’s a total advocate of the NBN, and the potential it offers. Pitching it as a fresh phone service, and what that offered, got through, when the gobbledegook of data didnt.

  6. I dont see how we can even consider FTTN at this stage. Apart from being a very poor alternative, we do not any costings or details of this model, other than “cheaper and faster” ..Prove it..!
    What about upload speeds, population coverage, funding, retail and wholesale competition?
    Is there a guaranteed upgrade path to FTTH and a myriad of other questions.
    I wont be conned by confidence tricksters..

    • Pretty much spot on.
      Its not that the idea of FTTN is bad, its that halting a planned, developed, and now increasingly optimized for efficiency FTTH rollout is a very hard sell.

      FTTH is a ground up rebuild. No old crusty hardware, no old crusty wiring, none of the old network other than the pillboxes, pits, pipes, and poles that the old lines were hooked up to and ran through is going to be reused. When the biggest problems in the system (the, Telstra owned, ‘PSTN CAN’ as they call it) stopping people getting a ‘broadband’ connection are:
      1 – Phone line too long – was planned before ADSL existed so line length was limited only by voice frequency transmission quality, not higher frequency adsl signaling transmission quality.
      2 – Phone line too long – line was extended with pair gain, which was developed before ADSL existed and doesnt work with it due to fundamental limitations of the technology.
      3 – Phone line not connected to suitable infrastructure – was installed via RIM/Multiplexer with no way to expand capacity and capabilities without major disruption to the entire user pool on the RIM (usually a few hundred people at least)
      4 – Phone line not connected to suitable infrastructure – phone exchange was built small, or downsized as plain old telephone gear shrunk in size and the room wasnt needed, no room to expand infrastructure for ADSL equipment
      5 – Phone line unsuitable – was laid using aluminium wire to save costs
      6 – Phone line unsuitable – made in too many joined segments for adequate transmission characteristics, and no spare pairs in distribution area for rewiring a shorter route (or there is no shorter route at all)
      7 – Phone line unsuitable – damaged pits, ducts, cable degrades signal sufficiently to cause issues but not enough to require full replacement by Telstra to meet its service obligations under Law.
      8 – Phone line unsuitable – Poor maintenance has damaged the joins through moisture & oxidation leading to substandard transmission quality.

      ( This list is from direct experience working inside Telstra and being responsible for dealing with ADSL line troubleshooting )

      With a list like that, theres a couple of pretty common causes. 1 – Telstra, 2 – Not being designed to handle future expansion such as ADSL, 3 – degraded physical wiring/cabling.

      FTTN works Around these issues to improve things.
      FTTH has none of them as it has been designed from the ground up with avoiding these and likely other issues down the road

      Fiber has scaled from low MB up to the TB level by advancing the technology at each end and working over massive distances, copper has required successively shorter distances for each major increase in transmission speed.

      With the exception of the 120 POIs, ( we need 14, and at most 25ish if it helps something concrete, which it doesnt. 120 was a shameless move to avoid conflict with major fiber backhaul providers and help appease Telstra by increasing their profit from exchange leasing, when NBNCo should have been buying the purpose built prime location facilities Telstra owned, but I digress) the NBN is a pretty great solution to the nations problem of ‘how do we fix over a decade of neglect after we made the mistake of privatizing our communications infrastructure and hoping it would ‘play nice’ and ‘do whats right for the people’

      • Spot on mate and a good write up, pity that even if MT sees it, it will be completely dismissed as “nonsense”….

    • Not to mention that even if you did take power, the new communications minister would have a nightmare of a time trying to get the ACCC to agree to the new rollout terms.

      How do you convince the one that manages the legislation related to federal telecommunications that what is essentially a ‘lesser service at a faster rollout speed’ that it should allow the breakup of a well concreted Telstra agreement, many service contracts with fibre rollout operators and the Optus agreement in favour of tearing the old plan up?

      I’d hate to be the one trying to sell that idea, because as I see it – thats one really hard sell.

      Its not just a matter of ‘replanning the nbn’ its a matter of getting everyone including the regulator to see that the original method they used, all the methodology, planning and experts they talked to were wrong.

  7. Don’t forget Turnbull’s dirty little secret. FTTN won’t be everywhere. Where HFC runs, Turnbull will use this and there will be tiers of broadband access according to what the cheapest and nastiest way is to deliver it.

    Of course there’s the whole issue of Abbott continuing to say he’ll pause (aka cancel) the NBN so don’t expect anything new from a coalition government when it comes to broadband.

    • Thats a good point, will Abbott allow an FTTN alternative? , or just pull the plug.. He has the reigns..

