The NBN saga

As with the global financial crisis where a vast amount of uninformed comment was made by economists and journalists on a subject none of them really understood, are we seeing something similar with the national broadband network (NBN) proposal announced by the Government last week?

A brief history of telecommunications in Australia

Before getting into the NBN proposal, let’s look briefly at a little history.  There’s a wealth of historical information at a website Caslon Analytics from which it is hereby acknowledged that most of the following history is excerpted.  As this is a rather long piece, if you wish to skip the past history, scroll down to the heading: Recent events in telecommunications.  Or if you know all about the new NBN proposal and it’s just the pure politics you want, you may wish to start at: Now for the politics. [more]

Telecommunications in Australia began in 1854 with a telegraph line from Melbourne city to Williamstown, publicly funded but privately constructed. The telegraph gradually spread around the country and eventually by cable to Darwin, Singapore, the UK and New Zealand.  For the first fifty years most people in Australia experienced telecommunications through telegraphy; it was thus at second hand, rather than direct person-to-person telephony.  Australia's first telephone service (connecting the Melbourne and South Melbourne offices of Robinson Brothers) was launched in 1879, with the first telephone exchange opened in Melbourne in 1880.  The Australian networks were government assets operating under colonial legislation modelled on that of Britain. The colonial networks (staff, switches, wires, handsets, buildings etc) were transferred to the Commonwealth and became the responsibility of the first Postmaster-General (PMG), a federal Minister overseeing the Postmaster-General's Department that managed all domestic telephone, telegraph and postal services.

A public radio-telephone service between Australia and New Zealand commenced in 1930, and the following year that was linked to the UK-Australia radio-telephone service, which utilised beam wireless stations in Victoria that were opened in 1927 by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA).  In 1946 the federal government acquired AWA's shortwave broadcasting assets, which formed the basis of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC), a new statutory body with responsibility for the nation's international telecommunications services.  In 1975 telecommunication regulation and delivery was restructured, with PMG handling all postal services, OTC retaining responsibility for international telecommunications and the Australian Telecommunication Commission (trading as Telecom Australia) being established to provide public telecommunication services within Australia.

Faced with demands from domestic and commercial users for lower prices and better access to the network, the monopoly network operator in Australia adopted two strategies. One was to roll out basic infrastructure across the nation, minimising investment through technical compromises in the location of exchanges and use of twisted pair connections to households. Those compromises meant that much of the network in place at 2003 was unsuitable for ADSL. Upgrading to broadband was not possible without significant investment. A second strategy was to acknowledge that all customers were not equal and that commercial customers – in particular major organisations – both could and would pay a premium for a higher quality of service based on enhanced infrastructure. One example in the 1970s was the PMG's Common User Data Network (CUDN), a packet-switching scheme allowing simultaneous access by multiple users for the exchange of information between computers and featuring a primitive electronic mail system.

The 1982 Davidson Enquiry regarding private sector involvement in delivery of existing/proposed telecommunications services recommended ending Telecom Australia's monopoly. In the preceding year Aussat Pty Ltd, another government agency, had been established to operate domestic satellite telecommunication and broadcasting services.

OTC and Telecom were accordingly merged as Australian & Overseas Telecommunications Corporation Ltd (AOTC) in 1992, immediately following the decision that Optus Communications – a private sector entity owned by a consortium that included BellSouth – would be given Australia's second general carrier licence.

AOTC was rebadged as Telstra Corporation in 1993, trading internationally as Telstra from that year and domestically from 1995.  In July 1997 the Australian telecommunications sector was opened for full competition with removal of restrictions on the number of licensed operators and through anti-competition mechanisms under the oversight of the ACCC.  Telstra was partly privatised in November 1997 through sale by the Commonwealth of around 33.3% of its shareholding (T1). A further 16.6% was sold by the Commonwealth in September 1999 (T2); sale of the government's remaining 50.1% stake in late 2006 required enabling legislation (T3). 

The history of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Internet Content Hosts (ICHs) in Australia followed the same trajectory as in North America and much of Europe.  Wireless networking in Australia – like that in Europe and North America – took off in the closing stages of the 1990s dot-com boom.  ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) which uses copper subscriber telephone lines, was developed in the late nineties in the US and spread steadily.  For more historical details, click here  

Recent events in telecommunications

For years Telstra has had a troubled relationship with the federal Government, especially since the arrival of Sol Trujillo as CEO along with his amigos.  They have led a push against what they saw as restrictive regulation of the industry which they insisted affected Telstra’s competitive edge and its bottom line.  They didn’t get far with the Howard Government in having the regulatory framework eased in Telstra’s favour. 

