LAURIE PATTON. Essentially, our NBN is just not good enough (but please don’t say so!)

Oct 8, 2016


… And don’t tell Malcolm Turnbull, who was Minister in charge of the NBN.

This week’s Essential poll found that dissatisfaction with the National Broadband Network is both widespread and pretty even across the political spectrum. Only 22 percent of respondents believe the NBN will adequately meet our future Internet requirements [].

For those of us focussing on Australia’s potential to become an Innovation Nation and who’ve been watching the NBN debate with increasing despair this was no surprise. Although, as you dig deeper there appears to be a well-developed appreciation of the benefits of high speed broadband underlying peoples’ concerns.

It’s not only the so-called “fibre zealots” who want better broadband. Eighty-eight (88) percent of respondents see the Internet becoming an essential service, like water and electricity. [].

When asked to comment on the current NBN model using copper wires verses the original plan based on fibre, only 27 percent supported copper while 47 percent preferred fibre. Thirty-two percent said they ‘didn’t know’, which if nothing else suggests that the debate is still mired in confusing rhetoric – especially from those defending the current rollout.

Frankly, I’m tired of people claiming that calling out the flaws in the current NBN strategy amounts to an attack on the organisation, or to adopting a partisan political stance. Since when is it not in the national interest for expert organisations and individuals to speak up when governments get things wrong, for whatever reason?

There are many good people working on the NBN and this needs to be acknowledged. For my part, I have penned an open letter to nbn employees, which I posted on various social media sites.

“Congratulations on launching the second satellite. For the avoidance of any misunderstanding, the efforts you’re making to build us a national broadband network are appreciated. It’s just that a lot of us don’t think you should be made to use ageing copper wires and old Pay-TV cables. I know from the many discussions I’ve had with you that plenty of people at nbn feel the same. You should be proud of the vital work you’re doing. I’m sure you’ll be even more proud when you are able to revert to using 21st Century fibre“.

Internet Australia is the not-for-profit peak body representing Internet users. IA has repeatedly called on the Federal Government to urgently review its broadband strategy. We did this again in the light of the stark findings in the Essential poll. IA is a chapter of the global Internet Society, the largest network of people and organisations focused on ensuring that the Internet continues to evolve as a platform for innovation, collaboration, economic development and social progress. We enter this debate on the basis of the sound technical knowledge and experience of our highly qualified board and members.

Nowadays access to fast, affordable broadband is not a luxury it is the building block for our economic and social development. I’ve just returned from a United Nations sponsored conference of Internet leaders in Bangkok. A key theme was developing plans for a sustainable future through an inclusive Internet in Asia-Pacific, and it was notable that many of our concerns are shared across the region.

Providing people with the Internet has to be a top priority for all governments. It is a prerequisite to creating a better world based around equality of access to information and the provision of critical services such as health and education online. 2016 is, after all, the National Year of Digital Inclusion []

While nbn executives assure us they’re meeting their (self-determined) milestones these are, of course, predicated on deploying a technology mix that is increasingly being seen as inadequate – and not necessarily the preference of everyone at nbn.

In recent weeks it’s been revealed that only about a third of the premises where the FTTN (copper) network is available are actually connected. Could this be evidence of disaffection in the marketplace?

The Government recently announced it would review the NBN wholesale charging mechanism, which many of the RSP’s (retail resellers) have argued is unworkable. This is a good move that IA has applauded, but I’m not sure that it will be enough to significantly increase customer take-up on its own. It seems people are simply not convinced we are on the right technological track right now.

Hopefully the Essential poll results will help prompt a return to building a 21st Century broadband network. The first step needs to be abandoning copper wires in favour of a fibre rollout, except of course in the remote areas where fixed wireless or satellite is the only financially viable option.

LAURIE PATTON is CEO of Internet Australia. The views expressed in this article are his own (but clearly shared by many). 


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