    • Lets also not forget while MT is telling us (apparently poor dumb Aussies) FttN is good enough for us, he has his own money invested in FttH companies abroad and therefore promoting FttH for our friends abroad :/

        • Well he should show his rational for this because all the predictions I’ve seen say the bandwidth provided by FTTN will be obsolete before 2020. I take it he just looks at today’s applications and does a 640K is enough for anyone.

        • If you think about his language here he is actually implying that FttN is all that’s needed 20 years and beyond. He’s not even entertaining the notion that it is highly likely more is needed because doing so would make his FttN patchwork plan look even less credible.

          • I would add the query of: so do you have *any* upgrade plan for this, since you rubbish Labors policy as shortly to be obsolete and with no upgrade path? Anything at all in the intermediate 20 years?

            I personally reckon if ftth folk are finding usage go up in the order of three or four times any fttn effort is going to need to be designed with that in mind or at least with a contingency plan.

            It doesn’t seem Malcolm has even that? That’s docked points right there for me. I’m fairly sure Nbnco will have contingency and backup or alternate path plans handy, but if they don’t I’m similarly unimpressed. For a build like this – and not for 20years, even then only ‘if’ we need it? I think it shows pretty clearly their attitude to telecoms, do only what you need to then screw the asset for every cent its worth for as long as possible, until you do the absolute minimum once again and start over. Little surprise they would like Telstra to do it; they have had plenty of practise at that…..

            No I don’t regard that loose list of objectives as credible either.

            That’s not to say I disagree entirely. MT is far more engaged than his predecessors and that one is grateful for, but I still ain’t entirely convinced. I’m particularly concerned if he thinks its a build it and come back in 20 years affair… That kind of hands off attitude is part of the reason why things are today, and I’d personally like us to try something different. To me its obvious it wasn’t working…..

        • MT: “You may say in 20 years time things will be different. Well, if they’re different in 20 years time, we’ll make some further investments in 20 years time.”

          And, as is a general rule, Emma Alberici could not think of any seriously probing follow up questions after that statement… something like this would’ve been just too hard:

          – Mr Turnbull, is the total sum of proposed FTTN investment, and “further investments in 20 years”, going to be greater than Labor’s FTTH investment?

          – If so, who is going to pay for the difference? And who is going to profit from it?

          – What happens if things are different in not 20, but 10 or 5 years?

          • As much as it would be nice to see such follow up questions – Emma is NOT a technology journalist, and wouldn’t – (generally) – be quick-minded enough to ask a question like that on the fly, on that subject.

            Chances are her EP wouldn’t have the background knowledge to suggest it into her ear either.

            It’s the tech journos Malcolm hates who would ask those questions – but then he’ll just call them cheerleaders and fob them off as fanbois…

      • Unless it is in a FTTH company in Canada, they are not really a simple (or valid) comparison to our NBN. Geographics / demographics not to mention how the network is setup are all different so they cannot be easily compared.

        • While Canada is a country that, on the surface, seems like a good place to compare our NBN with, due to vastly different climate where they can’t work several months of the year, I’m not so sure it’s actually the best country to compare our NBN with.

          In fact I’m not sure there IS a country that we can do an apples to apples compare with, other countries either have more dense populations, have weather extremes that don’t allow direct comparisons or other issues that cloud a direct compare.

  8. Arrrgh… I want gb speeds now, not 20 years..At least give me 100/50 for a few years..

  9. Well summarised Renai.

    It certainly is good to at least have 2 ministers who actually are interested and knowledgable on their respective portfolios in Technology for once.

    My problem with the Coalition plan still stems from the fact that it isn’t their policy yet…..they could just as easily get in and do nothing, though I admit that is getting less likely as they commit more. But it is stil eminently possible, with such an ultra-conservative as Abbott at the head.

    One thing that IS misleading here from Turnbull though:

    the FTTN streetside cabinets didn’t need to be the size of “fridges” as they were “getting smaller all the time.

    AFAIK, the ISAMs required in FTTN don’t change size, because they are, for all intents and purposes, the smallest physical size they can be for the number of ports required. Therefore, the only way to make an FTTN cabinet smaller is provide LESS ports…..which defeats the purpose as you’d have to have even MORE nodes. Quite misleading on Turnbull’s behalf and you can tell by the offhand way he says it in the interview, he isn’t really thinking about it, referring to it as normal technology miniaturization, rather than actual knowledge of FTTN hardware.

      • No, you misunderstand me. You can’t make the hardware any smaller or you can’t physically connect the copper to it. An FTTN cabinet would likely service some 300 homes. 300 copper wires and they’re terminations take up a physical amount of space. As do the batteries to power them and the aircon.

        • 300 connections need 300 plugs. Those plugs are a specific size, as are the female components. Combined, those 300 plugs can only be made so small before they reach the size limit you refer to.

