Just where we stand nationwide with regard to the rollout of the NBN remains uncertain.
For a long time the NBN has been a political football, and each side has attempted to blame the other for continued delays and budgetary blow outs.
In 2007 the Labor government started with an NBN budget of $15billion. A grossly underestimated cost and a pathetically over-committed infrastructure (and they knew it). Now, over 10 years later and after a failing baton was passed to the Liberal coalition it is even worse, with an inevitable budgetary blowout to around $50billion. Not only has the price exploded, but the quality and extent of the delivery has also been reduced, with constant flipping on just exactly where the fibre will go. Will it be fibre-to-the-node or fibre-to-the-curb? Still we have no definitive answer in many small towns Australia wide.
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In our opinion neither side of government has got it right.
No doubt, it’s a huge task to rewire Australia and by no means a simple task. We would never have been in this position if the big providers had kept pace with the rest of the world. Instead they continued to do what they had always done, forming a monopoly, protecting it and offering zero innovation and minimal maintenance to an old dying infrastructure.
Now we are in the position where we must use some of the existing aged infrastructure: that is the old copper wire which has been connecting us by phone and ADSL for decades.
The solution on paper is sound, as copper can give good speeds, however the problem with that wire is that it degrades over time, in particular in coastal areas where rust is a problem.
And the bigger problem is that there is no simple upgrade path. Meaning it is still yet to be seen what an upgrade from fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) to Fibre will mean.
New fibre will replace large parts of the network, however the big issue is just how much of that old copper wiring we will be forced to keep.
Originally of course, we were promised the world; fibre-to-the-house or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTH or FTTP). But the problems associated with that soon became apparent: the long and difficult task of arranging times with residents, the likelihood of damaging other infrastructure on private property and the subsequent insurance claims, made the reality of fibre to the house impossible.
Next best thing is fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC). In this scenario, the new technology would be laid on public land, and then connected to the old copper just for the last few metres to the house. Simplifying it, reducing costs and not touching anyone’s private property.
The current option for many towns still to get NBN, is a combination of fibre-to-the-curb (great!) but unfortunately combined with the least favourable outcome: fibre-to-the-node. Meaning more of the old existing copper is used.
In hindsight, perhaps the best scenario would have been all FTTC, with an upgrade of that last little stretch from your house to the street in years to come, once the first stage rollout of the entire country was complete. Or if you desperately needed it, then even an option to upgrade this portion yourself through your own electrician. Surely this would have sped up the overall rollout.
The sad part is that this project was run partly as a business, where it was trying to recover all costs, yet it was not run like a business, it was government run. Perhaps the government should have stuck to a services funded model and viewed it in the same was as most other government run projects. Where they fund the infrastructure, as they do with roads, public spaces. etc. If they had set a competitive price that is in line with global internet prices perhaps double the people would have already adopted the new NBN services.
The good news in all of this is that the NBN will be better than what you have now, even if you only get fibre-to-the-node. Yes copper has limited speed, and there will always be those difficult cases, but in general copper is capable of far more than most people think, especially if the length is shortened. And it did get us this far. So any fibre added to it in the short term will mean it gets better and improved and upgraded further over the years.
So it’s not all doom and gloom. We know the NBN will eventually deliver.
Just when it will deliver remains the biggest unknown.