The NBN is not just Superfast* Internet access

4 minute read

The federal government and Telstra have finally closed a deal that will result in Telstra pulling up their copper network as the NBN rolls out Fibre to the Home as a replacement. - source

What concerns me is the resulting comments to this and other articles on the subject. Various comments include:

  • It’s a monopoly, therefore it will be expensive
  • Wireless is better
  • Not everyone needs Superfast* Internet access
  • The rollout will be out of date by the time it’s finished

I have a few responses to those “topics”:

It’s a monopoly, therefore it will be expensive

Yes, Telstra was a private monopoly. It was also both a wholesaler and a retailer in the same market. The NBN will provide wholesale-only, equitable access to RSPs who will then provide their services to the customer. Each RSP will be leasing access at the same rates so no one RSP is disadvantaged (unlike the current Telstra monopoly). Also, this is an infrastructure project to benefit all Australians. Infrastructure projects almost by definition are monopolies. You don’t see duplicate power lines running down the street from each electricity supplier. You don’t see duplicate, parallel toll roads. You also don’t see duplicate postal systems delivering mail (I said postal, not courier). Unfortunately, you see duplicate HFC rollouts and look how that ended for Telstra and Optus. The NBN is the same. One rollout of fibre to every household in Australia (within the 93% footprint and wireless to the rest).

Wireless is better

No! That’s just wrong. Also, the line “more people are using iPhones, etc, therefore fixed Internet is going the way of the dodo” is just as bad. There’s one huge gaping hole in the argument for ubiquitous wireless. Saturation. In order to get anywhere “near” the speeds the NBN is offering, you’ll need a cell tower on every street corner (with all the resulting power and networking equipment in tow) and people complain now when there’s a tower hundreds of meters away from them (source). The only reasonable use of wireless apart from the current use with mobiles and “dongles” is to provide the final 7% of Australians with the NBN. This has more to do with the fact that it is far cheaper and economical to roll out well-placed wireless towers to cover the required area than it is to run fibre up several kilometer-long driveways for one house.

Not everyone needs Superfast* Internet access

Otherwise known as “I don’t download porn or illegal music/movies/games/etc”. Epic fail from the commenters. What they are failing to realise is the NBN is not solely a platform for Superfast* Internet access. A multitude of services can be provided over the network in parallel. Internet access is just one of them that people have thought about and it seems to be the sole focus of both politicians and the big media). The more obvious service is telephony (that isn’t provide via VoIP). Pay TV and FTA can be delivered over it. Even better is that content can be provided on-demand without requiring customers to have Internet access at all so no chewing up your paid for Internet quota with another paid service. Various areas of health can be provided such as patient monitoring. Think of those people that are currently occupying a hospital bed that can be better serviced with home monitoring. It may very well be cheaper to have them at home with hired monitoring equipment so they can feel more free (or any other number of reasons). In this case, this service is not limited to those that can afford Superfast* Internet access as the monitoring can be provided over a separate service and paid for separately. Distance schooling is another use so that every child has equitable access to a full education.

The rollout will be out of date by the time it’s finished

Also flat out wrong. Fibre doesn’t mysteriously “disappear” or stop working at a predetermined time. As the Germans proved recently with Alan Jones commenting on his National Laser Beam Network, you only need to upgrade the equipment at each end rather than the fibre in the ground. Another case in point, the Southern Cross Cable Network. Initially installed in 2000 with a capacity of 120 gigabits/s per cable it has been upgraded to its current capacity of 620 gigabits/s per cable. It should be noted that Southern Cross did not have to replace the undersea cables to achieve this capacity upgrade.

In summary

The benefits I’ve listed here are only just some of the uses of the NBN and these are only the things I can think of. There’s a whole world of unknown uses of the NBN that can benefit us that we haven’t yet thought about and it’s these “unknowns” that will be driving the use of the NBN well into the future.

*I’m still questioning why politicians keep sprouting this “Superfast Internet” line. “Superfast” isn’t a unit of measure.