back to article Australia's broadband policy is a flimsy, cynical House of Cards

On a recent trip to the shops, I priced a massive UHD OLED telly, with blacks so dark the panel looked like it actively sucked in light. Staring into the most beautiful television I’d ever seen, I had a moment of clarity: Gorgeous and expensive, but useless. A generation ago, one of my mentors taught me a simple truth, “ …

  1. Scoular

    Sold down the drain

    We have been sold down the drain for cheap short term political gain. We will pay for this stupidity for a long time.

    Do it properly and do it once is good engineering. The half baked desperately cheap short term is always long term stupid.

    1. Internet Australia CEO

      Re: Sold down the drain


    2. Anonymous (Noel) Coward

      Re: Sold down the drain

      The Prime Minister's ego-tripping political gameplaying over the NBN isn't our only problem. We're stuffed in multiple directions.

      To plagiarize Paul Keating, Turnbull is a peanut sitting on top of a dung heap. Our whole "government" is a Judas Goat leading Australia to the slaughterhouse.

      1. theslydog

        Re: Sold down the drain

        To plagiarize Paul Keating, Turnbull is a peanut sitting on top of a dung heap.

        Slight fix on PK's quote.

        "Malcolm Turnbull… fundamentally he is a cherry on top of a compost heap, the great risk for Malcolm is that he doesn’t remain a cherry but turns into a sultana.”

  2. Kevin Maciunas

    Absolutely. And the other thing to note is that the gross asymmetry in speeds up versus down is going to be a limiting factor that really needs some work in the future. I live in a peaceful semi rural area, so having to share a RF link with my neighbours will not cause me too much trouble - but in more densely packed areas RF for endpoint delivery is going to suck, and suck HARD. The aged copper tails we have here are a joke - and fail to deliver even voice telephony after a good rain.

    Re-use of end-of-life infrastructure in pursuit of an ill thought through political position is really annoying and deserves to be called out.


  3. Mike Echo


    After being told to "destroy the NBN" when in opposition, Turnbull cannot admit that FTTP was the best choice after gaining power. It has become a political football.

  4. FozzyBear

    Obsolete before it was implemented

    One giant political clusterfuck and of course it is the public that gets to pay for this crap. Man I'm sick of their shite.


  5. aaaa

    Private/Municipal Network anyone?

    I notice that increasingly in the US, small areas (municipalities) are implementing their own FTTP. It makes the area more attractive to middle class, potentially increasing land prices, increasing tax take for the local government. I know of at least a couple of areas around Sydney where the math surely wouldn't be too hard (Avalon, Mosman, Cremorne). You could even trunk onto the NBN. Surely this is the future - but someone has to be first - I suspect there would be a lot of political pressure not to - since it would highlight the failure of the national approach, so it would need to be an independent controlled council/mayor.

  6. GeoffL

    Magical Thinking

    Is this true? This seems to be a fixation of Australians: "If only we had Great Internet, we'd build Great Technology". It's never specified: telemedicine, teleeducation, or a bunch of "if you build it they will come" wibbling. Yes, they are likely to come, but only to the superior porn that they are downloading on their Fat Pipe.

    It's revealing that the thing that provoked this article was a neat looking telly and the realization that 4K content is thin on the ground. Because the road to amazing innovation starts with watching an expensive telly.

    I do understand that (a) the government is made a hash of this and (b) at the margins there are some work-from-home cases where better connectivity means the difference between being able to do this job or not. But I'm not seeing that there's going to be an productivity explosion as a result of people being able to sit home and edit RAW files.

    No-one ever seems to be able to point to a particularly important technology that is being developed in some other country where, if only we had the capability to do Really Fast Downloads, we would be ahead. As far as I can tell countries with great connectivity spend more time playing computer games and downloading movies than we do.

    I have a suspicion that better tech might emerge from places with *even shittier internet* than we have.

    1. frank ly

      Re: Magical Thinking

      Australians in remote areas have been running telemedicine services for years. That has a serious latency problem though, since it involves a small plane and a doctor who can fly it. They also run 'teleeducation' services for remote communities via radio and postal service. Where there's a will (and a technology), there's a way.

