news Respected telecommunications analyst Paul Budde has called for a more constructive debate about Australia’s future broadband needs, arguing that the current national conversation over the issue of the National Broadband Network is stuck using “yesterday’s logic” as it fails to plan for the needs of a future only five to ten years away.
In early December last year, the National Broadband Network Company released its Strategic Review report into the current status of its network rollout and options for modifying the rollout to better meet the Coalition’s policy aims of delivering download speeds of between 25Mbps and 100Mbps to most Australians by the end of 2016 and 50Mbps to 100Mbps by the end of 2019.
The report found that it will not be possible to deliver the Coalition’s stated policy goal of delivering broadband speeds of 25Mbps to all Australians by the end of 2016 or at the projected cost, and has recommended that NBN Co cancel any new network rollout to up to a third of Australian premises already covered by existing HFC cable networks. It also recommended that a sizable proportion of the remaining premises would be covered by a Fibre to the Node rollout, with about a quarter of premises to received the original Fibre to the Premises model preferred by the previous Labor administration. This model is known as the ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ option.
The development of this model, with its reliance on technologies inferior to Labor’s previous Fibre to the Premises model has come despite the fact that even senior NBN Co executives have acknowledged that some of the technology featured in the MTM model will need upgrading in only a few year’s time. Fundamental fixed-line telecommunications infrastructure is typically deployed with the intention that it will last for decades.
NBN Co executive chairman Ziggy Switkowski said during testimony to the NBN Senate Select Committee late in 2013: “In areas where FTTN is rolled out, this review expects that NBN Co will not need to upgrade to a second access technology—presumably all fibre or fibre to the distribution point—sooner than five years after the construction of the first access technology.”
Switkowki additionally told the Senate in November that he would question the need for ordinary households in Australia to even have access to 100Mbps broadband speeds (let alone the gigabit speeds possible under a full FTTP rollout), telling a Senate Estimates session this week that a “whole lot of assumptions” needed to be pushed to their limits to demonstrate how such speeds would be used.
The comments, and similar comments by senior Coalition figures such as Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Prime Minister Tony Abbott, have come despite the fact that globally, it is almost universally agreed within the telecommunications industry that the future of all major fixed-line telecommunications networks lies with fibre. Even countries which are extensively deploying Fibre to the Node and HFC cable — such as the UK — are already starting Fibre to the Premises upgrades in certain areas, especially to meet consumer and business demand.
In response to these issues, Budde published a blog post this morning (we recommend you click here for the full article) stating that it was undeniable that the Coalition’s Broadband Network would take five or more years to build.
“It is therefore incredible for politicians to argue about what people will need, based on what people are using or doing today, as though today’s usage of broadband is a guideline for what will be needed in a decade’s time,” said Budde.
Referencing comments by Brian Levin, the key architect of the United States’ own national broadband plan, Budde said it was clear that the way Australia currently ran systems and services such as healthcare, education, energy, and government services needed to be changed because it is inefficient and lowers the national level of productivity. Most commentators agree that the rollout of the NBN has the potential to transform all of these sectors and significantly boost productivity.
“Most politicians talk about social and economic transformation, but in the case of Australia the current government fails to address what the NBN could do here: at least their communication or the lack of it, looks like they are stuck in yesterday’s logic,” said Budde.
At the heart of the issue, according to the analyst, was the issue that Australian politicians were reluctant to acknowledge when those on the opposite side of debates had had good ideas. “In this respect Australia, together with the USA, is one of the best examples in the world of political grandstanding, and that is a real shame,” he wrote.
Budde is not the only commentator to have discussed the issue about the debate about Australia’s broadband needs having become ineffective. In April 2013, the Age newspaper published an article quoting a number of university academics which stated that the national telecommunications debate had become “full of erroneous information”.
The analyst’s comments today also represent the second time Budde has criticised the Coalition Government’s approach to broadband policy. Several weeks ago the analyst heavily criticised the “Multi-Technology Mix” approach as “a dog’s breakfast” of different technologies, which could turn out to be a “logistical nightmare” to deliver in practice.
I highly agree with Paul Budde’s comments here.
Just before Christmas, I published an article for Delimiter 2.0 (paywalled) pointing out that aclose reading of NBN Co’s Strategic Review report showed the former chief executive of the company, Mike Quigley, was overwhelmingly correct: A predominantly Fibre to the Premises National Broadband Network could still be rolled out with only modest cost and timeframe implications.
However, as I noted at the time, that face is a truth that nobody currently involved in the process seems to want to hear, for political reasons. Only one path will deliver sustainable telecommunications infrastructure to Australia over the next 50 to 100 years. And that approach is Fibre to the Premises. It’s a fact everyone knows, and that’s the fact we should be focusing on. NBN Co’s Strategic Report showed that it is a viable path. But Australia’s pathetic group of politicians can’t seem to understand that this project needs to focus on Australia’s telecommunications needs over (at least) the next several decades — not the next several years.
Technology should never be deployed for technology’s own sake. It should be deployed to meet social, business, government needs and so on. If you look ahead several decades, it is very apparent that the only technology which will meet those needs in terms of telecommunications data transit is fibre-optic cable.