NBN Flux: Why Even?

The National Broadband Network (NBN) has been a torrid political beast for around five years, ever since it was first mooted by the then communications minister, Stephen Conroy, and the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

One of the first arguments by opponents of the scheme was along the lines of:

“We already have access to broadband internet nationally, why do we need a new national broadband network?”

Well, not quite – that is simplifying it far too much.

While the vast majority of Australia’s population is covered by broadband of some kind – (predominantly a flavour of DSL, or HFC cable) – the fact remains that many areas of Australia are either not served – (usually for a combination of geographic and financial reasons) – or vastly underserved.

Even from within my my own family circle, I know of significantly populated areas where the only available broadband is ADSL1 – (limited to 1.5Mbps download speed, and sometimes 8Mbps depending on the provider).

In the specific family-related case I am referring to, ADSL2/2+ is not available in the area because there is no space left in the local exchange for ADSL2/2+ equipment to be installed.

Similarly, the local HFC cable provider has not extended their network into this particular suburb, despite the rest of the city being covered.

So it is ADSL1 for them. Even mobile coverage in the area is patchy, so 3G/4G is not really an option – even before you consider the much higher cost per unit of download for wireless internet services.

At the last census, there were approximately 11,000 people living in the suburb, so it is not as if the area is some rural backwater.

Through my career in IT and telecommunications, I have seen DSL orders for sites in inner suburbs of major cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane fail to be completed due to the lack of or the poor condition of existing infrastructure.

I have seen business premises that have been able to successfully receive 2Mbps/2Mbps SHDSL services, yet the building next door only manage to get ADSL2/2+ or even ADSL1 – and sometimes nothing at all, just 56Kbps dialup which is not broadband.

The highest DSL speeds in Australia of 20Mbps/20Mbps – (provided by SHDSL.biz) – is limited to major city CBDs, and CBD fringes due to the high implementation cost making it unviable in just about any other location.

Existing fibre services are sparse outside of CBDs, and vastly expensive if they exist at all. One fibre quote I received several years ago was for $80,000 just to do the build, and the distance to be covered was less than 500 metres.

Ask anyone living in a small rural community if they are able to get even ADSL1. If the answer is yes – (as some can) – be very surprised. For the most part these communities have modem dialup, and maybe wireless internet which we know is expensive per unit of download.

So anyone who says “we don’t need a national broadband network” simply does not understand the existing situation.

If you’ve ever had to tell someone who wants to get a broadband service provisioned that they can’t have it – (as I have had to do many times) – for no other reason than that their home or business premise simply exists where it exists, you just feel like a bastard about it.

Even though there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

For years, successive governments have spoken of the need for Australia to become the “clever country”. I am sure that most Australians would agree with the notion too.

This is why we need a new national broadband solution – so that all Australians have an equal opportunity to participate in the global information economy, so that we can accelerate towards becoming that “clever country” we strive to be.

But which broadband solution do we need? FTTP? FTTN? Wireless? HFC? Something else?

That’s another difficult topic – one which I will discuss in the next article in this series.