    2. blearrgh

      Re: Magical Thinking

      Because the road to amazing innovation starts with watching an expensive telly.

      The road to amazing innovation starts with scratching an itch. It just so happens that Mark's itch is to get the full benefit of the technology he paid for.

  7. Rod M

    Consigning Australia to the ICT Dustbin of Asia

    Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues have chosen to ignore the history that is quite apparent in the evolution (or perhaps more correctly, revolution) of the ICT industry and failed to think through its implications. The result is an epic blunder that has consigned us to the ICT dustbin of Asia.

    Rod M

  8. aegis7

    Absolutely nailed it. Incredibly disappointing and frustrating. Political grandstanding over such an important piece of vital infrastructure for all of our futures is pathetic and damaging. When will Governments realise it's about data sharing for research development, medicine, diverse technologies and not just gamers etc.... Imagine true technology hubs in our rural centres, creates employment, energises communities far and wide. Possibilities are endless. A true national broadband network is nation building. Damn I get angry at these selfish fools sprouting "innovation" but doing nothing to make it happen.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The fact that Bill Morrow, the CEO of NBN Co., stated yesterday that the current mixed technology rollout is adequate for today's needs speaks volumes. There are already applications that it is in-adequate for without even thinking about next year.

  10. GrumpyKiwi

    Seriously guys, you couldn't have devised a worse system to get high speed interwebs if you'd outsourced the design to the Committee of Ludites.

    Australian Telco's appear to me (who has to deal with both them and NZ ones) to be slow, bureaucratic, have a poor attitude to customer service and are very expensive for what you get. And this culture reflects directly onto the NBN project.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The strangler

    Yes, but that suggests a degree of achievement and purpose.

    I prefer to call Mal, "Dr Doolittle"

  12. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    It's articles like this that keep me coming back to the Reg.

  13. julian.smith

    The Strangler?

    Malcolm the Ineffectual replaced Tony the Deranged

    I use the Internet and I vote!

    1. GrumpyOldBloke

      Re: The Strangler?

      > I use the Internet and I vote!

      Meh. Who cares, the demographics are against you. Multiple or recently deceased voting also pits your one vote against the forgetful or the mendacious. If your tag line was I use the internet and I organise then that would put the fear of dog into the sheltered workshop that is Canberra. But voting, good luck with that.

  14. Kanangra

    Lots of playing the man and not the ball going on here. And not much focus on the facts.

    Clearly none of you have bothered to look at the independent demand analysis. It sets out clear use cases and models demand growth over a ten year horizon, including multiple 4K video streams simultaneous with other uses. The existing NBN build is to that standard. It sets aside the really extreme use cases (about 4 mins per month in total), for which individual users can choose to pay for a faster connection should they really wish to pay for it. Willingness to pay is never entertained as a factor by most gold-platers.....they just want "the best" and want everyone else to pay for it.

    I have yet to see an articulation of actual bandwidth demand for the uses cases being thrown around by the disbelievers. Show us what these things are that already exceeding the 50Mbps standard?

    And for all the people using the two-lane Harbour Bridge analogy, there is not a telco in the world that builds for >10 year capacity, because they simply don't know what it will be. But what has been proven is that technology always improves, and it can be adopted incrementally, and while you can't turn copper into fibre, you can get more out of a hybrid fibre/copper network over time. Tech vendors build that stuff because they know it's what telcos need.

    Sure - we don't know what future applications will be. Sure - the government (Blue and Red) have made a meal of it. And sure - the pollies don't really understand what they are talking about most of the time. But let's get a network in place quickly that services everyone with tech that works for the next 5 years. That will have a greater impact than building something that takes longer to get in place, and leaves more people out of the fast BB loop for longer. Just offset the incremental difference uprating from 50Mbps will make (very little for the next 5 or so years), against the the extra costs of the build, and the extra time required to build it. Then look at the MTM that we now have - everyone still argues like it's copper everywhere but big chunks of it are DOCSIS 3 HFC, FTTB, and FTTP for greenfields. And put in a thought for the regions and remotes, where FTTP was never going to be possible anyway.