In September 2007, the Howard Government approved a funding agreement for a new national wireless and wired broadband network with OPEL Networks, a joint venture between Optus and Elders.  OPEL Networks was to build a national broadband network using a combination of WiMAX and ADSL technologies across some 638,000 square kilometres and costing $1.9 billion.  However the Rudd Government, which during the 2007 election campaign had proposed its own $4.7 billion National Broadband Network scheme, involving a partnership with the private sector to deliver 12 megabits per second broadband to 98 percent of Australians within five years, terminated the funding for the OPEL Networks in April 2008.  The Minister for Broadband, Stephen Conroy, said OPEL had failed to meet the terms of the contract.

On April 11 2008.the Rudd Government released a request for proposal (RFP) for its $4.7 billion national broadband network (NBN) using fibre to-the-node technology, which required the final connection from the fibre optic node (which might be at the end of the street) to premises by the existing copper wire network, owned by Telstra.

Telstra put in a submission of just a few pages and was dropped from the bidding process last December after the Government rejected its proposal on the grounds that it did not meet the proposal’s specifications.  This left several bidders including the Acacia consortium, Optus and Axia vying for the contract.  An independent Panel of Experts was created to review the bids.  Because the panel judged that none of the submitted bids offered value for money to the taxpayer, and raised the question whether any of them could deliver, the Government terminated the fibre-to-the-node broadband tender process

On 7 April 2009 the Government  announced an alternative proposal – the establishment of a new company to build and operate a new super fast National Broadband Network in partnership with the private sector.  Its object would be to connect 90 percent of all Australian homes, schools and workplaces with broadband services with speeds up to 100 megabits per second, a 100 times faster than those currently used by many households and businesses, and connect all other premises in Australia with next generation wireless and satellite technologies that would deliver broadband speeds of 12 megabits per second, so that every house, school and business in Australia would get access to affordable fast broadband with fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) technology (also known as fibre-to-the-home FTTH).  The details and specifications are here.  

In announcing the plan, the PM said the Government would hold a majority share in the new company, which would be part-owned by the private sector to a cap of 49%.  There would be a joint $43 billion investment into the project over eight years.  $4.7 billion already set aside by the Government under its Building Australia fund would go straight into the project and the Government would also seek to raise money through ‘Aussie Infrastructure Bonds’. It would then gradually sell its share of the company five years after the project was completed.  He said the company, which would operate separately from the retail telecommunications sector, would inject a 'new competitive force' into the telecommunications market.  He also said that it would create up to 25,000 local jobs every year, on average, over the 8 year life of the project.

The Government's NBN proposal was based on expert advice from the Panel of Experts and others, which encouraged the Government to invest in optical fibre technology, supplemented by next-generation wireless and satellite technologies. The ACCC also endorsed the use of FTTP as a superior technology to fibre-to-the-node.

Legislative changes that would govern the national broadband network company and facilitate the rollout of fibre networks would be necessary.

 An implementation study will now begin to determine the operating arrangements, detailed network design, and ways to attract private sector investment, for roll-out early 2010, and ways to provide procurement opportunities for local businesses.  The Panel of Experts recommended that negotiations with the Tasmanian Government be fast-tracked so that a rollout of a FTTP network and next generation wireless services could begin in Tasmania by July 2009. 

Measures are also planned to address 'black spots' through the timely rollout of fibre optic transmission links connecting cities, major regional centres and rural towns – so as to deliver improvements to telecommunication services in the short term.

A consultative process on necessary changes to the existing telecommunications regulatory regime will now be commenced, guided by a Government discussion paper on the subject.

Now for the politics

So far this piece has been mainly about verifiable facts.  Let’s look now at the politics.

