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NBN Co spins, to plant idea that upgrade was 'planned'

The NBN Co is back with another round of "facts", something in the same vein as those its chief Bill Morrow was spouting a few weeks back.

Whenever the taxpayer-funded company comes up with these "factual" blog posts, technology publications report it as though it were gospel. Moses descending with the tablets of stone could not command more respect.

But taking a more cynical approach uncovers the convenient use of language designed to hide the fact that the whole decision to go with the mongrel mix — that's what I call the multi-technology mix — is turning out to be a disaster.

The company attempts to create an aura of mystery in its narrative by stating at the outset, "The NBN rollout is very complex... (blah, blah, blah)." In other words, simpleton, if you are unable to understand why we are implementing it this way, it is because you do not comprehend many things. You are a fool, we are the wise ones. Listen to us.

Then, the NBN Co's Karina Keisler tells us that there have recently been "new rumours" or rather "mistaken claims" to the effect that the NBN Co's FttN approach will not allow a "planned upgrade path" involving a "fibre-to-the-curb" solution.

The fact that her boss, Morrow, was out there with ridiculous claims much earlier is a perspective she chooses to deny readers.

First, let me deal with that term FttC – a better spelling would be "kerb" but that is American usage. It is better known as FttDP – fibre to the distribution point, aka nature strip in Australia. For a while there, the NBN Co probably forgot that it is an Australian entity, given that the man who heads it comes from the land of the brave and free. (Or not-so-free now, given the presence of an orange-haired entity in the White House).

When the NBN was originally planned, there was no talk of immediate upgrades. And for one simple reason: there was no need, not for at least three decades (and that is a conservative estimate). With blog posts like the one under consideration, NBN Co is slowly trying to plant the idea that the screw-up with FttN necessitating an upgrade soon thereafter was actually planned! Changing the narrative is what spin doctors call it.

My advice: don't believe this BS. No government in its right mind makes a plan to sink more money into a project that has consumed $49 billion (NBN Co's figure for a 2020 completion) immediately after it is completed. There are no big caches of cash floating around as they were when John Howard was around (and using the same caches to buy votes).

Then the NBN Co says that it is shortening the length of copper serving a home from an average of about two kilometres under ADSL to 450 metres with FttN. It adds that about two-third of FttN users will be within 400 metres of the node.

One of you readers, who is technically adept, tell me, in the comments below, exactly how that makes things better and by how much in terms of Mbps.

What about that one-third who will be at a distance of more than 400 metres? Why is there a dependence on copper?

What the NBN Co's Keisler fails to mention is that the natural upgrade path from FttN is FttP. And that can only be implemented by a complete rebuild. Billions again.

The compromise on FttDP, that has been suggested by some, including that doughty warrior Laurie Patton, is being put forward as the next worst thing. It is not the best solution, not by a long shot.

Then Keisler goes on to argue that it is better to connect every Australian up to the mongrel network soon and earn some cash to pay for the next upgrade – which incidentally ensures that employees like her can count on a much longer tenure than first anticipated.

A bit of neoliberal thinking makes its appearance here: "...we will be generating $5 billion per year in annual revenues, so will be in a better position to finance upgrades from FTTN to FTTC without relying on taxpayers..." Nation-building? Or looking solely at the bottom line, speeds be damned?

Why don't bureaucrats and politicians get copper out of their heads? It is yesterday's technology. It is a waste of money. It is like using an IDE drive in a PC now, when technology moved to SATA a long time ago and then to SSD over the last few years.

This whole post revolves around the logic that it is better to get a half-arsed broadband network now, rather than a decent one a few years hence.

I don't buy this argument. And I urge you, gentle reader, not to drink the kool aid either.


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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.