In my mind there’s never been any doubt that the MTM NBN has been anything more than a complete debacle. At a technological level it is an inferior idea, one that fails to provide the base infrastructure needed to support Australia’s future requirements. As time went by the claims of “Fast, Affordable, Sooner” fell one by one, leaving us with a tangled mess that in all likelihood was going to cost us just as much as the FTTP solution would. Now there’s some hard evidence, taken directly from nbn’s own reports and other authoritative sources, which confirms this is the case and it’s caused quite a stir from the current communications minister.
The evidence, released by the Labor party last week in a report to the media, includes the following table and points to numerous sources for their data:
The numbers are essentially a summary of much of the information that has already been reported on previously however it’s pertinent to see it all collated together in a single table. The first row showing that the initial cost estimates were far out of line with reality has been reported on extensively, even before the solution was fully costed out in the atrocious CBA. There was no way that the initial claims of the FTTN install costs would hold, especially with the amount of cabinets required to ensure that the speeds met their required minimums. Similarly assuming that Telstra’s copper network was only in need of partial remediation was pure fantasy as the aging network has been in sore need of an overhaul for decades. The rest of the figures simply boil down to the absolutely bullshit forecasting that the Liberal’s did in order to make their plan look better on paper.
This release has prompted a rather heated response from the current communications minister Mitch Fifield, one which strangely ignores all the points that the Labor release raised. Since the figures have been mostly taken directly from nbn’s reports it would be hard for him to refute them however he made no attempt to reframe the conversation to other more flattering metrics. Instead it focuses on a whole slew of other incidents surrounding the NBN, none of which are relevant to the above facts. With that in mind you can only conclude that he knows those facts are true and there’s no point in fighting them.
It’s completely clear that the Liberal’s have failed on their promises with the NBN and this song and dance they continually engage in to make it seem otherwise simply doesn’t work. The current state of the NBN is entirely on their hands now and any attempt to blame the previous government is a farce, carefully crafted to distract us away from the real issues at hand here. They could have simply replaced the nbn’s board and continued on as normal, claiming all the credit for the project. Instead they tried to make it their own and failed, dooming Australia to be an Internet backwater for decades to come.
Take your licks Fifield and admit that your government fucked up. Then I’ll grant you some leniency.
The current MTM NBN is by all accounts a total mess. Every single promise that the Liberal party has made with respect to it has been broken. First the guaranteed speed being delivered to the majority of Australians was scrapped. Then the timeline blew out as the FTTN trials took far longer to accomplish than they stated they would. Finally the cost of the network, widely described as being a third of the FTTP solution, has since ballooned to well above any cost estimate that preceded it. The slim sliver of hope that all us technologically inclined Australians hang on to is that this current government goes single term and that Labor would reintroduce the FTTP NBN in all its glory. Whilst it seems that Labor is committed to their original idea the future of Australia’s Internet will bear the scars of the Liberals term in office.
Jason Clare, who’s picked up the Shadow Communications Minister position in the last Labor cabinet reshuffle before the next election, has stated that they’d ramp up the number of homes connected to fiber if they were successful at the next election. Whilst there’s no solid policy documents available yet to determine what that means Clare has clearly signalled that FTTN rollouts are on the way out. This is good news however it does mean that Australia’s Internet infrastructure won’t be the fiber heaven that it was once envisioned to be. Instead we will be left with a network that’s mostly fiber with pockets of Internet backwaters with little hope of change in the near future.
Essentially it would seem that Labor would keep current contract commitments which would mean a handful of FTTN sites would still be deployed and anyone on a HFC network would remain on them for the foreseeable future. Whilst these are currently serviceable their upgrade paths are far less clear than their fully fiber based brethren. This means that the money spent on upgrading the HFC networks, as well as any money spent on remediating copper to make FTTN work, is wasted capital that could have been invested in the superior fiber only solution. Labor isn’t to blame for this, I understand that breaking contractual commitments is something they’d like to avoid, but it shows just how much damage the Liberals MTM NBN plan has done to Australia’s technological future.
Unfortunately there’s really no fix for this, especially if you want something politically palatable.
If we’re serious about transitioning Australia away from the resources backed economy that’s powered us over the last decade investments like the FTTP NBN are what we are going to need. There’s clear relationships between Internet speeds and economic growth something which would quickly make the asking price look extremely reasonable. Doing it half-arsed with a cobbled together mix of technologies will only result in a poor experience, dampening any benefits that such a network could provide. The real solution, the one that will last us as long as our current copper network has, is to make it all fiber. Only then will we be able to accelerate our growth at the same rapid pace as the rest of the world is and only then will we see the full benefits of what a FTTP NBN can provide.