Nick Minchin, Opposition Communications spokesman was fast out of the blocks with unqualified condemnation – no black and white, just black.  Speaking on ABC radio’s The World Today immediately after the announcement, he said “...the Government had wasted 18 months and $20 million dollars on a process that has ended in complete and utter failure and had to be abandoned.”  But was it the process that failed?  The failure to find a suitable company or consortium resulted from Telstra, the one most likely to be capable, dealing itself out of contention, and the remaining players, who were always going to struggle, especially in the current financial crisis, unable to convince the Panel of Experts that their proposals were value for taxpayers’ money.  Minchin went on to use phrases such as “a complete and utter fiasco”, calling the new plan “a highway to nowhere”, “pie in the sky”, “so grandiose as to be undeliverable” and predicted it would be “the all time great white elephant if it was ever built, which I doubt”.  To leave no uncertainty in listener’s minds, and by way of explanation, he added “it’s ludicrous to invest in a technology associated with considerable risk to taxpayers and investors.”   You can play it in all its negativity from the side panel of Rudd redraws broadband landscape 

Malcolm Turnbull too was quick to condemn the new plan.  Quoting his experience in establishing the email server Ozemail, he confidently declared that it would not be viable. That he used his experience in establishing an email server as sufficient to can a plan for a super fast NBN although the technology is vastly different, suggests he’s out of touch with contemporary IT.  “It won’t happen”, he insisted, adding that investors will not be interested and the Government will have to pick up most of the tab.  He hinted that to protect taxpayers from the huge Government outlays required, the Coalition would oppose legislation to establish the scheme. 

But it wasn’t long before Barnaby Joyce was making supportive noises, indicating that this was the Nationals’ plan anyway.  Then along came Liberal Opposition Leader in Tasmania Will Hodgman indicating his support for the plan, as did Troy Buswell, WA Liberal Treasurer.  Then Barnaby predicted that the legislation would pass the Senate as the Greens would quibble around the edges but would eventually come round, as would the Independents.  Maybe this was wishful thinking as it would be a substantial embarrassment if the Coalition obstructed the legislation and was held responsible for its defeat.  Turnbull has some careful strategic thinking ahead of him. 

This morning Turnbull takes a different tack in The Australian in an article Ruddnet is too good to be true He says: “The truth is that a new broadband network of this kind could only operate with a massive government subsidy, probably most of the full $43 billion.”  He then goes on to demand that Rudd “...tell us, not later than the budget, what advice he has on the economics of this network...”   So Turnbull seems already to be moving the Coalition from appearing simply to oppose the NBN to asking for justification of the business case.

Those who oppose the NBN plan seem to be arguing against it on two grounds, financial and technical.  Financially they doubt whether it is commercially viable and therefore doubt whether private investors will be interested, particularly in the present economic climate.  They argue that if they were not prepared to invest in the initial more modest scheme, why would they invest in the larger one?  But several firms were prepared to invest in the modest scheme; it was the Expert Panel that rejected their offers.  A much larger scheme that promises so much more might be more attractive.  Optus and TransACT have indicated interest; Optus believes it will be attractive to investors.  Even Telstra, whose board members must be asking how they got themselves into this situation, are making conciliatory noises.  The choice of being left out, or coming on board the wholesale arrangement that applies and facing the possibility of splitting Telstra’s wholesale and retail arms, is likely creating much gnashing of teeth and strategic thinking.  Just this morning Telstra has announced a committee, headed by chairman Donald McGauchie but sans Sol Trujillo, to focus on how best to respond to the Government's NBN plan and its review of telecommunications regulations.

The Coalition insists on labelling the scheme a $43 billion waste of taxpayers’ money, but the Government proposes to put up only a half of that, say $22 billion, has already allocated $4.7 from the previous scheme, and is planning to spread this over eight years.  Even if it has to cough up more than $22 billion, why would that be unmanageable over eight years?  Turnbull says there is no ‘business case’; the AFR editorial says there is ‘no detailed cost-benefit analysis’.  Isn’t preparing that the task of the implementation study announced with the NBN plan?  Or have I missed something here?

On the technical side, although some opponents insist there is ‘overwhelming’ opposition, it’s hard to find.  As was the case with the GFC, there has been the usual uninformed journalistic comment.  They call the NBN a ‘gamble’, but when their tortuous discourse is unravelled it seems as if the gamble is more financial than technical. 

Contrary to claims of opposition to the technology, impressive expert support for it is easy to find.   Ziggy Switkowski, former chief executive of Telstra, and a fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering is one.  Read what he says in an article in The Australian, Trust the power of technology.