    In short, get real. And no I don't work for NBN and I'm not a LIB.

    1. mathew42

      79% connected at 25Mbps or less

      Mark wrote "Nearly all the broadband available to consumers in their homes - where they might watch a nice 4K episode of House of Cards via Netflix - can’t support a 4K stream." which he should have finished with including FTTP where currently 79% of customers have chosen 25Mbps or slower and 16% (down 3% in last twelve months) are prepared to pay for 100Mbps. Currently it is not possible to buy a connection faster that 100Mbps, despite the fact that NBNCo made these speeds available to RSPs in December 2013.

      Labor crippled the NBN with speed tiers to the point that if speed tiers were removed from FTTN it would be 2-7 times faster that FTTP for more than 80% of customers. It is not unreasonable to expect that the 16% (and falling) who want faster speeds than average should expect to pay for the privilege.

      1. Jasonk

        Re: 79% connected at 25Mbps or less

        Lol MTM expects 30% on 100Mbps by 2020when only 16% are chiseling it now. they must be wrong too to spend $56B on something so few need.

        Are there is the lie again that can't but a connection faster than 100Mbps.. Yet in 2016 NBN not longer offers 1Gbps services.

        Lol coalition crippled the NBN with MTM. Using your standard of no speed teirs FTTP would be 10-100 times faster than FTTN. Lol claiming FTTN is faster when it's only required to deliver no guarantee speed not even the min 25Mbps. So now we can expect services even slower than ADSL 2+ for some. Much like the 1% of FTTN in the uk getting the speed they pay for lol.

        It not unreadable for a network to fit further demands instead of just requiring to deliver speeds people are picking now which still won't be complete for another 4 years. So if the NBN MTM hits 30% on 100Mbps in 2020 means labors FTTP was right would it.

    2. sssputnik


      Unfortunately the truth is delivered speeds on FTTN are not living up to the speeds promised and the whole project is getting more and more delayed.

      Given the cost blowouts, it probably would have been cheaper to stay FTTP the whole way. Face it, the project is a shambles.

    3. jpharri

      There was analysis performed on the costs for the ALP vs LNP solution.

      LNP MTM is cheaper CAPEX and more expensive OPEX in comparison.

      The crossover point was in the 6-7 year mark, where the TCO for full FTTP to 93% plan by the ALP matches the TCO of the hodgepodge of upgraded technologies by the LNP.

      From then on the ALP NBN is cheaper.

      > there is not a telco in the world that builds for >10 year capacity, because they simply don't know what it will be.

      Building for >10 year capacity is as simple as laying fibre to every household.

      To uprade FTTP bandwidth requires replacement of end point infrastructure - there is no trench digging or other civil works. This is occurring in other countries that have deployed FTTP - they are moving to 10GPON or higher (40? I think in Portugal). I understand even a couple of municipal provided FTTP in the US is upgrading to 10Gb links 'because it can', which implies it's now quite inexpensive.

      To upgrade the LNP MTM requires..well I'm not too sure. The FTTN design will definitely need civil works to reduce the length of the copper to each residence, as physics dictates how much bandwidth can be delivered. That will quite expensive. HFC, I understand is theorised to be capable of 30Gb synchronous, according to the latest blurb from the CEO of NBN. Not sure why he'd be talking about it as they only need to deliver 50Mb by the end of the project.

      Wireless and Satellite, well if you oversubscribe these then the only solution is to extend landlines or add more satellites.

      1. mathew42

        The point you are missing is that rather than the upgrade from FTTN to FTTP being a cost to NBNCo, it will be a cost borne by those wanting an increase in speed. An expense to NBNCo becomes a profit centre.

        1. GrumpyOldBloke

          > An expense to NBNCo becomes a profit centre.

