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The future won’t wait for Malcolm Turnbull’s copper

By Andrew Leigh MP - 8 June 2017 14

National Broadband Network

Optic fibre is a beautiful communications medium.

The light beams glow down the fibres, and it is almost infinitely upgradeable. As compression algorithms are refined and improved, information can be carried faster and more cheaply.

When Federal Labor announced the National Broadband Network, our plan was to connect fibre directly to more than nine out of ten premises. In our view, fibre was the world’s best technology – so it was only just good enough for Australians.

Copper is… less attractive. It is a dull red-brown. The physics of copper mean that the technology is not infinitely upgradeable.

But a copper connection to their home from the node at the end of their street – whose defining feature will be an inferior, limited signal – is all Malcolm Turnbull has promised the Australian people. As theshovel.com.au has noted, ‘Nothing evokes the concept of speed quite like five hundred meters of copper wire connected to your home.’

On this website last year, I noted that under the Liberals, Australia has fallen from 30th to 60th in the global internet speed rankings. I pointed out that copper is to fibre as dirt roads are to concrete highways.

Fibre and copper are different methods of transporting the same information, just as concrete highways and dirt roads are methods of transporting vehicles. In both cases the quality of the method determines how much, how quickly and how reliably information or vehicles can move from one spot to another.

Optic fibre and concrete highways are capable of carrying huge amounts reliably and quickly for many, many years. A decade ago, the speed of commercial fibre averaged around 5 megabits per second. Now, fibre averages nearly 15 megabits per second (but not in Australia), and some think that this could be as fast as 100,000 megabits per second by 2027. At that speed a blu-ray disk can be downloaded in two seconds.

Ageing copper wires cannot carry anything quickly or reliably before they reach capacity and degrade. Under the Liberals’ ‘Fibre to the Node’ approach, internet speeds will depend on how far you are from the kerbside box. ‘Fibre to the Premises’ isn’t just faster, it’s more equitable – delivering the same blinding speeds to every house that’s connected by fibre.

And, it costs more. Labor’s original NBN plan came in at $45 billion. In 2013, the Liberals promised that that their inferior network would be cheaper, at $29 billion. Now, they admit that it will cost more: up to $54 billion.

And that’s if Australians get the NBN at all.

Remember when Malcolm Turnbull promised every Australian would have access to his cheap and nasty NBN connection by the end of 2016? Seven million homes were left waiting. As a headline on theshovel.com.au put it: ‘Malcolm Turnbull now promises that all households will have the NBN by the end of last year’.

As Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland recently observed, ‘If someone had told you back in 2008 that Australia would spend $50 billion on an upgraded copper and HFC network, slipping outside the top 50 in the world for broadband speed rankings, you would have fallen off your chair.’

The cost of the Liberals’ second-rate network has blown out. Yet some Canberra suburbs are not yet even yet on the roll-out map.

Under this approach, we will have a permanent digital divide cutting through our suburbs. It makes no sense to residents in Macgregor, Casey or Braddon that one side of the street gets fibre to the premises while the other side is stuck with copper to the premises.

Without an NBN connection, homes and small businesses are missing out on the vast range of 21st century opportunities that their neighbours have. Homeowners on the side of the street with a fibre connection get a windfall gain in their property price. Their near neighbours miss out.

Welcome to Malcolm Turnbull’s Australia… still buffering.

Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fenner, and his website is www.andrewleigh.com.

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14 Responses to
The future won’t wait for Malcolm Turnbull’s copper
Mysteryman 1:06 pm 13 Jun 17

JC said :

Mysteryman said :

Labor’s original NBN plan came in at $45 billion

And then reality set in, and under Labor the cost blew out massively, as did the time taken to build the project. You lot were well over budget and behind schedule.

I’m no fan of FTTN (I mean, I prefer it to ADSL2 but it’s not as good as FTTP) but you’re making out like everything was perfect under Labor. It wasn’t.

That is the Liberal party line of course. Whilst there may well have been issues, they were no where near as bad as made out. And what is forgotten is the bulk of the work done under Labor and being used today what all the back end stuff, plus ordering of the satellites etc.

No, they are the facts. Uptake under Labor was horrendously slow because their roll-out was far behind schedule.

dungfungus 8:27 am 13 Jun 17

Zultan said :

Mobile broadband isn’t the future until the data allowances are at least three figured.

