SAM VARGHESE. Flashback: Only bipartisan NBN policy switch can save us

Last year former Internet Australia Executive Director Laurie Patton suggested the Government and the Opposition work together to find a solution to the serious problems afflicting the NBN. His arguments still stand.

Speaking on behalf of Internet Australia, Patton called for the government and Opposition to commit to using fibre-to-the-distribution-point for as much as possible of the remainder of the NBN rollout.

Patton said the non-profit believed that NBN Co, the company rolling out the broadband network, must abandon its “flawed policy” of using the copper-based fibre-to-the-node and move to fibre-to-the-distribution-point (FTTdp, or what NBN Co calls FTTC or fibre-to-the-curb). Patton said the move “is essential for Australia’s economic and social development”.

Patton has been a constant critic of the multi-technology mix option – which includes a small number of FttP connections, FTTN, FTTdp, HFC, wireless and satellite – adopted by the Coalition Government for the rollout, after it came to power in 2013. The Labor Party, which began the rollout in 2009, had a policy of fibre-to-the-premises for 93 percent of residences, with the remainder to be served by wireless and satellite.

“It’s a shame NBN Co won’t admit their use of aging copper (FTTN) is a mistake that will cost billions to replace,” Patton commented, “Meanwhile, Australians are suffering with inferior broadband, customer complaints are rising and the worst is yet to come”.

“The issues already plaguing the rollout will be exacerbated as they rush to complete the project. The sooner we abandon FTTN the better. So we call on the Government to switch to FTTdp immediately, in the national interest,” Patton said.

Internet Australia has called for a bipartisan policy rethink, with Patton pointing out that it had now become plain that many residents were reluctant to switch to the NBN even though their premises had been pronounced NBN-ready.

“Halfway through construction, less than 50 percent of premises passed by the NBN had actually been connected up. This is no coincidence. They keep hearing complaints about the difficulties getting connected and then people’s disappointment at the slow speeds being experienced,” Patton said.

He pointed out that when the project was completed in 2020, NBN Co would face the need to “upgrade” all premises which were connected through FTTN “as it becomes increasingly obvious customers are not being delivered what they want or need”.

“It’s not really an upgrade anyway because they’ll have to rip out all the copper wiring and the so-called ‘nodes’ will be redundant. Nobody knows exactly how much this will cost us all, but we’re talking billions of dollars”.

Patton said the same problem would be faced, no matter whether the Coalition or Labor was in power in 2020. “FTTdp wasn’t an option when Labor launched the NBN in 2009, nor when the Abbott Government rejigged the plan by introducing FTTN,” he said.

“So, it makes sense for both sides to put their guns away and jointly figure a way out of the current mess. Abandoning FTTN would be a good start.”

This article was originally published in ITWire on 24 July 2017. It is re-published with permission.

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