          If the boxes DID get smaller, it would be because there were only 150 plugs. In which case, to connect the original 300 people, you’d need 2 boxes.

          Its the same reason that networks still have their own rooms in many businesses just for that cabling, despite decades of development in the area. The minimum size for the technology means the hosting boxes cant realistically get any smaller.

        • I have a super computer here and it weighs about 180g. It must be a supercompter as it’s way faster than the Cray supercomputer they used to render Tron :)

          • My point was that that was a bad example of a prediction as computers have both gotten bigger and smaller since that prediction was made, therefore it’s still accurate! :-)

    • It is not just the size of the electronics and the necessary mechanical connections for the cable pairs. The cabinets in use seem to use 8 car battery sized batteries, plus charging regulation equipment, plus coolling equipment, possibly just fan, however may well need to be a small “air conditioner?, plus room for air circulation – heat dissipation

  10. Unless FTTN can give me 100/40 i don’t want to know about it
    We need the faster upload speed

  11. Turnbull has done a much better job as Shadow Communications Minister than anyone within living memory in Australia

    Sure has. If his job description is to produce enormous quantities of articulate, although largely baseless, criticism of the current government’s project, and to frequently present verbose proposals of supposedly superior alternatives (which change every few months in such a way so that every new proposal invalidates the previous argument, but without this ever being acknowledged either by Turnbull himself, or most of the media.)

    – Wireless is the future, and advances in wireless technology are making fibre obsolete
    – No-one needs more than 12Mbps
    – Broadband is best handled by the private sector, not a government enterprise
    – Policy needs to be technologically agnostic, appropriate choice of tech to be guided by a Cost-Benefit Analysis
    – FTTN is the way to go (is in a government enterprise, as in very much wired, as in providing “up to” 80Mbps, as in “not waiting for CBA to decide that FTTN is the technology of choice”)

    Media just laps all of this up, never pinning Turnbull on inconsistencies between all of the points above. Do we need more than 12Mbps or do we not? If not, why waste money on FTTN? How about the wireless option? If FTTH is obosolete, isn’t FTTN even more so? Why even mention the upgrade path to FTTH from FTTN, without retracting any of the previous statements? Why complain about supposed bias in prioritisation of deployment of NBN if it is not needed? If we do need higher speeds, what do we need them for?

    Nope, Mr Turnbull never gets asked any of those questions in any of the interviews he takes part in. He is the only shadow minister that can get away with talking for half an hour on a TV panel discussion (Q&A on ABC, Monday this week), about every possible topic except about anything even remotely related to his portfolio. Not a single question about NBN, or internet, or communications… bah! It’s like journos are in love with the man, ever so eagerly ready to forgive and forget any of his faults. I don’t get it.

  12. Renai, you’re right that Turnbull has proven to be a better, more robust Shadow Comms minister than we’ve seen previously. However, that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily doing a good job, merely that he’s doing a comparitively better job than others… Who were (objectively) useless in the portfolio (and I’d suggest in most other areas in life, but that’s just me being unnecessarily and unconstructively personal). It is a sad state of affairs when we can look at a politician who we know has been deliberately obtuse, misleading and dishonest on the subject of this critical national infrastructure project, for the purpose of self-interested, short-term political gain, and say he’s been better in the role than any politician in this country’s history. What a truly tragic state of affairs.

    The Turnbull may be doing his job better than previous politicians, but that’s like saying one breed of dung beetle is cleaner than any other – they still all spend their lives eating s#*@. The Labor govt is far from an ideal govt, they’re doing a lot of things wrong IMHO that are doing long term damage to the country. However, on the topic of the NBN they have an excellent policy that is heavily supported by industry and intellectual experts and strongly rooted in facts. It would take a hell of a policy to improve upon it, but there are elements that could be improved upon as you and other commentators have addressed over the past few years. The Turnbull should be focussing on those elements, that are based on demonstrable facts. THAT would be doing his job well. Right now he’s doing a bad job for the simple reason that what he’s fixated on, what he proposes as alternative policy is simply NOT in the best interests of the Australian people or Australian businesses – it is in the interests of the Liberal party and Telstra, and until such time as his policies are in the interests of Australia as a whole he should be held to account for doing a bad job, not congratulated for managing to rise higher than the other pond scum.

  13. So now Mr Turdnbull, you’re disagreeing with the people and companies in the field that are actually building the NBN? Surely you jest?

    This guy has lost his friggin marbles hasn’t he? He is beginnning to sound like the Mad Monk and Fatty Hockey. Surely all of his remaining credability (if he had any left) with anyone is now shot to pieces??


