Reality check: China’s not getting an “NBN”


blog You wouldn’t believe the number of outraged readers who’ve contacted me today encouraging me to take The Australian newspaper to town for its controversially headlined story in this morning’s edition, entitled “A billion Chinese to get an NBN for a third of the cost of ours”. Well, I could have knocked this one on its head, but Crikey correspondent Bernard Keane has already done an admirable job ahead of me. Keane writes (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“China isn’t getting an NBN, and it doesn’t cost a third of ours, regardless of what The Australian claims. I want to say something that will shock you: a story in The Australian about the NBN is rubbish. I know. I know. I’ll just wait a few minutes while you pick yourselves up off the floor, dust yourselves off and get over the shock.”

I don’t think many Delimiter readers would take what News Ltd publications have to say about the NBN that seriously at this point, but just in case you were getting a bit worried about this one, rest easy. The good Bernard’s got your back. Journalistic sanity has been restored. Of course, it wasn’t precisely hard. All Bernard had to do was prove that you couldn’t actually roll out a similar fibre NBN to the whole of China for ~ $12 billion. Not precisely the hardest task, given the size of the country and its population. But then, this kind of maths is beyond many people.

While we’re at it, we should also point out that this article in The Age this week was also of concern, falsely associating layoffs with the National Broadband Network. But not to worry — telco commentator Michael Wyres has thoroughly debunked that one as well. Honestly. This is almost like playing whack-a-mole, with the moles being mainstream media and the hammer being the independent upstarts who dare write shameful, shameful truth on their own websites. Mainstream media: 0. “Bloggers”: 2. Next!


  1. I would read the full article on Crikey, but there is an offensive “SIGN UP TO UNLOCK THIS ARTICLE” banner preventing me from reading past the third line.

    • Same with the article on The Australian, but i suppose i should be thankful for that.

      • The difference is that the Australian puts the story on the front page of their dead tree edition, putting the idea that “The Chinese are building an NBN, but 100x cheaper!” into the heads of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have never even heard of Crikey, let alone would subscribe to it.

      • Which is hilarious, because I’m not sure I would be able to resist stabbing someone who openly admitted to paying to read The Australian in the throat to help Evolution do its job.

      • The problem is that you can’t sign up thanks to the Crikey mail server ( being configured by a clueless person. Their server does not have correctly matching forward and reverse DNS entries for its IP address so if your mail server bounces the potentially spoofed email source you’ll never be able to register!
        Any mail server that doesn’t have correctly setup DNS entries is clearly set up by a clueless person that probably doesn’t even know how to stop their server being an open relay as well so it should be treated as a spam source.
        As far as I am concerned Crikey is nothing more than another source of spam and should be treated as useless garbage.

    • Do a search in Google for the article.
      Articles referred from Google seem to show the whole story

  2. Wheres that Media inquiry” and wheres media watch?
    And reminder to self.. not to read toilet paper.. it smells..

    • I know what you mean, im truly fed up with the blatantly partisan MSM, the last few weeks of political goings on have only proven that the MSM are incapable of reporting genuine news and conducting real investigations!

      They are a real threat to our Democracy!

  3. How can we make a complaint about the factual inaccuracies in this article, I some how doubt a complain to the paper will do anything.

    Any govt body that we can write to?

  4. Renai never make your page a sign up page :)

    Did you know that Australia’s population could fit into China 69 times! Oooh (I’m sure some media will make that into NBN facts/bullcrap)

    • Just to reply to myself, did anyone see the speech given by Brian Leveson yesterday about media laws?
      You can find it here if you want –

      “Leveson suggested that, in the face of amateur journalists online, the established media might cut corners and behave unethically in order to stay ahead of the game. “It may encourage unethical and, potentially, unlawful practices to get a story,”

      • Ever tried to make a complaint? Its near impossible.. Even if you are successful, that doesn’t mean a satisfactory retraction.

        • No Retraction is ever satisfactory. They are always around the Bottom of page 47 next to advertisements similar to “earning $527 a day from google”.

  5. Renai, what can be done about this type of reporting?
    Alan Jones was forced to go to “fact checking school” (though it appears he got an F). Why arent these journos who are so demonstrably wrong so often, forced to do the same thing?
    Shouldnt ACMA or someone be saying enough is enough? The state of journalism in Australia is just getting worse and worse.