Here's a sample of other experts: Michael Malone, managing director of ISP iiNet, has said that the announcement is ‘fantastic news’.  "No one expected this. A fully open access network, I can't see any downsides to this. Very high speed access, fully transparent access, separation from wholesale and retail operations...it's like a Christmas list," he says.  Malone also says that the Government has ensured the technology used will remain viable even after the network is fully completed after eight years.  "I'm quite stunned; but it's a marvellous announcement and Rudd describes it as visionary and nation-building - and he's 100% right."  Ovum research director David Kennedy says the network announcement is a definite change in policy, but is ‘a good one’.  "The network they're now proposing is a much better technology solution in the long run, and it'll be the backbone of infrastructure for decades to come," he says.  He also claims that the Government was right not to invest in wireless technology, as the telecommunications market is driving that industry on its own.  Andy Fung, chief executive of VoIP provider MyNetFone says that the announcement is ‘unbelievable’.  But Fung says that while the network decision is necessary to upgrade the country's broadband infrastructure, the cost of the network is a concern.  Despite his concerns, Fung says that the network will provide ample opportunities for businesses in both creating the infrastructure and its long-term benefits.  David Markus, Combo managing director and SmartCompany blogger, says that while fibre-to-the-home connections are welcome, businesses should be connected as well.  "Fibre-to-the-home is fantastic, but what are they going to do for business? All the newest technology for business is now in the cloud, and the thing that's holding back Aussie business is lack of access to cloud computing," he says.  Markus also says that the Government has ensured the broadband network is a revenue-raiser that will come in handy when the economy recovers.  “Once it's in and working, it'll be worth an absolute fortune because it will control the communications of Australia."  You can read more in an piece titled Experts say Government has got broadband network technology right

Highly respected industry analyst and consultant Paul Budde, who has criticized Australian political leaders for allowing Australia to fall so far behind, welcomed the new NBN initiative.  He believes that fast broadband is the future.

The problem with some commentators is that they are stuck in the past.  As described by communications guru Marshall McLuhan, they are driving by looking in the rear view mirror – looking to the past to understand the future.  Super fast broadband of 100 megabits a second opens up possibilities not previously envisaged. 

Take education.  The proposed NBN will enable virtual classrooms where learners can hear and interact with world experts in any subject, no matter how remote.  It will not be just listening to an expert talking with the full range of audiovisual aids, it will be the instantaneous interactivity that will make the difference.  The brightest and best teachers will not be confined to their own locale, they will be universally available.

Take medicine.  Imagine a family doctor puzzling over an obscure dermatological condition.  He can now have a virtual consultation with a remote dermatologist in his own consulting room.  The dermatologist can see the skin condition instantly in high definition, talk with the patient, and consult with the family doctor.  Any relevant radiological images can be transmitted rapidly with great clarity.  In a way this would be a return to the time-honoured process of the specialist and family doctor consulting together in the presence of the patient, a process now almost extinct because of time and traffic constraints.

What about online telephony, so-called VoIP, and online videoconferencing?  What enormous advances will NBN provide to business?  It will enable much travel to be eliminated as videoconferencing replaces many personal meetings.  How much greenhouse reduction will result?  What about downloading entertainment in minutes rather than hours?  Most of the needed technology is in place; it is fast broadband that will make it work brilliantly.

And what’s more, experts insist that the proposed NBN will be readily upgradable to faster speeds as they become available.  So it is not facing obsolescence as time goes by.

Yet the sceptics ask whether the public will be interested and willing to pay, whether business will take it up?  Why is there any doubt?  When I was a kid I built a wireless crystal set with pocket money.  Would I still prefer that to the brilliant plasma screen that gives lifelike images in my living room because the plasma screen costs so much more?

Others oppose NBN on the grounds that as only 30% of the fibre-optic cable will be buried, the rest will have to be suspended from existing poles alongside TV cables.  They paint an ugly picture of confetti festooning our telephone poles.  Yet how much visual disfigurement of our environment has resulted from cable TV?  Has anyone noticed?  While underground cabling is preferable for both communications and electricity cables, it’s not fully feasible.  We simply can’t have all the technical amenities we demand without some of the drawbacks.

What will the Opposition do?

