When Australian Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd proposed a modern telecommunications network using optical fiber based broadband to 93% of the Australian population at 100 Mbit/s in 2007, Australians believed we would finally have access to a world-class telecommunications network. This was to be the largest infrastructure project in our nations history taking 13 years to complete and launching Australia into the 21st century as a world leader in telecommunications. Unfortunately, what we thought we were going to get in 2007 and what we have now in 2017, are two very different things.
Kevin Rudd’s original vision was to replace the whole outdated copper cable network with optical fiber. However, Labor’s plan was abandoned half way through the project after the government changed in 2013 to the Liberal government of Tony Abbott. Both the Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband, Malcolm Turnbull and Abbott stated in the lead up to the 2013 election, ‘that the demand for such a service was not significant, and thus the estimated cost was too high and the timeline for implementation too long’ and they would demolish the NBN if elected. After they were elected they said that copper was still a viable option and made the decision to swap out areas with fiber to the node and fiber to the curb, with copper to the premises downgrading speeds from 100 to a minimum of 25 Mbit/s.
Another 4 years down the track and not much has changed with the whole NBN debacle, with the exception that Malcolm Turnbull is now Prime Minister instead of Tony Abbott. As more Australians are connected to the ‘new’ already ‘outdated’ network, the list of unhappy customers is growing rapidly and significantly. According to ABC television’s Four Corners on the 23rd of October 2017, the NBN rollout “is a lottery. About one-fifth of Australians are getting direct fibre connections, but the majority are being connected with older technology such as copper phone wire and pay television cables.”
Expert Rod Tucker from the University of Melbourne told the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network that, “there has been a relentless growth in demand for higher broadband speeds. But the 2014 Vertigan report underestimated Australia’s future broadband needs by a factor of ten. Vertigan supported the Coalition’s game-changing shift from fiber to the premises (FTTP) to fiber to the node (FTTN)” and furthermore that “Australia’s FTTN network will be obsolete by the time it is rolled out and will not be able to deliver the speeds that will be needed in the future.” If you would like to see further recommendations from experts to the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network follow the link https://theconversation.com/expert-panel-the-state-of-the-national-broadband-network-56073
While experts and politicians debate the issue, ordinary Australians are finding out first hand for themselves about the efficiency and reliability of the NBN. My personal experience since connecting, is that I now have the worst internet broadband I’ve ever had in terms of speed and reliability. As soon as the NBN started rolling out in my area I started having problems with both my existing phone and internet service and had no internet at all for two months prior to connecting to NBN. Technicians who came to try and fix the problems said that others in the area were experiencing similar problems and that they believed it had something to do with the rollout in this area.
Eventually, I mistakenly believed that if I changed over to the new NBN at least it would fix my internet problem. When I changed over, I did have internet again but had no phone at all for weeks and the NBN refused to move the socket they had installed in my spare bedroom upstairs to downstairs where my computer lives.
Since I connected in June I have had ongoing problems with both phone and internet. More than 20% of the time I can’t even connect to the internet. Yesterday for example, it took me 30 minutes to get a connection and then it was so slow that every time I tried to connect to a site it timed out before connecting. My internet also drops out all the time whilst I am attempting to do things online. Even when my internet is on its best behavior, it is no better than what I had with the old ADSL broadband. I also have ongoing phone problems. Often when I try to answer a call on the home phone it disconnects the caller. Other times I will be in the middle of a conversation and an incoming call disconnects the previous caller.
I have heard many people say over the last couple of years that they have had similar problems since connecting to the NBN. My sister who has life threatening health conditions has not had a phone for 3 months since she changed over to NBN and in her case she has had no luck resolving the issue with either NBN or her provider. If you are lucky enough to have been amongst the 20% of Australians who received fiber to the premises before the Liberal government stepped in and destroyed the NBN, spare a thought for the rest of us.
Sadly this is not only about the impact and frustration this is having on the majority of Australians, it is also about our reputation and prospects on the world stage. The latest report in the New York Times talks about Australia’s incompetence around technology and our bungling of the NBN rollout. According to Stephen Fenech from Tech Guide, Australia’s “internet speeds are slower than that of the US, Western Europe, Japan and South Korea despite the $49 billion National Broadband Network rollout.” and furthermore that Australia “came in at an appalling No 51 on the Akamai ranking of internet speeds behind countries like Thailand and Kenya.” Even our smaller neighbor New Zealand is smart enough to know that fiber is the way to go.
Rod Tucker has said that “Australia’s increasing use of fiber to the node (FTTN) has locked the country out of world-class broadband for years to come. If Australia is ever to obtain first-class broadband services, it will be necessary to replace FTTN with higher speed technologies.”
I remember the uproar in Australia during the Rudd government’s term in office over the Home Insulation Program (pink batts debacle). This was believed to have cost Australian taxpayers 2.5 billion dollars, including costs to rectify problems the program had caused. In financial terms, the Pink Batt debacle of 2.5 billion looks like small change in comparison to the 50 billion price tag of the NBN debacle. This does not include the loss of revenue that Australian businesses will lose trying to compete on the world stage with inferior technology. Taxpayers in this country have every right to be upset. I believe this Liberal government has underestimated the anger and dissatisfaction out there in the Australian community over this issue and will pay dearly at the next Federal election.
The Conversation. (2016). Expert panel: The state of the National Broadband Network. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/expert-panel-the-state-of-the-national-broadband-network-56073
Fenech, S. (2017). Why Australia’s NBN rollout has become a world wide embarrassment. Retrieved from http://www.techguide.com.au/blog/australias-nbn-rollout-become-worldwide-embarrassment/
Tucker, R. (2017). The Tragedy of Australia’s National Broadband Network Retrieved from https://telsoc.org/node/1728