    • Its a National disgrace and as mentioned above, a threat to democracy and possibly also our economic welfare. I was being kind when i suggested they were Media Terrorists. There has to be a better way of keeping those responsible accountable..

  6. Given the factors of population density, vastly different wage scales, and a very different political climate, it doesn’t surprise me at all that China can do build its fibre network much cheaper and faster.

    I didn’t read the full article or the full rebuttal for the same reasons as others but surely the big take-home point is that The Australian is now telling us that other countries are also building a FTTH network, not a FTTN network? Why on earth would China (and Google) be building FTTH networks if FTTN is so much more cost effective?

  7. Is there any way to get a shirt made up that says “The Australian Newspaper prints lies and slander. Visit For the truth!”? It’s time to take it to the streets!
    All this talk does nothing to educate people of the truth. It’s like I’m back at school, a whole bunch of people who agree with what is the truth and a hand full of know nothing crackpots throwing there illogical backwards two cents in just to stir up trouble.

  8. Somebody please do a Facebook link for the Crikey piece…

    Card carrying codgers can’t jump paywalls!

  9. This is irritating to the exteme – do not let the truth get in the way of the “reported facts”. I am still irritated by the total lack of intelligence and common sense. READY…. FIRE…. AIM

  10. The lesson to be learnt here is its not just certain individuals or certain media outlets that are involved in this kind of debasement and manipulation. Its the Liberal Party at the core of this behavior.

    It would be hard to maintain the Liberal Party has any decency left in it. That is talking points, manufactured scandals or “broadband” policy have any basis in Truth, given the close collaboration there is between that Party and certain “journalists”.

    Utegate and the Godwin Grech fake emails – Turnbull intimately involved.

    Conspiracy against the Speaker of the Australian Parliament – Not my words but those of a judge.

    And this article from the Un-Australian.

    It’s all part and parcel of the same coordinated strategy.

    • It saddens me, greatly, to see an opposition whom could hold the government to the fire, whom could generate great policy to keep them honest (and push for good policy in return) and who could do the job they propose is so very import (lead); instead reduced to a bunch of angry, whiny children, for whom the modus-operandi has become the factually challenged sound-bite, and truly abysmal attempts to destabalise the government.

      That The Australian has become an effective liberal mouthpiece at this point is pretty self evident.

      Turnbull, seems to suggest the industry should be able to build miracles from minor investment; that the supposed white elephant is too much; yet cannot be drawn on how much FttN will cost, or how much, if any investment is to be considered for future last-mile upgrade.

      The industry can’t afford to; it’s too busy competing against itself; the financial offset is only ever gong to be there if it’s a state-funded deployment. The only way Telstra would even consider it is to be handed back a virtually guaranteed long-term monopoly (and they have already moved on).

      And Turnbull is duping people into believing it’s “safe” to vote L/NP, he has our back for the Internets. No, he doesn’t. There’s no last-mile plan. There’s no policy. It’s vague statements to try and stave off close scrutiny.

      It’s really academic. FTTH is the preferred option when the money is on the table. We’re there now. It’s getting done. Money is on the table. If we look at how Telstra has profited off the CAN over the last 50-odd years, we should have zero concern over the NBN.

      When you compare that to tax-based under-funding with far smaller footprint (it has to be smaller, slower and cover less people for less money; we can’t fold space and time yet) how can that be a win, for anyone?

      • +1 Brendan. but its even worse than that, in that all this time, they have done nothing in a hung parliament. if it truly were in the Liberal DNA to lead they WOULD have fielded policy, they WOULD have negotiated amendments etc etc. they have been labor-leaning indies but that in no way prevents the possibility they might be convinced otherwise and vote with the Liberals. it would have been a pretty big statement, if they were bothered to make the effort.

        its not like they havent had opportunity to, so its clear they have not done so to continue to play games, rather than getting on with the job of LEADING Australia?

        the papers are bought into it as well, as long as theres sensationalist crap to report they can keep flogging their dead trees editions to the rubes. its funny, that they seem to have sided with the idea of cheerleading them on, in opposition where they can do little, rather than cheerleading them on in power, where the policy lines they prefer might actually be enacted?

        in that sense theyve abdicated their responsibility to opposition, and are just taking up paid tenure in a cushy seat. thats all. and in that sense it irritates me mightily that they continue to be the preferred party – they have in no way earned the right to be the alternative government to my mind, and letting these couchpotatoes have it just because they arent the other blokes is a recipe for future trouble. we’ve seen this movie before: Campbell Newman rode very high electorally because he wasnt Anna Bligh, and look at him now. and with the seats CN won, that mistake will take at least an electoral cycle to fix – Not something i regard as in any way good for Queensland, in any capacity.