It’s no secret that I’m loudly, violently opposed to the Liberal’s Multi-Technology Mix NBN solution and I’ve made it my business to ensure that the wider Australian public is aware of frightfully bad it will be. The reasons as to why the Liberal’s solution is so bad are many however they can almost all be traced back to them wanting to cast anything that Labor created in a poor light and that their ideas are far better. Those of us in the know have remained unconvinced however, tearing into every talking point and line of rhetoric to expose the Liberal’s NBN for the farce it is. Now, as the Liberals attempt to rollout their inferior solution, they are no longer able to hide behind bullshit reports as the real world numbers paint an awfully bad picture for their supposedly better NBN.
The slogan of the MTM NBN being “Fast Affordable. Sooner.” has become an easy target as the months have rolled on since the Liberal Party announced their strategy. Whilst the first point can always be debated (since 25Mbps should be “more than enough” according to Abbott) the second two can be directly tied to real world metrics that we’re now privy to. You see with the release of the MTM NBN strategy all works that were planned, but not yet executed, were put on hold whilst a couple FTTN trial sites were scheduled to be established. The thinking was that FTTN could be deployed much faster than a FTTP solution and, so the slogan went, much cheaper too. Well here we are a year and a half later and it’s not looking good for the Liberals and unfortunately, by extension, us Australians.
It hasn’t been much of secret that the FTTN trials that NBNCo have been conducting haven’t exactly been stellar with them experiencing significant delays in getting them set up. Considering that the Liberals gave themselves a 2016 deadline for giving everyone 25Mbps+ speeds these delays didn’t bode well for getting the solution out before the deadline. Those delays appear to have continued with the trial now having just 53 customers connected to the original Umima trial and not a single one connected to the Epping trial. This is after they gave a timeline of “within a month” in October last year. Suffice to say the idea that FTTN could be made available to the wide public by the end of 2016 is starting to look really shakey and so is the 2019 timeframe for their completion of the NBN.
Worst still the idea that the MTM NBN would be significantly cheaper than the full FTTP NBN is yet again failing to stand up to scrutiny. Additional cost analysis conducted by NBNCo, which includes opex costs that were previously excluded under previous costing models, has seen the cost per premises estimate for brownfields (deployed to existing houses) rise to $4316. That’s a substantial increase however it’s a more accurate representation of how much it actually costs to get a single house deployed. Taking that into account the total cost for deploying the FTTP NBN comes out to about $47 billion, very close to the original budget that Labor had allocated for it. Whilst it was obvious that the Liberal’s cost-benefit analysis was a crock of shit from the beginning this just adds further proves the point and casts more doubt over the MTM NBN being significantly cheaper.
I’m honestly not surprised by this anymore as its clear that the Liberals really had no intent of adhering to their rhetoric and were simply trashing the FTTP NBN because it was Labor’s idea. It’s an incredibly short sighted way of looking at it, honestly, as they would have won far more favour with a lot of people if they had just continued with the FTTP NBN as it was. Instead they’re going to waste years and multiple billions of dollars on a system that won’t deliver on its promises and we’ll be left to deal with the mess. All we can really hope for at this point is that we make political history and cement the Liberal’s reign under the OneTermTony banner.
The unfortunate truth about telecommunications within Australia is that everyone is under the iron rule of a single company: Telstra. Whilst the situation has improved somewhat in the last decade, mostly under threat of legal action from the Australian government, Australia still remains something of an Internet backwater. This can almost wholly be traced back to the lack of investment on Telstra’s behalf in new infrastructure with their most advanced technology being their aging HFC networks that were only deployed in limited areas. This is why the NBN was such a great idea as it would radically modernize our telecommunications network whilst also ensuring that we were no longer under the control of a company that had long since given up on innovating.
To us Australians my opening statements aren’t anything surprising, this is the reality that we’ve been living with for some time now. However when outsiders look in, like say the free CDN/DDoS protection service Cloudflare (who I’ve recently started using again), and find that bandwidth from Telstrat is about 20 times more expensive than their cheapest providers it does give you some perspective on the situation. Whilst you would expect some variability for different locations (given the number of dark fiber connections and other infrastructure) a 20x increase does appear wildly out of proportion. The original NBN would be the solution to this as it would upend Telstra’s grip on the backbone connections that drive these prices however the Liberal’s new MTM solution will do none of this.
Right now much of the debate of the NBN has been framed around the speeds that will be delivered to customers however that’s really only half of the story. In order to support the massive speed increases that customers would be seeing with the FTTP NBN the back end infrastructure would need to be upgraded as well and this would include the interconnects that drive the peering prices that Cloudflare sees. Such infrastructure would also form the backbone of wide area networks that businesses and organisations use to connect their offices together, not to mention all the other services that rely on backhaul bandwidth. The MTM NBN simply doesn’t have the same requirements, nor the future expandability, to necessitate the investment in this kind of back end infrastructure and, worse still, the last mile connections will still be under the control of Telstra.
