Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Will Australia end up with a GOP-style NBN?

Will Australia end up with a GOP-style NBN?

With the Coalition looking likely to regain power, albeit with a reduced majority, in the 2 July election, the fate of the NBN is effectively sealed. Nobody will be able to argue about this later; the stock reply will be: "The nation agreed with our vision for the NBN by putting us back in government."

Probably the only way that the Coalition can satisfy those who, like Oliver Twist, want more, will be to allow them to pay for that last kilometre of fibre. That would mean we end up with a GOP-style NBN. (GOP stands for Grand Old Party, a well-known name for the Republican Party in the US).

For those who are unaware, the Coalition's main emphasis is on fibre-to-the-node (FttN) with hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC), satellite and wireless making up the balance. The only people who end up with fibre to the premises will be those who cannot be served by one of the other technologies, or those who were put on FttP when the build began under Labor.

The Coalitions so-called multi-technology mix is expected to carry Australia into a future in which, as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has often said, agility and innovation dominate. With 100Mbps connections the best the NBN can offer, will we really be able to compete? It looks like a stretch, but then one can't complain that one hasn't had sufficient warning.

Three more years of a Coalition government will take us to 2019. The Coalition says it expects to complete its NBN build by 2020. Let's assume that the date is off by two or even three years. Even if it is delayed by as much as three years, there will be no time to change direction if the government changes in 2019, for the simple reason that most premises will be done by then. For the fraction that remain, it would be silly to recalibrate. A majority of the country will, thus, be restricted by the speeds on offer.

The only option would be a costly upgrade. Welcome to the future.

This means an immediate future where 100Mpbs is the highest possible speed on the NBN. Of course, given the myriad factors that determine the rates of data flow, that maximum will never be possible.

That high-end connection (though some would undoubtedly laugh at me for using the term high-end) would cost $100 per month. Or $1200 annually, without any frills. How many households can afford that? Cost is one of the main reasons that take-up of the higher speeds is low.

For a single person, 100Mbps would be fine for the moment, assuming that their needs are restricted to streaming video and the other more mundane uses that the Internet allows.

But what about families, professionals who use the Internet for their businesses, either singly or in groups, for students who depend on online courses, for hospitals who want to transmit data... the list is fairly long, if not endless.

What about residents who are willing to pay out of their own pockets for putting in fibre for that last kilometre or last few kilometres from the node to their own premises? Will the government permit that? Is that what has been intended all along?

If this is part of the Coalition's unspoken plan — we know the parts that have been made pubic  it will be what the Republican Party in the US would advocate: more to him who has money, less to him who lacks it.

There is talk of an upgrade if needed, but this is fanciful. The Coalition will end up spending $65 billion or a little more on its NBN, even though its current estimate is $56 billion. Where will the money come from for an upgrade? Who will have the appetite for another round of politicking over an NBN upgrade?

There are many things about the Labor Party which make me want to throw up. Unfortunately, they are the only major party offering the chance for more people to have FttP.


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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.