It’s tragic that the opportunities the NBN offer are so obscured by the sheer bloody-minded politics of opposition.  I would have thought that the conservative side of politics, that so values entrepreneurship and innovation, would have been anxious to grasp the new technology that has so much to offer, and to work out how it can be afforded, and just as importantly, if we can afford to pass it up.  Even the Australian Financial Review, the businessman’s paper, editorializes against the financial aspects of the NBN plan.  Of course fiscal prudence is necessary, but fiscal issues should not be used to put the brakes on progress, rather to lubricate it; what’s needed is oil, not friction.  We should echo Barak Obama – Yes we can.

When the aeroplane was first invented an US army general said he could not see any military use for such a thing.  Let’s not say the same about the new NBN, or that we can’t afford it.

So what will the Opposition do?  What do you think?

 

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Just Me

14/04/2009Good piece, AA. FTTH is the only realistic long term option for Australia. It is not a debate about if we can afford to do it, but a bald fact that we can't afford not to. Even at 43 billion the cost of the network is relatively trivial compared to its (diverse) long term benefits. This is legitimate nation building and future proofing infrastructure at its finest, and I have no doubt that in the long term it will be seen as one of the best decisions of any Oz government. The idiotic rhetoric from Minchin and Turnbull is so over the top and hysterical it is difficult to believe. The coalition are on a hiding to nothing with the tack they are currently taking on this issue.

Ad astra reply

14/04/2009You’re right Just Me. What continues to amaze me is that the Coalition continually harps on the costs but scarcely ever mentions the benefits. In the case of the GFC we heard [i]ad nauseam[/i] of the cost of the stimulus packages and how our children and grandchildren would be burdened with overwhelming debt, but almost nothing about the financial crisis itself and the urgent need to do something positive to counter its effect on the nation. What the Coalition preferred was to spend much less; it was almost as if they viewed the GFC as a nebulous apparition out there, a vague problem that would somehow fix itself, certainly not something on which we should expend much taxpayers’ money. How many times did we hear Turnbull addressing the crisis itself? But we heard plenty about the Government’s ‘cash splash’ and its 'economic mismanagement' in trying to counter it. In the case of the NBN the Coalition emphasis is again on the costs. Turnbull mentions the benefits of super fast broadband only in passing: [quote]“Everybody is in favour of widely available and affordable broadband internet access. And nobody more than me”.[/quote] The Coalition does not seem to consider NBN to be an imperative, a piece of infrastructure that Australia cannot afford to be without. Rather than playing the ‘we can’t afford it’ tune, it should be making innovative suggestions about how it might be funded. Instead of demanding the Government reveal its business plan at budget time, what a coup Turnbull would pull off if he came up with a plan himself to fund the NBN, drawing on his vast experience in business and in telecommunications. But that’s probably asking too much. In his piece in today's [i]Australian, Ruddnet too good to be true[/i], he argues it simply can’t be done. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25329883-5015664,00.html

Ad astra reply

14/04/2009Videoconferencing is one thing that would be facilitated by the NBN, but take a look at this demonstration of Immersive Workspaces. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DljqD-I1nHs&source=cmailer

Ad astra reply

14/04/2009You may be interested in a definitive article on the NBN in the 13 April issue of [i]The Australian[/i] by Ziggy Switkowski titled [i]Opportunity rides the super-highway[/i]. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25325554-7583,00.html Also you might care to glimpse at Matthew Clayfield's piece [i]Ziggy backs Canberra's $43bn broadband vision[/i] in [i]The Australian[/i] on 13 April. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,25324787-2702,00.html

Just Me

14/04/2009[i]Rather than playing the ‘we can’t afford it’ tune, [the opposition] should be making innovative suggestions about how it might be funded.[/i] Exactly. Where is that superior economic wisdom of theirs? Did they ever really have it? Australia simply has to do this, it is not an optional extra for the 21st century. It is fundamental core physical infrastructure. It has to be done right, technically speaking, and it has to be done soon. The previous government and their economic model failed to get it done (or even truly appreciate it's importance). There are no realistic alternative technologies. Wireless can never compete with direct fibre optic for sheer physical capacity and speed, not even close, and it probably cannot compete on cost in the long term either. (Though wireless will always be an important supplementary component in any telcom network, particularly in Oz.) While 43 billion is a lot, and we must make sure that the money is spent wisely, it is a solid gold national investment, second to none. Be interesting to see what the next round of polls says. Don't think it will contain much good news for the coalition. Hope there are some specific and pointed poll questions about the NBN plan. I predict overwhelming support for it.

