“You can have it fast, cheap, or good; pick two,” says the old adage. When it comes to the NBN however, we are increasingly looking at a situation where we get to pick none.
The long awaited strategic review has been released by NBNCo, leading to an incredibly disheartening press conference by Malcolm Turnbull. The results of the strategic review announced that not only will the Coalition’s plan cost almost as much as the originally announced NBN plan, it will also miss its targets by a wide margin and perhaps most worryingly not even cover the entire nation.
The mix of technologies required to meet the updated budget and targets from the strategic review includes not upgrading areas where HFC cable (Hybrid fibre-coaxial) is already available. This means that users in those areas are left out of the National Broadband Network, whether they have access to HFC themselves or not. Of the approximately 3 million homes already covered by HFC, less than 1 million of them are actually connected to it.
The review mentioned that the ALP’s NBN plan would come in over budget, and behind time - something that Malcolm had always trumpeted - but much less than the figures that Malcolm had been decrying before the election. Worryingly, the reasons for the cost blowouts were all redacted (commercial in confidence), so we have no way to ascertain how legitimate those estimated cost blowouts actually are. The Coalition’s NBN plan, however, would fail to deliver anything at all to the 3 million homes with HFC coverage, and very little to the population who will receive VDSL, all while rolling it out slower and costing far more than they originally announced. So much for ‘Faster, sooner, and cheaper’.
One large issue of contention - the quality and cost of Telstra’s copper network - is still an unknown. Current reports estimate that Telstra’s copper network costs them $1 billion every year to maintain, and the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing union who maintain it have claimed that much of the network is in such a state of disrepair that it is barely capable of maintaining the service we already have, let alone supporting VDSL at the promised speeds. Setting aside the fact that negotiations to buy or lease Telstra’s copper network haven’t happened yet, the cost of building the Coalition’s NBN will continue to be felt long after the last house has been connected.
Then there’s the issue of longevity. How long will this NBN plan last? NBNCo’s recently appointed executive chairman, Ziggy Switkowski, has stated that the Coalition’s NBN plan would not need to be upgraded for at least five years after completion. In terms of nation building infrastructure, needing to upgrade five years after building it is a colossal waste of resources, seeing as the only upgrade path from VDSL it to complete the original NBN plan - Fibre To The Premises.
The Coalition’s NBN is a joke. It will not arrive faster, cheaper, or better. At least with FTTP, we could pick one of the three. If we continue on with this plan of building VDSL, and relying on the existing crumbling infrastructure, Australia will be left behind. We will pay the same price for half a solution, then have to pay it again to get the rest. Malcolm Turnbull should remember his promise to be technology agnostic, do the NBN once, do it right, and do it with fibre.
Samuel Levy is an independent web developer, blogger and founder of weneedthenbn.com. He is not affiliated with any political parties.