          Which is of course an additional cost to the consumer and an additional cost reflected in our already appalling balance of trade figures (the imported components like modems). Pay once for the misdirection of resources and a second time for the required service. The opex costs of the now unused (for that consumer) node will probably be factored into the upgrade price to avoid a death spiral of costs for those that remain on copper. The upgrade performed as a unique task will not benefit from economies of scale. What happens to the VDSL modem from the initial installation? eWaste? An inefficiency is still an inefficiency even when it is cost shifted to someone else.

  15. aberglas

    Pretty dreadful not to support 4K TV

    Life will be grim indeed with only normal HD TV available. If it is not on 4K then it is just jot worth watching. (That said, most TV is not worth watching even if it is 4K.)

    And with the current plans for 25 megabits that would only support one 4K TV at full resolution per household. Utterly terrible. How will we compete in the new world of high tech with only one ultra high definition TV per household.

    Meanwhile, some of us struggle on less than 1 megabit. That is a limitation that is real. Fibre was never going to go to people that did not already have decent internet. The money would simply run out.

    1. P. Lee

      Re: Pretty dreadful not to support 4K TV

      >Fibre was never going to go to people that did not already have decent internet. The money would simply run out.

      Wasn't the point that the expensive bit is not the cable, but the cable replacement, which to a large extent was going to have to happen anyway.

      The point about fibre is that it scales really well bandwidth-wise with new tech and it has excellent range. Copper is cheaper when its already there, but fibre means symmetrical high speeds.

      That symmetry is important. Today's crop of Big Tech have made a fortune out of targeting consumers - those who download rather than upload. ADSL caters to this and it may be the majority, but innovators are those who devise new ways to provide services. That means more uploading, being able to provide services. If nothing else, how about multiple outgoing video streams for group video chat? You soon hit the 1mbit barrier there. With 1g upload capacity, perhaps more people would be interested in hosting their own services from their own premises, which might spark greater interest in developing those services, increasing the tech skill pool. Not all programming needs to be outsourced to India. Rubbish home connections leads to higher consumption of commercial offerings which means less on-shore energy being put into tech.

      The nbn might only be used for porn because that's all the politicians have allowed the design of the network to be good for. Sadly, the political machinations from the Liberals regarding the nbn were always about Telstra rather than the broadband network. Once they got hold of it, it was never about a network for the Australian people.

      As for the 4k screen, did anyone think that was ever going to be anything other than a large computer gaming monitor which doubles up for normal TV viewing?

  16. brucen

    There s more to life than TV/Movie Downloads.

    Why is it that Media and Inner city commentators only judge the NBN on movie/tv downloads ?

    Like Walleed Aly, Mark Pesce seems to think that cost is no object for delivering (foreign?) content and forgets a large number of people dow't live in the city where cabling and fibre is easy.

    They also forget that market research by ISP's has shown that given the choice most people can't/won't pay for the highest speeds.

  17. JJKing

    Stuck in a loop?

    mathew42 seems to be only able to Cut 'n Paste anything he posts. Same old bullshit but surprisingly didn't mention that 12mbps was good enough for the grandparents this time.

    Mathew42 is either a LNP troll or has a very brown nose due to The Strangler and/or bill morrow stopping suddenly and frequently.

  18. THX-1138

    This article is a joke right??

    Surely this article is a joke - it' still within the April Fool's timeframe so perhaps it is. To surely hold a serious face while suggesting that our national future is dependent upon our ability to become even more sedentary, slow, overweight and over-entertained. I am sure there are other benefits to the NBN however the majority of 'expert commentary' I see appears to centre around 'HD Entertainment' as though this is a measure of society. Do we *really* want to be like Korea and Japan? Entertainment is the antithesis to innovation, not the stimulus. Surely our national imagination and evolution extends beyond our ever largening behinds and waistlines. Come on Australia, we're better than this.

    1. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: This article is a joke right??

      Article started by equating Dynamic Range "blacks so dark the panel looked like it actively sucked in ligh" with Resolution, "4K stream", and went downhill from there. How could it be anything but a joke?

