news Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has issued a statement insisting that the Coalition’s new “Multi-Technology Mix” approach to its Coalition’s Broadband Network (CBN) project is “NOT” “old technology”, despite that several of its constituent parts — the existing copper and HFC cable networks — 15 years to many decades old.
Under Labor’s previous NBN policy, some 93 percent of Australian premises were to have received brand new optic fibre cables directly to the premises, with the remainder of the population to have been served by a combination of satellite and wireless broadband. However, since taking office the Coalition has drastically modified that policy, instructing NBN Co to go ahead with a model which will see 30 percent of the 93 percent served by the existing HFC cable networks which were deployed by Telstra and Optus in the late 1990’s.
A further 44 percent will receive a hybrid Fibre to the Node service (integrated with Telstra’s existing copper network, which was built progressively over the past 100 years), and only 26 percent will receive Fibre to the Premises. This mix of technologies has led some commentators to abandon the “National” Broadband Network label for the Coalition’s broadband plan, with some referring to it as the “Coalition’s Broadband Network” instead.
The move has sparked extreme criticism from telecommunications industry experts as well as the general population. In January, for instance, veteran telecommunications analyst Paul Budde described the Coalition’s new “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. Some 272,000 Australians signed a record-breaking petition requesting the Coalition reconsider its plans.
In a budget newsletter published on his website this week, Turnbull stated that “there will be continuing and indeed accelerated investment by the Government in the National Broadband Network, bringing total Government equity investment to $29.5 billion by 2017-18.”
“As you know we are committed to completing the NBN sooner, at less cost to the taxpayer and consequently more affordably for consumers,” he added.
“And at the risk of repeating myself, we are NOT completing the NBN with “old technology”; the multi-technology design we are using is consistent with the current approach taken by leading telcos around the world including AT&T, BT in the UK, Deutsche Telekom in Germany, Swisscom in Switzerland and many, many others.”
“The Budget also includes $100 million of Government money which will be augmented by co-investment from carriers, States, councils and others to increase mobile coverage in remote Australia – it is worth noting here that in six years of Government and $6.5 billion of investment in the NBN Co, Labor spent not one cent on eliminating mobile black spots in regional Australia.”
However, Turnbull’s several of Turnbull’s statements are not strictly correct.
It is true that other countries’ telecommunications sectors also feature a mix of HFC cable, Fibre to the Node and Fibre to the Premises networks. However, it is believed that there is no other country globally which has chosen to replace its existing copper network fully with HFC cable, as the Coalition is planning to do in up to a third of Australian premises.
In addition, in no other country globally has the Government purchased HFC cable networks from existing telcos, as the Coalition plans to do with Telstra and Optus, or the existing copper network once that network has been privatised.
Instead, globally it is the norm that incumbent telcos have been largely restructured to incentivise them to upgrade their copper networks to FTTN/FTTP, with government funding helping to cover rural gaps. Simultaneously, HFC cable operators are upgrading and extending their networks in competition with incumbent’s existing copper upgrades.
Two of Australia’s closest neighbours, Singapore and New Zealand, are proceeding directly down the technically superior Fibre to the Premises route, and in the US companies as diverse as AT&T, Cox Communications and Google have recently flagged plans to widely deploy gigabit networks — speeds that the Coalition’s CBN network will largely be unable to match.
In addition, Turnbull’s statement that the Coalition’s broadband plan will “cost less” is meaningless, with NBN Co’s Strategic Review stating that under almost all scenarios, NBN Co’s rollout will actually make a return on the Government’s investment, rather than actually costing anything. The claim that consumer network access charges will be less has also been debunked, with current prices on NBN Co’s infrastructure being comparable to ADSL/HFC prices and NBN Co having locked in its prices to match inflation over the long term.
The news comes as Turnbull has recently make a number of similar statements regarding the Coalition’s broadband plans which the Minister is aware are inaccurate, during the Budget process as well as on radio stations Triple J and 2UE.
Come on, Malcolm. If FTTN doesn’t represent “old technology”, then what the f*ck is this thing doing sitting in my apartment building?
Image credit (photo of Turnbull): Office of Malcolm Turnbull