Money and policy are the keys to elevate Australia into top broadband league

Nov 18, 2021
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(Image: Unsplash)

It seems Labor has bitten the bullet and decided that to have an overall better quality NBN, more money is needed to upgrade the fibre to the node to full fibre.

The Opposition envisages up to 8 million homes with full fibre internet. But even when that job is done, we won’t have seen the end of the NBN saga.

The government has indicated that the next stage of the NBN needs to be financed by the NBN company through private debt. Labor believes that this will be problematic for the company and is offering a more flexible approach. It will look at the possibility of government loans, free cash and other financial means to move another 1.5 million FttN homes to full fibre.

These are typically the areas with poor-quality service access. In the outer suburbs, 840,000 upgrades are planned and in the regional areas, the promise is for 660,000 upgrades. This will bring the total of full fibre connections in Australia to between 7.5 and 8 million.

It is too late to leave the NBN hanging where it sits now, with Australia ranking 59th on the global broadband quality ladder. Unfortunately, the NBN has been a political football for 15 years and the next government will have to get on with the job at hand.

At the end of this upgrade there will still be some 600,000 FttN connections. However not all FttN connections are bad, and the good ones are perfectly OK to be kept in place for a bit longer. By 2025, Labor is promising that 90 per cent of all NBN landlines will be able to get services at gigabit speeds.

A question I have been asking for many years is what the government’s plans are for the privatisation of the NBN. They have mentioned that this is their plan but they have never come up with a strategy or a time frame. This is frustrating for the industry, which wants certainty.

Here the Opposition has clearly indicated that for them this is an issue of public interest. The NBN is a national utility and the current pandemic is showing the importance of the digital economy and services such e-health and tele-education in our society.

Labor will keep the NBN in public hands for as long as it is in the public interest. If the time arrives that privatisation starts making sense, they could potentially keep part of the government’s overall investment of the NBN as a public investment for the common good.

Overall, the plan is basically a continuation of the muddling-on process we have seen over the past decade, neither revolutionary nor dramatically different from nor additional to what the government has done since it backflipped and started to upgrade FttN connection to full fibre. The $2.4 billion on the table for this is in line with the sort of ongoing extra investments the government had to make over the past decade — amounting to $28 billion — so the extra $2.4 billion is not outside the ordinary.

Overall, a can-do strategy that slowly but surely will elevate Australia to the league of countries with top quality broadband access. Not that this is the end of the NBN saga. We still must look at the relatively poor fixed-wireless NBN connections in regional Australia and the satellite issue will be an interesting one to follow as more and more of the Musk and Bezos low earth orbit (LEO) satellite systems come online.

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