  19. Urh

    "a logorrhea of buzzwords"

    ...has to be one of the more eloquent ways of saying that somebody is talking $hit I have come across in a while. Frankly, the fate of the NBN was sealed back in 2013. The true enormity of the blunder probably won't be truly tangible until 2020, at which point Joe Public will have long forgotten about it.

    1. mathew42

      Re: "a logorrhea of buzzwords"

      The NBN was doomed from the beginning by an incompetent Labor government. Labor went to the 2007 election with the plan to build FTTN but post election, Telstra were uncooperative, which resulted in a series of face saving decisions from Labor.

      1. Changed to FTTP overbuilding HFC and ignoring FTTN as an option in rural towns

      2. Set an expectation that NBN would be profitable and plans would start at the same price as ADSL

      3. Introduced speed tiers to enable a cheaper starting price

      4. Steeply discounted initial ARPU which need to rise from $32 to over $100 quickly to meet ROI

      5. Spin about eLearning & eHealth when Labor's own Corporate Plan says requires a minimum of 100Mbps.

      6. In response to Google Fibre, announcing 1Gbps just prior to the 2010 election and omitting to mention Labor's expectation that in 2026 <1% would be connected at 1Gbps.

      7. Expensive decision such as

      Labor had several better options:

      1. Forcing Telstra to structurally separate, using mobile spectrum as the carrot

      2. Forgoing early profits to deliver uncapped speeds

      3. Inviting Google to build NBN (1/1Gbps) with financial incentives ($20 billion would have been a bargain)

      4. Selling a concession to operate and build each PoI based an analysis of areas of greatest need

      Of these the worst mistake was introducing speed tiers. This stupid decision meant that suddenly FTTN, HFC and even 4G were competitive on a speed basis for the 79% opting for 25Mbps or slower.

  20. kesawi

    If you think the NBN is only about media streaming you don't understand the NBN

    The NBN isn't about being able to stream 4K content or playing the latest VR games, it is about upgrading Australia's dilapidated and obsolete telecommunications infrastructure to handle the demands and requirements of the 21st century and beyond. It is about enabling large volumes of information and knowledge to move rapidly across Australia to allow collaboration. 4K media content is just a very small subset of that data. The author's use of a 4K TV offers an easily understandable example of how the MTM NBN is already obsolete before it's even built, let alone any of the other more advance service that will run over it in the near future.

    While the NBN is primarily a telecommunications infrastructure project, a significant portion of the cost is civil works (conduits, pits and cables), and therefore it is also one of the largest civil infrastructure projects undertaken in Australia. Yes, while telecommunications infrastructure maybe design for capacity to a shorter timeframe, civil infrastructure is always design with a far longer timeframe in mind, often 20 to 40 years into the future, or longer if it is going to be difficult and costly to come back and do it again. You don't want to be coming back to put in new ducts, cables and pits in 10 years time and have all the expenses of traffic control, community and stakeholder management, environmental approvals, etc incurred all over again. These overheads are a very significant part of any civil infrastructure project. From a civil works perspective, running fibre to the home now makes sense.

  21. sectokia

    There are many miss-truths in this peice.

    Firstly, 100mbps HFC cable, which can stream 4K HD from netflix easily, is already available to over 35% of Australia households.

    And guess what? The take up rate is very low. Less than 1 in 4 homes that are capable of HFC cable internet actually sign up to it.

    So this idea that the 'free market' has failed to provide homes with viable internet is laughable. The market is simply no there. And this idea that all those homes would magically sign up for 100mbps fibre, is also laughable.

    The NBN buisness case was based on forcing everyone to have 12mbps fibre.

  22. HJ_Smith

    Axe-grinding much?

    While reading this article all I could hear was the axe-grinding.

    "He laughed, and openly ridiculed me."

    And there it is.

    The truth is, the cost of the original ALP NBN was built on shoddy budgeting and would have been an astronomical price in reality. Who pays for that? The taxpayer.

    And ultimately, the take-up for NBN is low because people aren't buying it. You can't force people to spend their money on things they don't want.

    Again, all these bloody tech journalists are living in some cushy magical world where everything happens for free and 1Gbps solves everyone's problems.

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