“Incredible” NBN debate stuck in “yesterday’s logic”, says Budde


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.

Image credit: Zoran Ozetsky, royalty free


  1. Renai,

    please don’t place this blame on ALL politicians mate. There’s only one group who oppose the FTTP roll-out, and that is the Conservative Group. The more left-leaning group (of politicians) favour FTTP very strongly FTTP for the reasons give by Budde, yourself and most others with an interest in Technology.

    The LNP are doing this purely because the ALP decided to go with FTTP, and they couldn’t possible agree to that plan – even at the cost of having to buy the decrepit CAN from Telstra.

    The ALP CAN be blamed for the way that they handled things over the past few years, undoubtably, but they have never backed FTTN – once it was clear that Telstra were going to be the blocker they have turned out to be WRT access to the copper CAN.

    FTTN will be a financial disaster, I hope that we will manage to avoid it, but with idiots (and very strong Liberal friends) like Switkowski running the NBN it will be difficult.

  2. Nice read Renai!
    and this “But Australia’s pathetic group of politicians” made my day!

  3. Renai,

    The Coalition politicians (especially Turnbull !) know full well that the future of Australia’s communications lies with Fiber to the Premises.They also know that a truly universal FTTP network would bring sweeping changes to Broadcast TV and Pay TV.

    Their masters however have instructed them to delay the coming of FTTP for as long as possible. The only thing their masters will accept is a system whereby they are able to keep their media monopolies and walled gardens.

    The idea of a universal distribution system which could carry an unlimited number of high quality streaming TV shows and movies fills the media moguls with horror. It is something they absolutely must derail at any cost.

    It astounds me that media observers such as yourself are blind to this reality. Arguing with the politicians will achieve nothing. They are completely aware of what they are doing and why they are doing it.

    I have seen this infuriating story unfold so many times over the history of telecommunications in Australia. Every time there has been a major technical advance, everything from micro-wave to satellite, the powers have scrambled to limit the effect on their media empires.

    It is different this time around however. Previously they managed to keep the lid on things. Unless you worked in ACMA etc, you would never had known anything about it. This time however, the young and the technically literate are highly involved and are furious at what the slimy scum are trying to do. The next election will be very interesting.

    • “It astounds me that media observers such as yourself are blind to this reality.”

      hey mate,

      FYI this comment represents a breach of our comments policy:


      “Firstly, as before, comments must be more or less ‘polite’, as measured by Australian social standards. This doesn’t mean you need to maintain the sort of conversation level you would use with your mother. It just basically means don’t be rude to other commenters. You may disagree with their opinions, but you should respect their right to hold them. This rule especially applies to the treatment of article authors, who deserve a significant amount of respect for putting their writing into the public domain.”

      Another one like that insulting me personally and you’ll go on the ban list for a few weeks.


      • Renai,

        I respect you and am very grateful that you represent our interests. I had no intention of insulting you.

        But I am genuinely puzzled why the perspective that I outlined gets so little coverage in your column.

        Can you explain please? Do you think it is nonsense?

  4. While the NBN impact on media companies is a credible theory, it is probably not provable. It is also probably only a side benefit, rather than the main performance – if you follow the logic over the next decade, limiting NBN Co to FTTN creates a vacuum for FTTP. The LNP’s stated objective of ‘opening up infrastructure competition’ will allow Telstra, Optus, TPG & iiNet/Internode to overbuild NBN Co’s network with FTTP. Who has the deepest pockets and will win the lion’s share of that wild west land grab? Who will end up the dominant infrastructure owner/controller in perpetuity?

    The LNP know full well FTTP is the only game in town. They’re playing stupid for the purpose of distraction and misdirection, so they can plead innocent when they let Telstra take as much of what-should-have-been under NBN Co’s control as Telstra can gobble up. That’s where the big money is – Foxtel is a footnote next to Telstra profits if they get control of a decent chunk of the wholesale fibre network in the major cities.

    • I once owned a 386 PC with a 40MB HDD and 2MB RAM… never thought I would be able to fill the HDD up. Now I have 2TB and it’s full, Guess I was wrong.

  5. Another annoying aspect of the ‘five year before requiring an upgrade’ comment, is the glossing over just how long its taking to upgrade current access which has been dismal for over a decade.

    Apparently its not politically expedient to say,
    the technology will not require updating for at least five years, and historical trends indicate any upgrade will not occur for 15-20 years….
    after all they won’t have finished the initial rollout in five years anyhow.

  6. Good article. Personally I think that if they’re going to waste more than 40 billion on copper technology they may as well call it a day and leave us with what we have in place, until such a time that FttP can be correctly implemented.
    Additionally, those with Telstra shares should not be making these decisions.

  7. “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.”


    Herein lies the issue. IT and Comms in general has never been considered something of value. Politically speaking, it’s a dead end. What do people spend the most time whining about on the Television?

    Those nasty little immigrant hobbitses. Stealing jobs! My huge TV is at risk!!! Feelpionions!!1

    Media has jumped on the bandwagon and you only have to read Bolt, and his throng of miscreants to understand where much of Australia actually sits on the issue. He isn’t alone. We live in a country that is full of highly vocal xenophobics who push the panic barrow at every opportunity; and they get the majority of political sway.

    Between that and moral panic about marriage changes, or fear that China will somehow invade so we must side with Japan and the schoolyard bully (US) and it’s almost implausible that NBN will see any airtime.

    People who are fixated on stopping immigrants by sending in the (fully armed and operational) Navy, putting people (that woman!) in hessian sacks, invading countries for invalid reasons and stomping all over the asia pacific region, and act as though the GFC didn’t really happen are not in the best place to action a policy that is designed to replace Telstra’s network and level the market.

    We had our shot. We lost it. The potential damage that can be wrought by a single Politician who will stoically enact policy that is a dead-end will be difficult to undo.

    As much as this pains me to say – I hope, in the strongest terms – that Turnbull doesn’t ‘do’ anything for the remainder of the current term, beyond be a caretaker for the current deployment.

    Sadly I believe Turnbull actually believes he has a better vision and will seek to implement it. He’ll just wait until the post-election furor dies down. I’d bet on it.

  8. You know it, I know it, we all know it… it’s only those with a particular political drum to beat that like to pretend it isn’t true.

  9. I do recall Paul Budde praising the LNP’s views before the election. I guess he is not too happy now that he realises that he had the wool pulled over his eyes

    “However, according to telecommunications analyst Paul Budde, the Coalition’s plan may be better than many people think. In a new blog post entitled “The Coalition’s NBN plan is starting to look interesting”


    Then there is this
    “BuddeComm concluded that with the insights that were shown by Mr Turnbull and his team that there was a good chance that further adjustments to the policy document – which they launched this in Opposition in April 2013 – would be forthcoming, once they were elected. –


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