Watch the Four Corners special on the NBN

If you missed the ABC’s Four Corners special last night, its now available on ABC iView to watch on demand. After watching the 42 minute program, I’m not sure...

If you missed the ABC’s Four Corners special last night, its now available on ABC iView to watch on demand. After watching the 42 minute program, I’m not sure we learnt much.

Perhaps the most useful information was at the end where NBN CEO Bill Morrow says,

As a recovering engineer, fibre medium is better than copper medium.. you can’t argue any other way. But do we need that fibre today, we know it costs more, is it worth it to us, to spend that money when we don’t really need it and copper would suffice, I think this is the policy we’re operating under today.

At the end of the program, the ABC reporter posed the question – In the end, won’t Australia have to bite the bullet and go full fibre anyway? To which Morrow responded,

Well I think that is a matter of what the future actually brings. Will we need to upgrade to more fibre in the future? I think the probability is pretty high. When? that’s pretty hard to predict. How much? that’s pretty hard to predict.

It comes down to the question.. do you pay the money now, or do you pay for it as you need it, and that is the model the current Government has chosen, that is the model to which nbn is building out by.

It’s in these few sentences in the closing minutes of the program that demonstrate just how much this project is being driven by politics, not by the technology. Morrow is in a position where he’s simply following the plan instructed by the Turnbull Government, despite actually knowing that come 2020, the job won’t be done, simply the first phase of the rollout.

There is no doubt our thirst for higher internet speeds will continue to grow and the harsh reality is, those who receive slower connectivity now, will be stuck with that technology for the foreseeable future. With no plans and no budget to upgrade the NBN post 2020, anyone with less than fibre will struggle to keep pace.

Going to the tax payer to fund a project like this, is kind of a once in a generation opportunity. I fear that many of the responsible parties that are in Government now, will be long gone in early 2020’s when our needs dramatically outstrip the bandwidth available (for some that’s already happened in 2017). 

Personally I built a new home in a FTTP estate, so I’m one of the lucky ones, but clearly not everyone has this opportunity. Australia will have a digital divide and it’ll depend on your address. This will impact resale values of houses which may not be fully understood for a decade or two. Right now I pay for 100/40 and while there’s fluctuations, I generally can speedtest around 93Mbps down and 30-35Mbps up. As soon as nbn and RSPs offer 1Gbps, I’ll be able to get it by paying more, so data that travels at the speed of light is simply limited by how much you want to spend, not limited by the technology running to your house.

During the program, we learn that Australian’s thirst for data has almost doubled in the last 2 years, surely that allows network engineers to project future demands. In the coming years, the way you receive TV to your house will transition from the constrained broadcast spectrum, to the almost limitless internet-based delivery. While there’s some experiments like Japanese broadcaster NHK who’s attempting 4K over the air, many Australia’s TV channels are still broadcast in SD. Thanks to IP-based delivery, you can now get dozens of Foxtel channels into your home without any satellite dishes and every TV network has live and on-demand streaming. The remaining step is the to have fast, reliable internet to drive the experience and suddenly your restrictive view of TV moves from broadcast FreeView to anything on the internet.

In the past 24 hours, there’s been plenty of speculation about people ignoring the NBN in favour of going direct to 5G. First off, 5G is not here, its in development and is coming, but we’re unlikely to see the jump in data caps on mobile plans that would allow you to drive experiences like watching internet-delivered TV, gaming and entertainment. Right now, I have 11GB per month and pay around $60 for it. With the NBN, I have unlimited data, that means I get to use the internet however I want, without fear of being shaped to slower speeds. I can’t explain to you how freeing that is and the piece of mind of having online backups not only be a reality, but a set and forget experience that doesn’t interrupt other internet use.

The NBN is a massive missed opportunity for Australia and by taking the quick and dirty option of FTTx instead of a primarily FTTP approach, we miss out on national benefits in education, healthcare, entertainment, working remotely and decreasing congestion in our cities.

As sad as those missed opportunities are, its hard to see a way forward that significantly changes the current path. Ultimately it’d take more money, many tens of billions of dollars. I almost don’t care how large the initial investment into the NBN construction is, given the project will have a dedicated, paying customer base, its ultimately a discussion around how long the investment will take to pay back.

This takes us to the differences in underlying costs between FTTP and FTTN. Every one of those tens of thousands of green boxes on the street are consuming power. Guess what happened to our power prices, yep, that ongoing cost is likely to continue to rise, affecting not the initial cost, but the ongoing cost, which negatively impacts the ROI of the whole project. With FTTP, powered nodes aren’t required so while the roll-out cost is higher, the ongoing costs are lower.

Watch now at abc.net.au/4corners  and leave your thoughts in the comments.

 

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.