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Tuesday, 10 August 2010 20:26

Coalition NBN policy: a uniform dog's breakfast


"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in Alice in Wonderland "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less." The Coalition has adopted this same disregard for language in the fairy tale that passes for its NBN policy.

The Coalition is determined to scrap Labor's plan to build a homogeneous fibre to the premises network to as many premises as is economically possible, and is somehow trying to pass off the alternative hotchpotch of technologies that it has promised to fund, in conjunction with the private sector, as of comparable uniformity.

Here's what its just released broadband and telecommunications policy says. "By ensuring the delivery of a uniform national broadband network, under which 97 percent of premises are able to be served by high speed networks capable of delivering from 100 Mbps down to a minimum of 12Mbps, peak speed, using a combination of technologies including HFC, DSL and fixed wireless, with the remainder having access to satellite, we will stimulate the growth of the broadband market and of applications which rely on the ubiquitous availability of such a speed."

That should be speeds, plural, for starters as there's whole gamut of them. And fibre seems to be a dirty word for the Coalition, no mention of it there. So let's add that to the mix. Then, leaving aside the very remote premises reachable only by satellite, we've got four technologies - fibre, HFC, DSL and fixed wireless - delivering not the one guaranteed downlink speed of 100Mbps to every single premise in 93 percent of the population, as promised by Labor's NBN, but a whole range of speeds down to'¦well not even a guaranteed 12Mbps, but to a 'peak' 12Mbps, whatever that means. They call that uniform!

On several occasions I've heard the comment that, from a service provider's perspective the uniformity of Labor's FTTP NBN will be almost as important as its bandwidth. The Coalition's alternative will not deliver that.

What is totally lacking in the Coalition's policy is any acknowledgement of the realistic limits of current, and likely future; technologies; any sense that they have given any thought to whether what they are proposing will be any way adequate to meet Australia's needs and will ensure we keep up with other developed nations and above all any sense that they have any vision of what might be possible, desirable or demanded of a future high speed network.


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The whole thing looks like its primary aim is to do something about broadband that kills off the NBN, simply because the NBN is the other party's policy.

Thus we get the usual misleading statements that: "There are many possible ways that even higher bandwidth services will be delivered in Australia in years to come. These might include: Telstra and Optus delivering 100 Mbps services over their HFC networks in our major cities'¦" We get no acknowledgement that HFC is a shared network and that 100Mbps is shared by every user on the co-ax run from the nearest fibre termination point.

Nor do we get any concession to the fact that wireless broadband is a shared technology. They'll happily make a statement that "Telstra recently announced that the theoretical speeds available over its wireless network had increased from 21Mbs to 42Mbs, with an increase to 84Mbs only a year away," alongside one that says "For the three years to 2009, mobile broadband subscribers increased by an average of 157 percent per year," without acknowledging that this results in that 42Mbps or 84Mbps having to be divvied up among ever more users.

And the potential for the network to contribute to the overall economic and social welfare of the nation gets short shrift "Australians need fast, reliable and affordable broadband services'¦[to] help businesses to be more productive, reduce costs, reach more customers here and overseas and employ more Australians. [The National Broadband Network] will help families with access to education, information and medical services." That's it! They devote many more words in their policy to bagging Labor's policy than explaining the rationale behind their own.

In today's debate at the National Press Club, as the topic of discussion moved from NBN to Green IT policies an enthusiastic and impassioned, communications minister senator Stephen Conroy was holding forth on the 'green' potential of a National Broadband Network (although admittedly not an application that demands much in the way of bandwidth). "In Scandinavia they have smart washing machines that poll all the electricity retailers at 3.00 am and buy their power from the cheapest to do the washing at off-peak times."

Coalition communications spokesman, Tony Smith attempted a put down with a sarcastic "so Labor is promising us smart dishwashers!" He just doesn't get it does he?



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