That last point is one I feel that doesn’t get enough attention in the mainstream media. The Liberals have released several videos that harp on about the point of making the right amount of investment in the NBN, citing that there’s a cut off point where extra bandwidth doesn’t enable people to do anything more. The problem with that thinking is though that, with the MTM NBN, you cannot guarantee that everyone will have access to those kinds of speeds. Indeed the MTM NBN can only guarantee 50Mbps to people who are 200m or less away from an exchange which, unfortunately, the vast majority of Australians aren’t. Comparatively FTTP can deliver the same speeds regardless of distances and also has the ability to provide higher speeds well into the future.
In all honesty though the NBN has been transformed from a long term, highly valuable infrastructure project to a political football, one that the Liberal party is intent to kick around as long as it suits their agenda. Australia had such potential to become a leader in Internet services with an expansive fiber network that would have rivalled all others worldwide. Instead we have a hodge podge solution that does nothing to address the issues at hand and the high broadband costs, for both consumers and businesses alike, will continue as long as Telstra controls a vast majority of the critical infrastructure. Maybe one day we’ll get the NBN we need but that day seems to get further and further away with each passing day.
There’s 2 main reasons why I’ve avoided writing about the NBN for the last couple months. For the most part it’s been because there’s really been nothing of note to report and sifting through hours of senate talks to find a nugget of new information to write about isn’t really something I’m particularly enthused about doing. Secondly as someone who’s deeply interested in technology (and makes his living out of services that could make heavy use of the NBN) the current state of the project is, frankly, infuriating and I don’t think people enjoy reading about how angry I am. Still it seems that the Liberal’s MTM NBN plan has turned from a hypothetical farce into a factual one and I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to lay down criticism where criticism is due.
The slogan the Liberal’s ran with during their election campaign was “Fast. Affordable, Sooner.” promising that they’d be able to deliver at least 25Mbps to every Australian by the end of 2016 with that ramping up to 50Mbps by the end of 2019. This ended up being called the Multi-Technology Mix (MTM) NBN which would now include the HFC rather than overbuilding them and would switch to FTTN technology rather than FTTP. The issues with this plan were vast and numerous (ones I’ve covered in great detail in the past) and suffice to say the technology community in Australia didn’t buy into the ideas one bit. Indeed as time as progressed the core promises of the plan have dropped off one by one with NBNCo now proceeding with the MTM solution despite a cost-benefit analysis not being completed and the speed guarantee is now gone completely. If that wasn’t enough it’s come to my attention that even though they’ve gone ahead with the solution NBNCo hasn’t been able to connect a single customer to the FTTN solution.
It seems the Liberal’s promises simply don’t stand up to reality, fancy that.
The issues they seem to be encountering with deploying their FTTN trial are what many of the more vocal critics had been harping on for a long time, primarily the power and maintenance requirements that FTTN cabinets would require. Their Epping trial has faced several months of delays because they weren’t able to source adequate power, a problem which currently doesn’t have a timeline for a solution yet. The FTTP NBN which was using Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) technology does not suffer from this kind of issue at all and this was showing in the ramp up in deployment numbers that NBNCo was seeing before it stopped its FTTP rollouts. If just the trial of the MTM solution is having this many issues then it follows that the full rollout will fare no better and that puts an axe to the Liberal’s election promises.
We’re rapidly approaching the end of this year which means that the timeline the Liberals laid out is starting to look less and less feasible. Even if the trial site gets everyone on board before the end of this year that still gives only 2 years for the rest of the infrastructure to be rolled out. The FTTP NBN wasn’t even approaching those numbers so there’s no way in hell that the MTM solution would be able to accomplish that, even with their little cheat of using the HFC networks.
So there goes the idea of us getting the NBN sooner but do any of their other promises hold true?
Well the speed guarantee went away some time ago so even the Liberals admit that their solution won’t be fast so the only thing they might be able to argue is that they can do it cheaper. Unfortunately for Turnbull his assumption that Telstra would just hand over the copper free of charge something which Telstra had no interest in doing. Indeed as part of the renegotiation of the contract with Telstra NBNCo will be paying some $150 million for access to 200,000 premises worth of copper which, if extrapolated to all of Australia, would be around $5.8 billion. This does not include the cabinets or remediating any copper that can’t handle FTTN speeds which will quickly eat into any savings on the deal. That’s not going into the ongoing costs these cabinets will incur during their lifetimes which is an order of magnitude more than what a GPON network would.
I know I’m not really treading any new ground by writing all this but the MTM NBN is beyond a joke now; a failed election promise that’s done nothing to help the Liberal’s waning credibility and will only do damage to Australia’s technology sector. Even if they do get voted out come next election it’ll be years before the damage can be undone which is a royal shame as the NBN was one of the best bits of policy to come out of the tumultuous time that was Labor’s last 2 terms in office. Maybe one day I’ll be able to look back on all my rants on this topic and laugh about it but until that day comes I’ll just be yet another angry IT sector worker, forever cursing the government that took away my fibre filled dream.