Home Open Sauce NBN: politicians are short-changing the masses

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Soon after any federal election, it is common for leaders of one or both major parties to indulge in platitudes about governing in the national interest. In the end, only the most partisan politics prevails. And that is likely to be the same in the case of the NBN.

It is simply mind-boggling that only a handful of politicians seem to comprehend exactly how much this network will shape our lives in the next decade.

Given the extent to which we have all become so dependent on internet services over the last decade, how is it that so many apparently educated people cannot see beyond their party's stance on the NBN and realise that they are short-changing their own country? These are the same folk who never fail to have an Australian flag — or sometimes as many as eight of them  behind the podium when they speak to the media.

But that is only show. I'm willing to wager anything that right now the only thought in every politician's head is how they can get re-elected in 2019 – or earlier if you get the point.

Over the next decade, television will have to move to the internet. The cost differential and the competition from streaming video on demand services will force them to do it, if nothing else.

The same will happen for most utilities. Already, services like gas and electricity are imposing charges of around $2 per bill if one wants a hard copy sent by mail. That mail is also taking much longer to come, unless there is a premium stamp on it - and nobody will spend the extra few cents as it all cuts into profit margins.

Entertainment will be the main driver. As 4K and 8K streams become available, Australians will come to realise that the mongrel NBN that is being built cannot cope. If you are a single individual, living in the city, you may be able to manage. But for an average family of four in the suburbs it is an entirely different tale.

Netflix itself has pointed out that you need a steady 25Mbps to watch a 4k stream. Even if you have the maximum 100Mbps connection which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the great technophile, has so graciously offered to provide (using your own money to build technology that is obsolete almost from the time you dig the pits), you will not be able to manage.

The simple reason is that the maximum that is promised is never what you get. On an ADSL2+ connection, you should be able to get a theoretical maximum of 24Mbps. I live in Doncaster, which is not exactly a run-down suburb of Melbourne. I have never experienced anything more than 8Mbps.

Even with this, on the weekends, I often have to stop a software download when my son wants to play Starcraft online. Yes, this is the reality of 21st century Australia in what is always described as a prosperous suburb in a rich first-world country.

During rainy periods, I have experienced speeds as low as 1Mbps. Even uploading an article to iTWire at those speeds is sheer torture.

But then it is not for simple low-data tasks like this that one asks for fibre to the home. There are more tasks than one can name, all of which are data intensive and require not merely high download speeds but high upload speeds too.

A broadband system is not something you can rebuild every year, or even every decade. Once FttN is in place, that is all we will get.

As telecommunications blogger Paul Budde points out, some European telecomunnications companies who began to implement FttN solutions a decade or so ago, are now seeing that they can profit from going full fibre. As he points out, "Most of the FttN models were based on a 15-20 year investment plan and a return on their FttN investments can be reached within this timeframe."

But then, as Budde says, " if we are determined to roll out FttN we need to have a plan in place that will bring us to the next phase of full fibre deployment".

That's not something that Turnbull has. He seems to be so full of himself, that you doubt he can see beyond his own forehead.

If the NBN was anything but a government monopoly, then the broadband-hungry masses would have at least some reason to hope.

Here's Budde: "So with the reality of the MtM network for Australia we will now have to concentrate on how to best migrate from FttN to FttH; but once again, because this is a government monopoly, such a migration will not simply be driven by market forces."

Truer words were never spoken. As I've said before, let's get set for a decade or two of buffering.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.


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