news The new Coalition Government has failed to successfully deliver what it had promised before the election would be a key report on the overall status of broadband infrastructure in Australia, instead releasing just before Christmas an extremely brief report of only several pages which does little to illuminate the situation.
In its broadband policy released in April 2013 (PDF), the Coalition made the following pledge: “Within 90 days the department of Broadband Communications and the digital economy, with the assistance of NBN Co and private carriers, will provide Parliament with a ranking of broadband quality and availability in all areas of Australia. This ranking will be published for comment and review and will guide prioritisation of the rollout.”
As the new Coalition Cabinet was sworn in on 19 September, this would have meant that the Department of Communication’s report in this area would be due in late December. On 23 December, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull released a statement stating that the Government had released a summary version of the report.
Turnbull listed a number of key findings from the report (available in PDF format here), such as the fact that while 9.9 million premises in Australia did have access to fixed-line broadband services, around 700,000 premises did not, and of the premises with access to ADSL broadband services over Telstra’s existing copper network, some 3.7 million of those were located in areas with an estimated peak median download speed of less than 9Mbps, while a further 920,000 had access to speeds of less than 4.8Mbps.
Turnbull stated that the Summary Report released in December was “the first release” of the broadband availability and quality analysis. “The Department of Communications is refining the detail of the analysis and compiling maps which will be published early in the new year along with the methodology used. There will be the opportunity to provide feedback on the methodology and the results,” the Minister wrote.
However, the report released by the Minister appears to be little more than three pages of extremely high-level summary overview material. It does not consist of a “ranking of broadband quality and availability in all areas of Australia” as the Coalition had promised would be delivered within 90 days of it taking office.
Furthermore, the report as generated does not appear to provide any useful geographical information at all that would allow NBN Co to modify its rollout plans of the Coalition’s Broadband Network. In the Coalition’s original broadband policy document, it stated that NBN Co would be required to amend its rollout plan with respect to the report, to grant priority to areas inadequately served with broadband at the moment.
In addition, it does not appear as though even the data released so far by the Coalition in this area is based on empirical measurement of Australian broadband speeds; instead, the Department appears to have primarily used extrapolated data in its report.
The Summary Report released by Turnbull states: “The findings presented in this document are based on a detailed spatial analysis of the coverage of broadband customer access networks, along with estimates of their likely performance given known constraints. This analysis uses the available information to measure broadband availability in terms of the infrastructure currently in place. It uses the possible speeds achievable over that infrastructure to measure quality. This methodology was determined after reference to international examples.”
Later in the report, it is stated that the Department only observed some 20,000 real-world measures of ADSL download speeds. It appears that the rest of the data was extrapolated based on factors such as the distance of a customer’s premises from telephone exchanges.
It appears likely that NBN Co itself already has extensive data sets available which supercede the data collated by the Department for this report, given that it is working closely with Telstra on construction of its broadband infrastructure and has access to extensive network information.
In his statement, Turnbull claimed that the report was “the latest step in the Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) reform agenda in ensuring the network is rolled out sooner, cheaper to taxpayers and more affordably”.
However, analysis has shown that the Coalition is not planning to complete the previous Labor Government’s National Broadband Network project. Instead, the Coalition appears to be planning to drastically water down the network rollout, using inferior Fibre to the Node-style technology in many areas across Australia and abandoning up to a third of the NBN rollout wholesale, with a preferencing to upgrading existing HFC cable infrastructure owned by Telstra and Optus instead.
This approach has meant that the Coalition has admitted — just several months after the Federal Election — that it will no longer be able to keep its election promise of giving all Australians access to 25Mbps broadband speeds by 2016.
The broadband availability report released by the Minister prior to Christmas is, frankly, nothing short of brochureware. It contains only three and a bit pages of (rather large font) text, and does not consist of “a ranking of broadband quality and availability in all areas of Australia” as the Coalition had promised in April 2013.
It is one of the briefest Government “reports” of any kind that I have ever read. I do not think it worthy of the name. I would instead describe it as more of a press release than anything else, containing information which could have been compiled by a couple of graduates or even interns at the Department of Communications.
I really have no idea how anyone at NBN Co — with that company’s deep engineering expertise — is supposed to take it seriously. It is a farcical effort that the Government should be ashamed of, and reflects a new broken election promise for the Coalition, if a minor one.
Image credit: Star Trek: The Next Generation