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The nation is on the move; maximum speed 5Mbps

Over in Britain, a satellite provider is contemplating steps to provide broadband on flights. Back here in Australia, the government continues on with its disastrous experiment — for it is truly that — to build a land-based broadband network and finds that it is well short of the mark.

As the OECD said recently, some believe that the NBN's wholesale pricing strategies focus heavily on using its monopoly position to maximise revenue.

But Australia is not bothered about what the OECD says; we know better, for we are the agile and innovative ones. Our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, says so.

It is beginning to look like even Turnbull has realised that he has had a big hand in creating a dud. The move from fibre to the home to mongrel broadband — like a mutt, it has a bit of everything — has been driven largely by the neoliberal thinking that government is like a business and must run on a profit.

Of course, like every business, those who are the primary shareholders are well looked after. When did you hear of a politician who lacked anything? They push their way in and have their snouts in the trough all the time.


Slow and steady sometimes does not win the race.

Broadband? Who cares, it's not something that's going to enrich the privileged classes.

I've spoken to about 15 people in different suburbs in Melbourne, all of whom are NBN users, and only one — who lives in Brunswick, the first suburb to get connected in Melbourne — is happy with the speeds that come with the NBN. Of course, he has fibre to the home. This gentleman had no hesitation about answering "yes", when I asked him if he would be investing in a TV that supports 4K streams.

But the others are, to various degrees, disillusioned. Many are getting much slower speeds than they did with either their cable or ADSL2+ connections that they gave up in a hurry, seduced by the promise that the bits and bytes would flow that much faster along the NBN's pipes.

For a while, the NBN was only talked about in terms of what it would cost: Labor said $43 billion for its 93% FttP network, the Coalition called it a lie and claimed it would cost $90 billion. Turnbull even issued a lengthy "analysis" which he claimed proved this figure was gospel. Or at least close to it. That analysis is now missing from the Web. Now the figure touted is $49 billion (by NBN Co chief Bill Morrow) or $56 billion (the Coalition's last estimate).

By my largely uneducated estimate — and I do not claim to be either agile or innovative — about three years after the network is completed — the date given for completion is 2020 — the rebuild will have to start. And then we can start looking for another $10 billion to $20 billion to rip out all the stuff done to build in FttN and redo it so that fibre to the home is laid, as was originally envisaged.

The money? Ah, don't worry, we can borrow. After all, when these projects (or their rebuilds) begin, politicians talk about nation-building. They can call it nation-rebuilding this time.

During the days of the emergency in India, the period between 1975 and 1977, trucks and lorries on the roads had a slogan painted on the back: "The nation is on the move." What made this government-mandated slogan risible was that it sat just above the speed limit sign, also mandated by the government,: "Maximum speed 35kmph."

Read together, it gave many Indians a hearty laugh in the midst of what was a depressing political situation.

It reads very much like the situation Australia is in as far as its national broadband network is concerned. Only the sign should read, "Maximum speed 5Mbps."


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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.