Only very few people require that much bandwidth.

dungfungus 8:25 am 13 Jun 17

watto23 said :

JC said :

Mysteryman said :

Labor’s original NBN plan came in at $45 billion

And then reality set in, and under Labor the cost blew out massively, as did the time taken to build the project. You lot were well over budget and behind schedule.

I’m no fan of FTTN (I mean, I prefer it to ADSL2 but it’s not as good as FTTP) but you’re making out like everything was perfect under Labor. It wasn’t.

That is the Liberal party line of course. Whilst there may well have been issues, they were no where near as bad as made out. And what is forgotten is the bulk of the work done under Labor and being used today what all the back end stuff, plus ordering of the satellites etc.

But under the Libs its got 10x worse. Thought the election promise is everyone would have the cheaper, quicker (delivery) NBN by now. When in reality is for 3 years they were idle redesigning something that worked, and worked well and allowed for a great deal of future proofing, to now be replaced with a technology that was rolled out in the ACT around 20 years ago, infrastructure that in the ACT is now being overbuilt. You don’t need to be party political to see the issue right there.

The overbuilding of the transact VDSL with the NBN FTTN network, which is essentially the same thing is one of the most ridiculous parts of the Liberal policy. Not only that they are rebuilding over the transact network before doing areas without anything.

Also the cynic in me suggests much of the Liberal party policy was about what Telstra wanted. I’m pretty certain Telstra doesn’t have whats good for the majority of the people in mind, but does want whats good for their business and they hedged all their bets on mobile broadband because it was cheaper for them to do that, while charging extortionate amounts for data.

Politics lately has gone away from whats good for the country, Ideally if the Liberals were looking after the majority of the country, they’d should have gone for a FTTdp/FTTC network, with options for households to pay for the connection to the kerb in fibre. The original Labor policy was ambitious and costly but compared to 95% of other polices in government then and since then, it was the only one that actually benefitted the country and all Australians. since then it been all about dividing the public and conquering and getting the rhetoric of i don’t want to pay for someones internet with my taxes (yep sounds like the tram debate). All we’ve had is divide and conquer in politics and thus had stagnant rubbish from politicians for a decade or so. The NBN was easily the best policy any party has come up with for a while and even it was destroyed despite being popular among liberal voters also.

I am probably wrong but isn’t the old TransACT VDSL service connected via power poles in backyards and all NBN installations are via underground ducting?

watto23 3:59 pm 09 Jun 17

JC said :

Mysteryman said :

Labor’s original NBN plan came in at $45 billion

And then reality set in, and under Labor the cost blew out massively, as did the time taken to build the project. You lot were well over budget and behind schedule.

I’m no fan of FTTN (I mean, I prefer it to ADSL2 but it’s not as good as FTTP) but you’re making out like everything was perfect under Labor. It wasn’t.

That is the Liberal party line of course. Whilst there may well have been issues, they were no where near as bad as made out. And what is forgotten is the bulk of the work done under Labor and being used today what all the back end stuff, plus ordering of the satellites etc.

But under the Libs its got 10x worse. Thought the election promise is everyone would have the cheaper, quicker (delivery) NBN by now. When in reality is for 3 years they were idle redesigning something that worked, and worked well and allowed for a great deal of future proofing, to now be replaced with a technology that was rolled out in the ACT around 20 years ago, infrastructure that in the ACT is now being overbuilt. You don’t need to be party political to see the issue right there.

The overbuilding of the transact VDSL with the NBN FTTN network, which is essentially the same thing is one of the most ridiculous parts of the Liberal policy. Not only that they are rebuilding over the transact network before doing areas without anything.

Also the cynic in me suggests much of the Liberal party policy was about what Telstra wanted. I’m pretty certain Telstra doesn’t have whats good for the majority of the people in mind, but does want whats good for their business and they hedged all their bets on mobile broadband because it was cheaper for them to do that, while charging extortionate amounts for data.

Politics lately has gone away from whats good for the country, Ideally if the Liberals were looking after the majority of the country, they’d should have gone for a FTTdp/FTTC network, with options for households to pay for the connection to the kerb in fibre. The original Labor policy was ambitious and costly but compared to 95% of other polices in government then and since then, it was the only one that actually benefitted the country and all Australians. since then it been all about dividing the public and conquering and getting the rhetoric of i don’t want to pay for someones internet with my taxes (yep sounds like the tram debate). All we’ve had is divide and conquer in politics and thus had stagnant rubbish from politicians for a decade or so. The NBN was easily the best policy any party has come up with for a while and even it was destroyed despite being popular among liberal voters also.