    • I meant Turnbull, although Turdnbull is semming to suit him more and more these days…


    • Yes. Turnbull “addressed” Peter Cochrane’s comments on Twitter:

      that may be his view but BT has upped it’s % of FTTN from 75 to 90% because of improving performance of vdSL technology

      Such a persuasive argument from our potential (though unlikely) comms minister! :)

      He also mentioned Peter Cochrane on his blog, but only dismissively as part of a bizarre anti-Delimiter rant.

  14. “Malcolm Turnbull has dismissed as “nonsense” claims by contracting companies deploying Labor’s National Broadband Network project that changing the project’s model to a fibre to the node rollout would be “an expensive, time-consuming hindrance”.”

    And he would know this how? His own personal experience rolling out FTTN & FTTH networks? …. Nope, he has no experience! FAIL

    sorry Malcolm but you have ZERO credibility!

    • +1 although, maybe his “egg-spurt” mates told him so… Dont forget he knows alot of egg-spurts he is constantly telling us so….

  15. So we’re relying upon the Coalition, which says the government is broke and wasting money, to spend money turning FTTH into FTTN?

    Good luck getting anyone to believe that one, Malcolm.

    Of course, the alternative would be what the Coalition has always done, and say “private sector’ll fix it”. Sort of like Telstra worked after it was sold off (and I’m still annoyed at you selling my asset at mate’s rates, Howard!).

  16. Turnbull should perhaps announce his policy rather than simply telling us “it’s okay, I got this” and coming up with various plans, most of which hinge on Telstra (and others) deciding to reverse years of (anti)competitive behaviour.

    Until it’s a policy, it’s just a series of things on a bucket-list. And that people consider this superior to an actual deployment, based on actual policy? Hello?

    Malcolm doesn’t address the sucessor to FTTN. Because it’s (effectively) the NBN; only the price point necessitates that the commercial sector cover the cost. Because the L/NP sure as hell won’t.

    Thus, Malcolm is really, honestly, simply stating that it’s up to the commercial market to fix the problem. We have ample, AMPLE illustration of what that means.

    • I agree. I dont believe there is ‘A’ policy, let alone ‘ANY policy.

      At best its his opinion on some things is accurate. He makes very good observations on what could be improved, such as rollout speed or efficiency of spend. At worst, hes a nuisance – peddling nothing more than a deceptive arguement that he has a ‘policy’ in the wings that ‘will’ come out when its ready.

      Its as you say – a bucket list. Nothing more. Until its actual debateable fact in the public arena, hes not selling more than smoke and mirrors.

      • I tend to think there IS a policy, but its Abbott thats holding it back. For The Turnbull, this is as much about convincing the Liberal party as convincing the public.

    • No no no! Announcing a policy is the worst thing you can do – didn’t you read Malcolm’s final words in the interview:

      > The mistake the government made – the Rudd government made – was saying they were going to do fibre-to-the-premises to 93 per cent of Australia.

      Rudd’s mistake was announcing an actual policy. It’s crazy to actually set this sort of stuff down on paper – don’t tell anyone what you’re going to do, it’s much safer that way

      > What they should have said was ‘we are going to ensure every Australian gets access to very fast broadband’, and then you use the mix of technologies – fibre-to-the-premises here, fibre-to-the-node here, something else somewhere else, upgraded HFC (hybrid fibre coax), whatever

      Instead of having a policy, just have a vague intention. Don’t actually commit to anything, just wave your hands around a lot, and use meaningless words like “very fast”, and then make it all up as you go along. That way no one can ever provide any sort of solid criticism of your plan – because you don’t have one!

      Announcing your policies is a fool’s game. Just ask Malcolm.

    • True.
      Howard and Costello right royally screwed the gullible public with the help of the compliant media.
      I say screwed as they knew full well that Telstra was to be regulated in such a manner as to sharply curtail the high profits on which those high share prices were based, all in the name of the ideology of the private sector and competition.
      Keating was in process of structurally separating Telecom, Telecom was assessing the implications and planning how they were to handle that separation and what sections and functions were to be involved and to what extent. A major impact would have been on Media Operations providing both permanent leased and itinerant and on call services to the Media organisations. There would have been major ramifications both in cost and flexibility and ability to efficiently and rapidly provide on call services. It would have been an expensive pain in the neck to Murdoch, Stokes, but most especially Packer who would have had to deal with the Retailer who would have to then deal with the wholesaler/network provider.

      Media Operations knew the Network, what could be done and how, they could remotely switch radio links and repeaters to allow Media or Displan access to those boxes on the external walls and it could be and was done in minutes, if major rerouting of links were needed to obtain that link, consider it done.
      They could just patch or switch black fibres to wherever needed once again with short notice.

      Alston cops the blame, he was just a hack politician implementing his masters instructions and Howard reversed and cancelled the structural separation under instructions from his Media Masters

      • Here we go again, Deja Vu.
        Screw over the Nations future opportunities to protect sunk investments of a select few

  17. It seems the only reason that some people think Turnbull is the best Coalition comms person is that he sounds so bloody marvellous.