Ad astra reply

14/04/2009Just Me, on [i]The Poll Bludger[/i] thread today a blogger reports [quote]"Essential Research’s weekly survey found 54 per cent of Australians approve of the public-private partnership to build a national broadband network, with 16 per cent of those strongly approving. The online survey found 24 per cent disapproved of the project, of which 10 per cent strongly disapproved."[/quote] Haven't seen the poll myself, so it needs verification. Also another blogger is reporting a survey on [i]Sky News[/i] giving similar figures [quote]"54% in favour, 21% against and 21% maybe"[/quote]. Again I can't find the original poll. If these polls do reflect public opinion, that's a good start for the NBN. There's also an interesting piece today in the [i]Herald Sun[/i] by Steve Lewis [i]Labor Party is preparing for Peter Costello as Liberal leader[/i] http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,25330462-661,00.html?source=cmailer

Ad astra reply

14/04/2009There’s now confirmation of the [i]Essential Research Report[/i] for 14 April http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollytics/files/2008/11/35-essential-report_140409.pdf The item relevant to the NBN shows that in answer to the question: [quote]“Kevin Rudd has rejected all tenders for the proposed national super-fast broadband project, saying they did not meet the standards required for the job. The Government will now be the major shareholder itself in partnering with the private sector to build what the Prime Minister describes as the largest ever nation building project in Australia’s history (reportedly costing $43 billion over 8 years). Do you approve or disapprove of this decision?"[/quote] 54% approved, 16% strongly; 24% disapproved, 10% strongly. 21% had no opinion. The 2PP was 61/39. There are some other interesting data in this poll.

Rx

14/04/2009What's that old saying again? Oh, that's right ... They know the price of everything but the value of nothing. That seems to sum of the Ludditerals when it comes to NBN.

janice

15/04/2009Truffles and his muddled-headed-team of wombats will wallow in their negativity for a long time in opposition. Rx is right when he quotes the old saying 'they know the price of everything but the value of nothing'. The response of Minchin and Truffles to Rudd's announcement was no surprise and that is the very reason why the voting public can't be bothered listening to their constant carping that the Rudd Government can't do anything right. Besides, voters are more than aware that the privatisation of Telstra was a Coalition Government total balls-up because they were stupid enough not to separate the infrastructure from the wholesale operation, and then tried unsuccessfully to force the newly privatised company to share it's bounty with competitors.

Ad astra reply

15/04/2009Rx, the only thing the Libs seem to value is money, money in the bank. They eschew debt. They seem not to value taking action against the GFC if that means spending money. They seem not to sense the value of the new NBN, and fume against spending money on it. Like Scrooge, money seems the object, rather than what good one might do with it. The negativity contimues unabated janice. If you want to see it at work every day, take a look at Opposition Watch on this website. The latest is the April list derived from the Liberal Party website. It's at http://www.thepoliticalsword.com/page/Opposition-Watch-APR.aspx Don't spend too long there; it's pretty depressing reading. As long as this negativity continues the people will remain unimpressed and the polls will be bad.

Rx

15/04/2009Ad Astra, They're so out of touch it's not funny. Not funny ha-ha, but gee it's satisfying watching them tear each other's entrails out. For too long they prospered from attacking the weak, the vulnerable, the marginalised. The dog-whistling, the nasty politics of divide-and-devour: It typifies they way they 'do' politics. Now it's they who are divided and marginalised, true to form, they are now attacking each other.

Sir Ian Crisp

15/04/2009Paul Kerin in his article in today’s Australian pointed out the canting of Mr Rude. Paul Broad has also identified the same canting coming from Mr Rude. Mr Broad seems to have assessed the mood of the vox populi. He said not many people want to pay more for their internet connection. The punters backed up his sentiments by responding to a 2008 Whirlpool survey. The punters were asked: “What would entice you to change ISP?” Responding to the that question 72.3% said ‘lower prices’. The next question: “Why did you leave your previous ISP?” Of the responses to that question, 44.9% simply said ‘prices were too high.’ I think that sums it up.

