A raft of surveys have confirmed what everyone knows. We’re increasingly unhappy about the rollout of a technically inferior National Broadband Network.
Last week the company building the network, NBN Co, has been lauding the reaching of the half-way mark in this problematic infrastructure project. In an extraordinary missive NBN Co boss Bill Morrow’s handpicked chief spruiker, Karina Keisler, tried to tell us everything is fine and dandy. “For the past three years, we have met or exceeded each key metric set by the NBN Board and we are well on track to complete the build by 2020”, Ms Keisler enthused.
However, NBN Co has effectively admitted what Internet Australia has been telling the Government for some time now. When the rollout is completed in 2020 much of it will need to be rebuilt because it will be out of date. According to our globally recognised engineers, FTTN will be left behind as comparable countries move to fibre-based networks. In fact that’s already happening. Three years ago we were ranked 30th in the industry-favoured Akamai State of the Internet reports, whereas today we hover around number 50.
NBN Co’s chief network engineering officer, Peter Ryan, admits the company has already begun planning “upgrades” to the network and is aware that it will not be able to meet the needs of all Australians into the future.
It’s a tad disingenuous for NBN Co to be talking about upgrades when what they’re really facing is having to rip out FTTN and replace it – either with full-fibre or at least FTTdp (fibre to the kerb/driveway). For my money, an upgrade is where you widen the road not when you build a new motorway. There’s no upgrade path for FTTN, which is being rolled out to somewhere around 40 percent of the country. It will cost billions of dollars to replace FTTN, adding substantially to the total cost of the NBN.
An Essential poll last year found people increasingly see the Internet as an essential service, like other utilities such as water and electricity.
According to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman there has been a dramatic increase in complaints from NBN customers.
A recent CHOICE survey showed just how unhappy we are with what we’re actually getting; with 76 percent of NBN customers reporting they’d had a problem, mentioning slow speeds or disconnections or drop outs.
It’s time the Government and the Opposition put the national interest first and agreed on a bipartisan strategy for building a 21st Century NBN; one that’s future-proofed and capable of keeping up with the rest of the digitally-enabled world.
While they may be half way through the rollout, NBN Co has so far been concentrating on regional areas and still has most of the capital cities still to go. In this implausible blog NBN Co contended that the cost of rolling out modern fibre-to-the-premises was too high.
That argument was quickly dismissed by a number of experts, including Rod Tucker who is a Laureate Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne. “NBN Co fails to mention that 90 per cent of Australians, those people originally targeted with FTTP under Labor’s NBN, are in cities and towns with relatively high population densities”, according to Professor Tucker.
So here we are half way through the rollout. Yet less than half the premises now deemed ‘ready for service’ are actually connected. That suggests people are wary of moving to a service consistently receiving bad publicity. Imagine what will happen when they try to roll out FTTN in the more run-down parts of the Telstra network, the parts they’ve left until last. The mind boggles.
In 2020 NBN Co will no doubt still owe the Government circa $19 billion and will face a multi-billion dollar expense to replace all the FTTN connections (no, it’s not an upgrade, it’s a rebuild).
Communications Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, knows all this but there’s nothing he can do for now but grin and bear the increasing opprobrium until the Government inevitably decides to abandon FTTN. They’re already starting the process, by continually expanding the FTTdp footprint.
LAURIE PATTON is Executive Director of Internet Australia, the NFP peak body representing Internet users and part of a global network of 90,000 people in more than 100 countries.