    And so he should. He’s an experienced merchant banker, politician, journalist and lawyer who can talk the hind leg off a donkey, and do it in such a clever way that the donkey wouldn’t miss it. Until it tried to walk, of course.

    Which seems eerily like the whole ‘faster and cheaper’ Coalition alternative to the NBN. Many people will sit there hearing the highly skilled word pictures, and it will be years before the donkey walking moment arrives and it becomes obvious they have been sold a crock of shit.

    • Turnbull definitely engages the public and the voters, a good website and active on Social Media. Very few Australian politicians have that level of both exposure and engagement. The Devil you know principle

  18. Thanks Renai.

    The good thing about that forum was that it sent us in new directions that we weren’t aware of. A few people have mentioned about choosing who to believe – the contractors or MT. I have no reason to doubt the contractors and suggesting they are all involved in a massive conspiracy doesn’t make any sense. This is doubly so considering the results of their optimistic claims will be public for all to see.

    There’s more work to come but the space left for grandiose denying statements is ever decreasing: BT is switching to FTTP btw. As is China and NZ. I can’t think of a reason to step backwards and start following them when they’re all following us now. Is there one?

    I wonder if we could do a cross media campaign to crowd source information on the state of the copper being pulled out of the ground? We need to know and nobody is talking. If all our readers are walking past the pits????


    • Congratulations on a good article Nick.
      The subject has been sorely in need of some cold hard real world practically relevant to Aust.

      As you say the proof of the pudding, it is worthy of note that it was previously mentioned about the rate of FAN installs having ramped up to what is expected for peak install rate.

      Also another comment noted about fibre cables observed being run from/to an exchange in the direction of suburbs not on the 3 year rollout as well as to suburbs that are. ? Preparation, killing two birds with one stone ? More info plse

    • Nick, in my eyes, you can take a bow on your article. I could see your effort to try to cover so much and constantly rechecking to cover the things that will be said to discredit your stated findings. You always knew some would not accept it anyway (predictably). I wouldn’t worry about it, as most people who read it realised that fact also.
      So well done and please continue to enrich us with your talent. Keep up that level of writing in Tech coverage and I’ll be reading what you have to say. Even if I don’t agree completely, as seldom is anyone completely correct in everything. Difference in opinion is how we advance and you and Renai have gone to pains to keep that alive.
      Thank you both.

    • Hi Nick, like Abel and Bris, I want to applaud your article. Well presented, and it gets across plenty of good points.

      I should also like to point out that while I posted first with a “who do you trust…” comment, I am very much in the belief that while the contractors DO have a vested interest, they’re the ones in the field seeing this day to day, and hence reporting whats going on.

      Other information I’ve seen backs it up as well. Take a look at http://www.zdnet.com/au/nbn-on-track-despite-major-data-issues-nbn-cto-7000007293/ which points out “over 200,000 premises have already been identified as requiring Telstra to fix copper ducting that had been flooded, crushed, filled with sand, or otherwise compromised”.

      How does that get better under a FttN approach? As the copper is part of the solution there’s less reason to get in and fix the problems.

  19. Nick, theres no Copper being pulled out if the ground.. NBNco have leased ducts etc, but not pulling up Copper.. Telstra still own it, and its for them to decide, if they will pull it up.

    • It’ll stay in the ground forever. Why go to the expense of ripping it up? The labour costs to take it all out wouldn’t be worth the re-sale value of the copper, and there are clauses in one of the Telstra agreements that provides for the reconnection of the copper to individual premises in some circumstances.

  20. “Now the worm has turned and both sides have substantial policies that will deliver fundamental service improvements.”

    Well that is a shock to me.

    I’m already on the ‘top level’ HFC cable that Turnbullshit seems to think will carry us forward for another 10 years. That’s his major solution.

    And it’s already inadequate. Backing up small files (200mb) can take hours. It is horribly congested.

    I just did a speedtest. 9MBps. Upload? 1.29MBps.

    In around 3-4 years we’ll have NBN that I can get 1000/400 business grade services on. I run a niche website as a hobby and as such would enjoy having those speeds and reliability. Plus the rest of the family would be good to have the higher speeds and not wreck each others network speeds.

    If the Coalition win and stop the NBN rollout and do their crap policy I might get FTTN (maybe). Where I could get (if I’m super lucky, and my copper isn’t corroded or gets wet) 80MBps. HFC upgrades? If that happens it’ll be direct subsidies to Optus and/or Telstra and come out of taxes plus whatever they decided to gouge me with.

    That I’d get stuck with for 20+ years (or we get another cable war debacle this time with FTTH).

    On what planet is this an acceptable solution to you Renai?