Ad astra reply

15/04/2009Sir Ian, I read Paul Kerin's piece and responded to it this way: [quote]"Paul, if you want your comments to be taken seriously, don’t display your bias with the words you use. When you use 'raved' in your third paragraph, then later 'grand rhetorical flourish', then 'Rudd's pouts outdid Kylie Minogue's, you turn off people looking for a well-reasoned case. You say "Rudd says an implementation study will produce a business case by year's end. That defies both logic and his own guidelines, which require that the business case precede the approval decision." It might defy your idea of logic, but please explain to us how a detailed CBA could have been developed before the announcement when one of the main players - Telstra - had no idea of what was coming, nor could they have. Systems theory tells us that if all the relevant variables are not taken into account, the conclusions are likely to be faulty. The implementation study will do just that as it gathers all the facts and analyses all the variables. Although you insist on a CBA before reaching a conclusion, its absence seems to have not stopped you from making a judgement about the viability of the NBN project. Amid the many well-known knockers on this blog, it's refreshing to read the sensible comments written by Balanced of Killara."[/quote]

Ad astra reply

15/04/2009Sir Ian, punters will always take the cheaper option until they see how much more the dearer option offers. How many are still using black and white TV? How many are still satisfied with dial-up internet? How many are still avoiding mobile phones because of their expense? By the time super fast NBN comes people will pay whatever it takes to get the speed that makes all the difference. Society does advance, and pretty fast at that. Where's the sense of adventure and excitement that brilliant new technology offers? Why are there still so many knockers?

Grog

15/04/2009[So what will the Opposition do? What do you think? ] The Opposition could have played this smart; kept quiet and then pounced during the Senate Review (of which there obviously will be) by finding some faults, and making it seem like they were improving the plan - their aim should have been at the end to come out looking like co-authors. Instead, Turnbull's inherent desire to always be the smartest person in the world on every single subject caused him to lock the Libs into the anti position. Whatever they say from here on, it doesn't matter; voters will only remember they slammed the plan. Dumb politics. But to be honest, just par for the course since about October last year. Has there ever been a party leader so lacking in political nouse? Doc Evatt perhaps?

Gary

16/04/2009I fully agree that a fibre backbone is essential for Australia. I do not agree with the proposal to have fibre to virtually every home in Australia. Fixed line to the home does serve it's purpose (e.g. streaming video)however people are using mobile devices to connect to the Internet. Should Asutralia not be investing in a fibre backbone and then high speed wireless to reach mobile devices? Even MacDonalds 'restaurants' offer wireless (OK a bit slow) but we are spending a fortune on fixed line!

Sir Ian Crisp

16/04/2009 Ad Astra, no one will deny that we need high speed broadband but let’s not earn the reputation of being Canutes. The future in high speed broadband seems to be wireless. Ad Astra, I noted your response to Paul Kerin’s piece and my gentle face soon enough was a rictus of wild amusement. You said: “ Paul, if you want your comments to be taken seriously, don’t display your bias with the words you use. When you use 'raved' in your third paragraph, then later 'grand rhetorical flourish', then 'Rudd's pouts outdid Kylie Minogue's, you turn off people looking for a well-reasoned case.” Do I need to go fishing in some of your old pieces here at TPS or can I trust you to admit that you infuse bias into your comments, especially those devoted to your brother, Kevin? It wasn’t that long ago that you pledged to uphold Mark Bahnisch’s “Benchmarks of Blogging”. Let’s hop in the time machine and travel back in time. Here are just a few of the benchmarks you swore to uphold: Good online journalism should: Be prepared to challenge ‘sacred cows’ Be prepared to confront and disassemble dishonest, disingenuous, biased speech or writing Clearly separate opinion from facts Ad Astra, there are more. Remember, the world is watching you and with Mr Rude’s high speed broadband your comments will be broadcast far and wide at blindingly ridiculous speeds so all care should be taken by you. If you say the wrong thing, forget something, omit something, or, say something which you know to be manifestly untrue you will have no choice but to become a politician.

Deb

16/04/2009I'd have to disagree with the notion that the future of high speed broadband is wireless. Its a little short-sighted to commit to one or the other. Wired is almost always going to provide a superior service (see http://www.isa.org/InTechTemplate.cfm?Section=article_index1&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=36558 for some info on problems with wireless that we still can't get around, the article is dated 2004 but the info is still relevant today not much has changed in terms of the problems with wireless) to fixed locations such as homes and businesses. Cable distance is a bit of an issue with wired, which is why the Govt. is proprosing a combination approach for regional locations (I would guess that's also why the speed to remote locations is suggested its going to be around 12mbs vs the up to 100mbs in higher population areas).