  11. Courtesy of the google search above …

    – snip –

    [censored by Renai due to copyright concerns. Sorry Steve. That’s paywalled content.]

    -end snip-

    It seems they are getting what they are paying for. A highly efficient, extremely innovative, customer focussed, cost effective, state owned … oh wait .

  12. So, China is going FTTH yet the Libs still want to push for a backwater solution with FTTN. I bet The Australian wishes they didn’t publish that.

    • Blind faith in ideology tends to blind one to facts; in trying to support the Coalition policy plan, they’ve run a story that pretty much debunks it. :)

  13. In terms of our NBN, how much of it is paying off the competitors (Optus, Telstra) so that they don’t compete? (China doesn’t have to do this)
    In terms of our NBN, how much of it is the cost of labour? (China should be considerably cheaper)
    In terms of our NBN, how much of it is the cost of components? (I’d imagine that it would still be cheaper in China -it’s not like Apple components are shipped from the USA/Australia to where it is put together)

    So why are people questioning the cost of an “NBN” in China? Payouts to Optus, Telstra, labour costs and contracts that offer “cost + 20%” should push us way over the edge. Are people surprised? Or did the NBN get a good deal on the Optus cable?

    • Could you imagine the outrage, if we said we were going to use chinese labour to build the NBN because it would cost half the price :-) We want everything cheap in Australia, using Australian labour, australian manufacturing and paying high wages to australians. Something has to give one day…..

  14. Why does anyone bother reading The Australian any more if it continues to spout garbage?

    Simply stop reading it.

  15. I’m not sure if anyone noticed but the article said that the alleged network would cost the state-owned telcos $10 billion. There was no mention of how much it would cost the government. Details matter.

  16. It seems that the same questions that Turnbull won’t answer in any detail need to be asked of the Chinese before we can compare them. Where will the fibre go, what percentage of homes? Who will own what between the private companies and the government? In China’s case I bet this FTTH is more about the system being more suited to surveillance moving forward.

    I was a little surprised that China had such poor internet to start with but perhaps that is an average figure. When I lived there I was able to get a 1.5mb synchronous line costing me the princely sum of about $120 AU for 12 months (no download limit) with a free movie subscription service and this was in 2004-5. It was so much better than what was available in Australia at the time I couldn’t believe it. I guess it must have been a private network or some kind of prototype (my chinese wasn’t so great – basically “Me want internet, how much?”). My internet was filtered pretty well though by the great firewall, many times news websites just weren’t available.

  17. Of course, it wasn’t precisely hard. All Bernard had to do was prove that you couldn’t actually roll out a similar fibre NBN to the whole of China for ~ $12 billion.

    All very nice, but not particularly relevant.

    Under the Five-Year Plan, the Chinese government will focus heavily on developing the telecommunications infrastructure, with total investments reaching 2 trillion yuan (roughly $300 billion), around 80 percent of which is allocated for broadband development. The big plan? To cover every city in China with the fiber broadband service in three years and convert all copper lines to fiber, China Daily reported.

    So $300 billion divided by 1 billion people is approx $300 per person, but the estimate is 150 million households so $2000 per household (you don’t run fiber to people, you run it to buildings). NBN claims they can do it for $4000 per household and when you consider higher wages in Australia probably not such a huge shock. Lots more highrise buildings in China. Lower wages, etc.

    Mind you, be very careful about state-sponsored economic figures coming out of China, and for that matter, Crikey is not exactly the paradigm of even handed reporting either.

    • “cover every city in China with the fiber broadband service”

      No mention of the country areas getting fibre, just the cities.

  18. Hey everyone,

    apologies, but I’m closing comments here as I’m on vacation from tomorrow and I don’t want to spend a lot of time moderating a hot discussion ;)



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