JC 2:42 pm 09 Jun 17

Mysteryman said :

Labor’s original NBN plan came in at $45 billion

And then reality set in, and under Labor the cost blew out massively, as did the time taken to build the project. You lot were well over budget and behind schedule.

I’m no fan of FTTN (I mean, I prefer it to ADSL2 but it’s not as good as FTTP) but you’re making out like everything was perfect under Labor. It wasn’t.

That is the Liberal party line of course. Whilst there may well have been issues, they were no where near as bad as made out. And what is forgotten is the bulk of the work done under Labor and being used today what all the back end stuff, plus ordering of the satellites etc.

But under the Libs its got 10x worse. Thought the election promise is everyone would have the cheaper, quicker (delivery) NBN by now. When in reality is for 3 years they were idle redesigning something that worked, and worked well and allowed for a great deal of future proofing, to now be replaced with a technology that was rolled out in the ACT around 20 years ago, infrastructure that in the ACT is now being overbuilt. You don’t need to be party political to see the issue right there.

Mysteryman 1:31 pm 09 Jun 17

Labor’s original NBN plan came in at $45 billion

And then reality set in, and under Labor the cost blew out massively, as did the time taken to build the project. You lot were well over budget and behind schedule.

I’m no fan of FTTN (I mean, I prefer it to ADSL2 but it’s not as good as FTTP) but you’re making out like everything was perfect under Labor. It wasn’t.

bj_ACT 1:40 pm 08 Jun 17

JC said :

dungfungus said :

My ADSL2 through copper is working just fine. I don’t care if the NBN never arrives at my place.
If I want something faster I will go to mobile broadband – that is the future.

Wireless has speed but not sufficient capacity to deliver that speed to many people at once because it is a shared medium. Once you had a number of people using it the throughput drops significantly.

Yeah I’m afraid Wireless is not just a practical solution for suburban use. The performance issues that JC mentioned as well as a host of other problems including Interference, physical barriers in buildings, security etc etc/

chewy14 1:22 pm 08 Jun 17

TrevaQ said :

Yes, Labor’s original plan came (quoted) in at $45 billion. Liberals realised that like every enormous-scale capital work, the actual cost would blow up by at least 100% and be completely unaffordable. Can you imagine the extra time and cost if they were to try and get NBN Co to install fibre to the premises? It would make the currently projected $54 billion look like chump-change. At least the current scheme will eventually be finished (and possibly paid for).

This is the only part of the article I disagree with, there is no way that Labor would have delivered the full FTTP NBN for $45B. To compare it to the current cost of the Liberal NBN is comparing apples with oranges.

I will say however that the higher cost for FTTP would have been worth it in the long run, we simply do not know what our data needs and uses will be in the future but they won’t be going down. FTTP provided an easily upgradeable solution that would have prepared us for the future. A piece of infrastructure that we would have looked back on in 20 years and wondered how it was ever a discussion that needed having.

Zultan 12:30 pm 08 Jun 17

Mobile broadband isn’t the future until the data allowances are at least three figured.

TrevaQ 11:56 am 08 Jun 17

Yes, Labor’s original plan came (quoted) in at $45 billion. Liberals realised that like every enormous-scale capital work, the actual cost would blow up by at least 100% and be completely unaffordable. Can you imagine the extra time and cost if they were to try and get NBN Co to install fibre to the premises? It would make the currently projected $54 billion look like chump-change. At least the current scheme will eventually be finished (and possibly paid for).

JC 11:42 am 08 Jun 17

dungfungus said :

My ADSL2 through copper is working just fine. I don’t care if the NBN never arrives at my place.
If I want something faster I will go to mobile broadband – that is the future.

Wireless has speed but not sufficient capacity to deliver that speed to many people at once because it is a shared medium. Once you had a number of people using it the throughput drops significantly.

Caconym 11:21 am 08 Jun 17

I don’t see why anyone would need copper. Iron wire is perfectly capable of transmitting at telegram speeds and that’s all I use it for. If you
[CONNECTION LOST]

bikhet 11:03 am 08 Jun 17

OK Andrew, what do you – or the Labor party – plan to do about? All you’ve done in your OP is bag the Liberals, and that won’t win you my vote. How about something constructive?

I do agree with you that the current approach is stupid, but you need to propose something better.

dungfungus 9:59 am 08 Jun 17

My ADSL2 through copper is working just fine. I don’t care if the NBN never arrives at my place.
If I want something faster I will go to mobile broadband – that is the future.

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