    We already have a network being built right now that will be complete in less than 10 years.

    Wrecking it, to save probably at most 6 years of suffering lower speeds, at the cost of being stuck on FTTN for 20 years, assuming you actually get it, because who knows what the plans are, because Turnbull hasn’t released anything apart from vague promises of “FTTN because I say so” and “HFC because I say so.”

    There is no ‘substantial’ improvement with the Coalition ‘plan’.

    Only a handful of years of slightly increased speeds, and 20+ years of pain for Australian internet users because they won’t have access to the high speeds that the NBN will be releasing within the next few years. and beyond.

    My suggestion? Stop comparing the two policies against the ‘status quo’ of current ADSL2+ speeds (in essence, people with neither policy right now).

    Start comparing the Coalition ‘policy’ to the existing, happening right now policy of the FTTH, Wireless and Satellite NBN services and the future potential of those services.

    You are giving a free kick to a horrific ‘policy’ simply because it’s better than nothing.

    NBN isn’t rollout out nothing though.

    • i personally expect cable areas to be sequestered from the first rollout as a cost cut measure. so i think there is no maybe for you, im afraid, at least until hfc falls over and new service is conceded. sorry to be so pessimistic but I fully expect them to say ‘you have hfc, you are last in the queue’.

      i dont consider it acceptable but on past history the libs do. if we let them it will be a smallest service area network possible rather than a largest service area possible network. There’s a distinct difference in the worldview and the returns in both policies; it should go without saying but I think the best return is in going larger than smaller.

      • Exactly. Hence the (maybe) on the idea of FTTN, which probably won’t help me even if I did get it.

        HFC upgrades won’t ever reach the level of upload speed I want either.

        To claim the Coalition plan “will deliver fundamental service improvements” is disingenuous.

        Fundamental means the basic idea of coms in Australia.

        The coalition plan won’t deliver this at all for those on HFC.

        Hardly fundamental then is it?

      • Actually I have badly congested Optus HFC terminated on my building and I am in the 3Year rollout on the map. I believe the HFC aspect is irrelevant, it is more about the rollout from the exchange being done in a structured efficient and therefore rapid manner rater than targeting or excluding areas on the basis of existing infrastructure and introducing complexities in where the install teams are building.

        Haven’t seen any trucks around yet tho

        • You”ve got more than me then! :-D

          All we got was the Optus HFC Guide wires and no HFC! :-p

          Luckily we are in the 12month plan with construction starting in Feb ’13. :-)

          • Actually I am on ADSL2+, quite crappy, but out of contract.
            I spent 12 Months arguing with OPTUS that the HFC cable was present and the end rolled up in their box on the wall, they insisted HFC was not available to my property and I would have to sign up on ADSL with Satellite for Foxtel (I did not want ),

            Four years later the Optus Truck pulled up out front, checked it out (just checking their records and assets – following the cables ), advised me I could now connect to Optus HFC


        • We were talking WRT when/if the coalition take power. If you are in the 3 y rollout and have HFC out front and get nbnco service well and good. I personally expect that circumstance won’t occur with the coalition given their lean to preserve HFC – those areas I suspect will be rejigged last for any fttN rollout. I certainly don’t expect the rollout plan to stay at all the same following a change of government, at any rate.

          Sad story about their registration of assets. Telstras stuff don’t match reality according to Nbnco, optus surely have done that elsewhere. How can you ignore a customer telling you the line is physically present…. I’m no business manager but that would have been a chase up item to me. Four years to fix a mistake is a pretty bad statement about where we are at today.

  21. Unfortunately, MT is the best shadow comms spokesperson, imo, even if he is average…

    Alston, Coonan and Smith … prove it conclusively ;)

