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NBN: A tale of many countries going FTTN Featured

There has been a lot written about the respective merits and demerits of FTTH and FTTN as competing broadband deployment technologies, some of it quite informative but sadly much has been utter tripe. The fact is ubiquitous rollout of a FTTH network in a country like Australia can only achieve take-up by creating a monopoly and shutting down competition.

 In his excellent article, "So what's wrong with the NBN being unique" my esteemed iTWire colleague Stuart Corner made the case for Australia's NBN actually being world's best practice.

The article was in fact a retort to Shadow Broadband Minister Malcolm Turnbull's contention that no other country in the world is stupid enough to pursue a broadband policy in the manner that Australia intends to do it under the current Government.

The first thing that Mr Turnbull has a problem with is that while other developed countries in the world are moving away from government owned telecommunications monopolies, Australia has changed course, performed an about face, and is recreating a government owned telecommunications monopoly.

The second thing that bothers Mr Turnbull is that while other countries are pursuing a course of increased competition among broadband network providers, Australia is doing its best to decrease competition so that users will be forced on to the new government owned network.

This is an incredibly overt admission that an FTTH NBN has no chance of being financially viable if free market competition between network providers is allowed to prevail.

Thus, we have an incredible situation where the Australian Government is actually paying billions of dollars to the dominant now privately owned carrier Telstra to shut down a perfectly good HFC cable network, which already services a significant proportion of the market, so that it can force them on to its FTTH NBN.

Meanwhile in countries like Canada, the US, and much of Western Europe, cable, FTTN, FTTH, DSL and wireless broadband coexist and compete with each other, offering alternatives and keeping prices down .

In his article Stuart Corner acknowledges the success in the US of the massive U-verse FTTN network, which already passes more than 30 million homes and continues to expand with increasing investment from AT&T.

He then curiously asks why Mr Turnbull did not also mention the "equally gigantic" FTTH network that has been rolled out by Verizon (FiOS).

Well, if he had been at the highlight event of the KickStart conference, Stuart would have known that Mr Turnbull was simply setting The Register journalist Simon Sharwood straight about the existence of FTTN in the US by answering his obviously erroneous question. He was not asked about the Verizon FTTH network.

However, if Mr Turnbull had been asked about Verizon's FiOS service, which by the way is not equally gigantic as U-verse but only reaches about half the number of homes, he may well have remarked that while AT&T is continuing to expand U-verse FTTN to more homes, Verizon which has already been building its FTTH for 8 years, has stopped expanding.

Apparently, rather than spend billions more on expanding to financially unviable areas, Verizon intends to focus on improving its FTTH network in the areas it already services.

So the US, like most of the developed world except Australia at present, has embarked upon a course where it is starting to enjoy the benefits of having a number of competing networks and technologies.

What about Britain and France?

Well, as Stuart pointed out in his article, Britain's dominant supplier Openreach decided to go the FTTN route, with a much smaller investment than Australia, and plans to follow exactly the model that Mr Turnbull suggests of offering FTTP on demand to users willing to pay for fibre to their premises.

As for France, President Francois Hollande, a staunch socialist, has pledged about half of what the current Australian Government intends to spend for super fast broadband but it is not at all clear what the nature of the network is going to be. Some pundits are saying it will be predominantly FTTN, with some FTTP component.

So returning to Stuart's original question of what's wrong with the NBN being unique - or rather his real question - what's wrong with Australia rolling out ubiquitous FTTH? For an answer, I would point readers to the Verizon FTTH network he mentioned, which has stalled, and to the AT&T FTTN network, which continues to expand.

Simply put, for Australia an FTTH NBN is simply too expensive and will take too long to roll out. On the other hand, FTTN offers the best and most affordable opportunity to get fast broadband to as many Australians as possible in the shortest possible time.


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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.