NBN myths: How the Government has let us down

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Communications Minister Paul Fletcher propagated a number of misconceptions in a recent speech on the NBN, writes Laurie Patton.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher recently spoke at an industry conference and outdid his Coalition predecessors in an extraordinary attempt to defend the beleaguered National Broadband Network (NBN). These are just some of the comments he made to an incredulous audience of IT professionals who know so much more than he does.

According to Mr Fletcher, 10.2 million premises can now connect to the NBN. However, 40 per cent haven’t even bothered. That’s not exactly a great endorsement of the project in my opinion.

He said “but last year the ACCC confirmed what we knew to be true – NBN Co is by far the dominant player in the fixed-line market”. Yep. That was the whole idea: to ensure that everyone has access to fast and reliable broadband just as we’ve always had universal telephone access.

Further, Fletcher stated:

“Labor’s plan to scrap the HFC networks and then overbuild them with new fibre networks was extraordinarily wasteful."

Yet NBN Co has dumped the entire Optus HFC network and it’s costing a bomb to remediate the Telstra HFC. In my area they are ripping out Telstra’s HFC and replacing it with an inferior alternative from a speed perspective;


“I spoke earlier about the many legacy problems which Labor’s NBN has left. A whole class of those problems concerns regional and remote telecommunications."

Well, his Government increased reliance on satellite and fixed wireless rather than superior fixed wire connections. In any case it has had six years to do something positive and broadband is still buggered in the bush.

In the speech, Fletcher asserted that “90 per cent of premises can receive at least 50 Mbps and all can receive 25Mbps”. Well, not according to the ACCC and the TIO. Too many NBN Co customers just cannot get 25 Mbps and I very much doubt 90 per cent can get 50 Mbps.

Apparently, “The rollout of the NBN has been a massive turnaround exercise – after we inherited a colossal mess”. It was actually then Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s instruction to communications minister Malcolm Turnbull to "destroy" the NBN that created the mess NBN Co is in now. As I’ve noted previously, Turnbull subsequently failed to fix the NBN when he was prime minister.

He said:

“Next year NBN will begin trials of the G.fast protocol – which holds real potential across Fibre-to-the Node (FTTN) and Fibre-to-the-Curb (FTTC) footprints."

Someone should tell him that in-field applications of G.fast in Europe are proving problematic and in fact G.fast will not work on FTTN due to the length of the copper wires involved.

According to Fletcher, “NBN Co is on track and on budget to complete the rollout next year”. In my opinion, the project will not be complete until everyone has access to 21st Century broadband. That won’t be the case until they replace the 30 per cent of fixed line connections using FTTN. And as for being on budget, NBN Co’s own financial reports reveal that it is not securing the revenue needed to pay back its $19 billion debt to the Government when it falls due and they have nothing budgeted for the inevitable replacement of FTTN.

The speech also attacked Labor, with Fletcher declaring: “I suspect if Labor were in Government they would be plotting how to restrict the operations of 5G networks lest they pose a threat to the NBN”. The big threat from 5G mobile is that it will be embarrassingly faster than the NBN service for premises stuck with FTTN. This risks a huge loss of customers for NBN Co at a time when it is not reaching its revenue targets.

As I have commented previously, it’s time for bipartisan agreement on how to fix the NBN. It is a huge drag on our productivity and limits the ability of people to use the Internet for so many positive things.

Laurie Patton was CEO/Executive Director of Internet Australia from 2014 to 2017. This article was originally published on The Lucky General and has been republished with permission.

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