  22. After the Luddite from Hell, Alston, which we suffered in the later 90’s, I think anyone could say they are better and they’d most probably be correct. I never saw much from him that was much good, though some of his Staff were not that bad. Unfortunately, they were not making the decisions.
    In the end, I’d cut slack for MT as he is in a Political Party that is by nature oligarchic and has become very plutocratic over the last 40 years. Not really in line with the word Liberal is it. But I understand he has to do what he has to do, and I have to admire him for that. Many would just throw it away than make a fool of themselves, as he knows he has to do, to keep those in charge of his Political Party happy. We all have had to compromise ourselves at times to survive in the past, because we know there is a good reason to do so for the future. But no one can get up him with what he does with his own personal fortune investments. If someone tried, I really hope Australia tells them to shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. His business and we know what he’s chosen. Bon choix Monsieur Turnbull. Sage décision!
    I think by now most know the reason for the opposition to the NBN is not so much about money, but more about protection of a strong political supporter, who frankly sank a lot of money into Australia to further his investments in a Market which a lot of the Global Giants were not that interested in and doesn’t want it written down yet. That person knew that he who controls the Media controls the flow of information which can shape Public Opinion and the future direction of those people. They knew how Western Democracies can be used and abused. And they did it, and the rest is history.
    In a “Put up or shut up” the challenge would be for the Political Parties to both decree that if they win Government, the Seats they hold will get the flavour of the NBN their Party favours which is what the Voters in that Seat are saying they favour. It doesn’t get more Democratic than that! But I know the Libs couldn’t, wouldn’t, and not that politically suicidal. Not even for a media mogul who supports them financially. Power and money doesn’t always create the outcomes expected in a Democracy.
    So, I think we can enjoy Malcolm’s words with a bit of mirth knowing why and the situations that create them and not apply it personally. I know I don’t judge a person just by what they are required to do in their employment. But I do suggest we go over Politician’s records of what they voted for in conscious voting in the House, for there we get to see how each of them will support us. Not promises, but history teaches us. If History shows none of them is to your flavour, try a different one. You can try another if they become distasteful. New blood is needed in the House or we have only ourselves to blame for the continuation of the same ol’ thing, which is obviously distressing most people.

  23. Good article but I don’t see ‘no body doing any better in the past’ as an excuse for lack of details on a policy. I think the population deserves a lot more, especially with such a large project. I’d rather vote on policy than person. Not to say I think conroy is much better than turnbul, but his policy is not only on the table, it’s in the works. At the end of the day I’m going to vote for a mostly good NBN policy rather than trying to guess key details of the oppositions plan and hope for the best.

    • I think there have been some great comments here, Trevor in particular and I don’t see it as NBN fanboism. In replying to BuildFTTP, I agree with his point. Being better than what was useless in the past isn’t much praise at all. The reality is that there is a very detailed project that is beyond the design stage and being implemented. Turnbull isn’t competing against a non-existent idea his work needs to persuade Australia why we turn this massive effort upside down to implement his plan. The onus is on him and his party (because he appears very much on his own with his thoughts) to prove that we need to waste billions of already spent dollars by NBN and other businesses, spend even more billions in the form of direct costs and subsidies and that all of this is an exercise that will lead to a better outcome for us and our economy in the years to come.

      If he can’t do that, he should focus on optimising the current plan as shadow minister. Smooth talking is nice but his work to date is missing the reality of today’s situation.

  24. My Question would be. Is Mr Turnbull willing to have a 1.6 meter FTTN Cabinet in front of his house. ??
    http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2012/11/briton-ferry-residents-vent-anger-at-new-bt-superfast-broadband-cabinet.html (not that you can see the cabinet in the phone, but not every one are happy with them.)

    What to stop Telstra just rolling out there own FTTH making FTTN obsolete, after all they will be flushed with cash after the liberal party buy back the old copper lines.

    Is it me or does Mr Turnbull come across as a use car salesman…. think about it for a sec…
    He telling us that FTTN is a tried and test technology… He rejects all claims that FTTH is the better choice and got further to rubbish all claims that don’t support his. He said you can TRUST HIM, that his option is faster to roll out and cheaper, but refuse to give any details as to how.

  25. “Turnbull has provided an extraordinary level of detail for a Shadow Minister.”

    I am quite amazed by this statement.
    Surely, an extraordinary level of detail would include answers to the many questions you and others have yet to have answered.

    As for the state of the copper network. I was speaking to my local Telstra tech when he came for a service call the other day. I asked him about the state of the network in my area (originally constructed less than 20 years ago). He told me that they had used silicone joints but that, unfortunately, this had resulted in the original moisture being trapped in these joints and that now it is nearly impossible to fix the resulting problems. Luckily, the NBN installation should begin in our area next month.

  26. There was a comment on a SMH article about how FTTN is costed, regarding powering the nodes, that I have not seen before. It seems to me the poster is implying that the cost of initially getting power to the node (rather than ongoing pwer consumption costs) is not included in the construction costs. That would add greatly to the cost per node I would think. Anyone know if its true?

    Full comment included below:
    FTTN is a ridiculous option. Yes it may be quicker, but it WON’T be cheaper:

    * there’ll be a bar-fridge sized box on almost every street corner
    * this box will require power and cooling (ie air conditioning) just like the shed below a mobile phone tower does (most people don’t realise that)
    * powering this box will be costed from “running costs” not “construction costs” BUT will actually cost much much more over the lifetime of the project
    * if a car hits it, dozens of homes will have no telephone. It is rare for a wayward car to bring down power (and phone) lines (and most phone lines are underground anyway). Even allowing for the small percentage of above-ground NBN, the risk is greatly increased by using these “boxes”
    * download speeds will be improved, however upload speeds not by so much which is important for businesses, home businesses, teleconferencing, video e-health monitoring and for the increasing use of backup and cloud services
    * the maintenance costs of the copper network (also costed to “maintenance” not “construction” but still paid from the same access fees) will remain high and growing, due to the age of the copper

    This is a quick fix, a headline grabber. Mr Turnbull knows this, but won’t admit it because Mr Abbott has instructed him to oppose it.