Ad astra reply

16/04/2009Gary, I don’t know enough to comment on the merit of fibre backbone and then high speed wireless to reach mobile devices. I suppose that option will be in the mix when the NBN implementation group meets. We’ll all know more in nine months time when the group reports. Sir Ian, if wireless is in your view the answer rather than fibre, why is FTTP broadband being proposed as Australia’s solution, at least for 98% of the population. The latter has already garnered a lot of support from industry players. Deb disagrees with you and gives a link to support her argument. There seems to be a vigorous debate about the relative advantages and disadvantages of fibre and wireless, with most seemingly favouring FTTP. Presumably the experts who are not pushing one or the other for other than scientific reasons will sort that out for us.

Just Me

16/04/2009[i]The future in high speed broadband seems to be wireless.[/i] No it ain't. Wireless can never match fibre optic for sheer physical speed and capacity. Not even close. The maximum capacity of a fibre optic cable is orders of magnitude greater than wireless (and copper cables). That is a basic engineering fact that is not even up for debate. The only advantage of wireless is where there is no readily available wired connection, or the user is not in a fixed location. Not to mention that fibre optic cables are immune to electromagnetic interference, a not insignificant advantage; they require far less maintenance; and over the long term the cost of fibre optics is falling, while for copper systems it is rising (not just due to copper prices either, the electronics required for copper cables gets more complicated and expensive as you try to cram more data down the cable). Furthermore, the available radio spectrum for wireless is absolutely limited, so the more people use wireless, the more crowded and rationed (and hence more expensive) it becomes. The opposite is true for fibre optic, its capacity for modular expansion is practically infinite by comparison. Wireless can NEVER compete with fibre optic for the vast bulk of fixed location users.

Ad astra reply

16/04/2009At least Sir Ian my post about the Kerin piece gave you some amusement. It would not take a Rhodes scholar to ascertain from my writings what my political leanings might be. And any leaning carries with it the risk of bias, which my dictionary defines as ‘an inclination or prejudice in favour of a particular person, thing, or viewpoint’. Bias manifests itself in many ways: the way facts are put, the facts used as against those omitted, the intertwining of opinion with fact that makes it hard to determine which is which, and the way conclusions are drawn. But there is another perhaps more powerful and more obvious signal of bias, and that is the words used to describe ideas or people. This is what I objected to in Paul Kerin’s article. Words like 'raved', 'grand rhetorical flourish', and 'Rudd's pouts outdid Kylie Minogue's’ conveyed bias against Kevin Rudd himself quite distinct from the arguments Kerin was making about Rudd’s NBN, and lead me to expect a conclusion antipathetic to the NBN, even before I’d read and digested his arguments. Instead of drawing me in with moderate language he repelled. I expect that would not be his object; I imagine he would have hoped to convince his readers with compelling facts and reasoning. Many bloggers too render their contributions unworthy of attention by injecting crude language directed at people rather than using the power of their arguments. Use of terms such as ‘Krudd’, ‘Dud’, or even ‘Mr Rude’ to refer to the PM speak more loudly than well-reasoned arguments, not because the former is more worthy, but because it attracts more attention. Having written [i]What makes good online journalism?[/i] a few weeks ago, you would imagine that I am aware of the danger of bias creeping into anything I write, and consciously avoid words that might portray bias. I have often chosen words alternative to the original to do so. I’m sure you would think that I have not always been successful. There is a vast difference though between derogatory personal comments that portray bias and adverse comments about ideas, actions or behaviour. If criticizing in the latter way is bias, I guess all adverse political comment is biased. To avoid criticism or critical comment would render much political discourse impotent. I’ll try even harder to avoid the flaws about which I criticize others. I’m sure you’ll let me know when I falter. Regarding who is looking, we’re all in the same boat. What we write is visible to all, whether via Kevin’s super fast NBN, or your fast wireless, or even crawling down a dial-up connection. So we all need to be accountable. By the way, I’d be happy to have Kevin as my brother.

Ad astra reply

16/04/2009Thank you Just Me for your helpful and well-informed comments, and for the link to the piece on LP, which makes informative reading for anyone interested in this subject. http://larvatusprodeo.net/2009/04/15/is-the-existing-copper-network-at-its-speed-limit/#comment-693059
How many oranges do I have if I have 3 oranges and take ONE away?