NBN’s Future: Maintaining Digital Divides

Yesterday, the Git canvassed why he was not a fan of supporting the ALP’s National Broadband Network plan. Despite what some might believe, this does not mean he is a fan of the Coalition’s NBN plan. There are many aspects of both parties plans that indicate that both the ALP and the Coalition are far more interested in shoving taxpayers’ money into the pockets of their mates than in delivering an affordable and effective broadband network.

Yesterday the Git linked to Simon Hackett’s Building a Fibre NBN on a Copper budget, a critique of the ALP NBN plan. He has also criticised the Coalition’s plan at the CommsDay Sydney 2013 Summit: The Problem With FTTN. The twenty minute address is well worth listening to.

There is no doubt that preserving the copper network long-term as Malcolm Turnbull appears to intend is a costly and pointless exercise. It’s indicative of politicians general ignorance that the Coalition hadn’t proposed something akin to Simon Hackett’s suggestions regarding installing excessively expensive, custom equipment that will hardly ever be used. The coalition is not against FTTP, they have said repeatedly that greenfield developments should be FTTP. This would seem to indicate that the beneficiaries of the ALP’s multi-billion dollar largess are also mates of the Coalition.

The intention of the original NBN plan was according to their website:

At NBN Co, our goals are simple – deliver Australia’s first national wholesale-only, open access broadband network to all Australians, regardless of where they live.

We will connect 93% of homes, schools and workplaces with optical fibre (fibre to the premises or “FTTP”), providing superfast broadband services to Australians in urban and regional towns*. For the remaining 7% we will connect to our next generation fixed wireless and satellite, subject to final design.

As the Git pointed out yesterday, this “superfast broadband” will drop to 128 Kb/s, or 8% of his current 1.5 Mb/s for several weeks of the year. Currently, his home is one of a group of approximately 50 and all except one are connected to the Franklin telephone exchange. Of these homes, it is the stated intention of the NBN Co to only connect the ten or so nearest the main highway. The rest will all be put on fixed wireless. The one home that is not on a fixed line to the Franklin exchange is currently on satellite “broadband” with the equipment provided under the old Broadband Guarantee. The furthest home from the highway is ~3 kilometres.

It seems to the Git that either the copper is going to be left on the poles for thieves to steal, a not uncommon occurrence in Tasmania, or the wires will be removed. If they are removed, there’s very little extra labour required to replace them with fibre-optic cable. Simon Hackett, among others, makes much of the fact that most of the cost of the NBN is labour, not materials. Thus there appears little reason to divide this community into two: 10% on genuinely fast broadband and 90% on something definitely slower.

While Simon Hackett prefers G-PON to WDM-PON because it doesn’t require electricity, there’s an even more obvious alternative. The splitter is placed in close proximity to the group of premises being connected. Why not eliminate the splitter and run uninterrupted fibre to the premises and not bother with splitters of any description. This would have the advantage of actually delivering what is being promised for everyone: superfast broadband, not just a promise that won’t be kept. As pointed out yesterday, as soon as the group of 32 end users past the G-PON splitter start to saturate the connection, actual speeds will drop to a faction of the 1 Gb/s that is claimed for FTTP. Genuine FTTP (P2P) is also inherently more secure from prying neighbours/spooks etc than G-PON where the full signal for 32/64/128 premises is delivered to all behind 128 bit encryption that will eventually become insecure.

The Git doesn’t believe there’s much hope for the couple of hundred thousand premises that are so isolated the only viable solution is satellite. But they only comprise a couple of percent of the 7% who will miss out on FTTP. Is it the case that there’s more than enough money available to cater for their needs if there were no overspend on multiple Ethernet sockets on an unnecessary router, or two legacy phone connectors that are also redundant?

It seems that both major parties support the creation of digital divides between their mates who will get 1 Gb/s, the middle class who will get 1/32, 1/64, or 1/128 of 1 Gb/s, and those of us of the underbelly who will get “up to” 25 Mb/s.

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