    Date and time
    November 22, 2012, 12:55PM

    • Well each node does have to be powered and it would be part of the cost. But as to not being included in the costs, there are no costings. We have not costings of the Coalition plan. A one point MT said it was fully costed only to then say they hadn’t and couldn’t cost it. The only thing they have to say it was cheaper is that other countries say it was 3-4 times cheaper for them. It would make only part of the rollout cheaper, the $12B for the FTTH part. Even then those figures were based on the owner of the copper rolling it out, so nothing to be paid for copper or ducting, It was also many years ago when FTTH was a more expensive option than today. It could end up being a piddling saving, none or even more expensive. That is to upgrade to a speed that Cisco, Google and many other large network companies say will be obsolete by 2007 and downright slow (1G being the predicted norm) by 2020. Then there are very little that can be done than replace FTTN with FTTH. It seems a hell of a lot of waste for something that they may be able to finish just as it’s obsolete and need replacement.

  27. 3 Options Malcolm … you get to pick 2


    nbn is currently going to be fast / good – so not that cheap

    he is stating the libs policy will be fast and cheap….so therefore it wont be good

    • Just on this, it depends on how you look at it.

      From the build perspective, you’re right. Its (relatively) fast, and good. But $40b is not cheap, as you say.

      But from a cost perspective, it ultimately ends up being cheap and good. Because the plan is to recoup the $40b through user charges, the cost ultimately becomes zero – cant get cheaper than that. Just over a very extended period of time.

      This is a very rare project that, thanks to being Govt controlled, actually meets all 3 of those magical points, as long as you break the project into the build portion and the budget portion.

      • Should add that I was refering to the Labor NBN build, not what we know of the Liberal plan.

        Your comment about fast + cheap /= good is perfectly valid, as the reasons the Labor idea gets to meet all 3 points wont exist. Monopolies can have benefits.

        • I don’t even view it as a “true” monopoly, everyone (RSP’s) gets to use the hardware at a price set by a third party (ACCC) and that hardware is installed where it is told to install it (by the Government), unlike a true monopoly where the seller controls absolutely everything including price/supply/location…

          IMHO, the NBNCo is more like a collective or cooperative, like a lot of milk/farming supply companies used to be.

          • NBN is a monopoly, but a natural and regulated one, as is standard for companies providing basic infrastructure (like drinking water, sewerage, power distribution, public transport…)

  28. Has anyone even seen a “back of the envelope” costing of how much a FttN NBN would cost us? How much are these fridge (possibly suitcase if MT is to be believed) sized cabinets cost? How much will it cost to test/replace the copper between those and the premises in areas that already have problems with water in the lines etc? Do the modems for a FttN system cost the same as the fibre equivalents?

    There are too many unanswered questions from Malcolm about it, and these are questions he should already have answers for if his alternate NBN is actually a credible plan he actually wants to implement.

    At the end of the day though, I suspect even Malcolm doesn’t believe in his plan. Don’t forget, Tony didn’t charge him to offer a credible alternative NBN, he charged him with “Demolish the NBN”…

    Tony Abbott has ordered Malcolm Turnbull to “demolish” the Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) as he today brought him back to the Coalition frontbench to head up its communications portfolio.” Source: ABC, Sept 14, 2010

      • It doesn’t even have to be from the Liberals, I’m just interested in how much the alternate plan could cost just for the parts we know about (number of cabinets required etc). I’ve heard it could be 100k cabinets, but haven’t seen how much they cost anywhere, so even that would be a start…

        • From a panel of experts sometime in early 2009, it was estimated that over 50% of the cost for a FttN rollout would be for the cabinets.


          There were assumptions made at the time to come to that figure, but if things were different since then its only to add more “stuff” to the cabinet, which is only going to raise the cost.

          Either way, while its not an exact number, it should give some idea of where the cost burden is. If you call it an even 50% of the cost, at what point does it become more cost effective to do away with that bottleneck burden, and incur the cost of running fibre all the way?

  29. i’d like Turnbull to go around with a news crew, and telstra techs to 20 random locations and check the conditions of the copper wiring…

    if it’s all good – then his plan is a goer…

    if not …

  30. nonny
    great article and pics.
    The comments are definitely a good read.
    At least Verizon gets to replace all that crap copper with fibre, during the news footage I did not what looked like FTTC cabinets gradually being flooded and thought , bit of a problem. Didn’t think major Comms assetts would be underground in a low lying area

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