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‘National disgrace’: Australia’s NBN disaster

The NBN rollout has been a massive infrastructure failure. Photo: ABC

The National Broadband Network (NBN) is one of Australia’s most significant infrastructure projects: a major source of government expenditure that was established to provide high capacity data communications across the nation for both individuals and organisations.

Over a decade since first being introduced to Australia, the project has experienced many shifts in development plans, botched rollouts and continued performance issues, making it one of the country’s biggest infrastructure failures in history.

How did we end up in this position? Ethan Nash explores the shady track record of the NBN.

NATIONAL BROADBAND NETWORK

The NBN began as a pledge in 2006, and had a simple, yet ambitious set of goals. The main pillars of the NBN were to provide top-quality broadband internet access to Australians all over the country, in a timely fashion, at affordable prices and at the least cost to the government.

The NBN was originally set to be delivered via Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) technology to 93% of all premises, however this would be later changed to Fibre to The Node (FTTN), with fibre removed and copper-based FTTN inserted due to “excessive performance specifications and costs”.

The Australian government, particularly Malcolm Turnbull, smooth talked their way into spinning ageing copper infrastructure that was said to be near obsolete by a former Telstra CEO for use.

Shortly after, the government removed original plans for a network with FTTP coverage, instead rolling out an assortment of technologies of varying quality.

This was known as a ‘multi-technology mix’ model, which uses variety of FTTx, including FTTP, FTTN, FTTB (fibre to the building or basement) and most recently FTTdp (fibre to the distribution point). This also includes HFC (hybrid fibre coaxial) in metropolitan areas.

The public is yet to fully understand the scale of inequality that will be created by Australia’s patchwork mixed-technology broadband network, Dr. Alizadeh has told reporters:

“Mixed-technology means mixed quality of service. Some will be better off than others without any clear indication.”

The announcement for multi-technology came during the 2013 federal election campaign at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox headquarters.

Many proponents have suggested Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull intentionally ruined Australia’s NBN plan to appease Rupert Murdoch, so he could keep on promoting his increasingly irrelevant Foxtel monopoly to Australians.

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Foxtel had been facing the prospect of Netflix launching in the country and some say they didn’t want Australians to be able to stream, given that statistics showed only 30% of the population uses the pay-TV monopoly.

The critics include Kevin Rudd, who has openly criticised Rupert Murdoch and Malcolm Turnbull for playing a key role in the NBN’s downfall, claiming to have “key evidence” the media mogul killed off the original plans for personal gain.

RMIT University telecommunications expert, Dr. Mark Gregory, said the Australian government was now responsible for rolling out “a second-rate obsolete network”, with Australia now a third-world broadband country.

The NBN has been plagued with constant criticisms, delays and problems since the national roll out began in 2009.

ROLLOUT FAILURE

The botched rollout of the NBN has short-changed the public in a number of ways.

The Australian government initially stated the multi-technology model would be completed by 2016, however this was changed after the election to 2019, and then again to 2020.

The project cost jumped from the estimated $29.5 billion before the 2013 federal election, to $46-56 billion afterwards. In 2016, NBN Co. said it was on target for $49 billion, but by late 2018, the estimated final cost was $51 billion. This has since made it the largest costing infrastructure project in Australian history.

Today, the problems facing customers during the continued rollout are ever-increasing.

Some customers are being forced to pay more for an NBN internet service no better than ADSL, and more than a million households are forking out too much for the lowest cost plans, compared to their ADSL plans.

The multi-technology model has meant 54,000 people connected to the NBN can’t even reach the guaranteed 25 Mbps minimum the government outlined during the election.

There are record numbers of complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman about the NBN, with NBN Co. buying another 15,000km of copper to install in struggling areas.

Home owners don’t have a choice when it comes to the type of connection their property receives – and experts have expressed concerns with the difference between a high-quality connection and an inferior connection, stating the significance could affect the future value of a property.

This are only a few direct examples of the lasting effects of the NBN. It expands much wider beyond the premises, however.

EFFECTS ON AUSTRALIA

From online gaming, to e-health and education, the nation’s troubled broadband network has created a ‘digital divide’ that means many Australians will be denied access to revolutionary technology, experts have warned.

Australia will not be equipped to meet the requirements of cutting-edge online streaming services such as Google’s Stadia, leading researchers have warned.

Complaints about internet services in rural and regional Australian are up, as Australia struggles to meet the demand of increasing internet speeds across the planet.

This has prevented multiple industries, such as the emerging Australian gaming market valued at $100 million per year, from being able to capitalise on an ever-increasing field of digital technologies.

New and complex games were easily accessible for consumers with fast internet overseas, however Australian gamers can’t compete with competitors and could lose out in the future.

Antony Reed, the chief executive of the Game Developers’ Association of Australia, said poor connections can slow work down “quite detrimentally in some cases”:

“It’s inconsistent, we’d like to be on a faster service, we do move a lot of data around the country — we move terabytes of data on a daily or weekly basis — so it does affect us.”

This includes no direct recognition from the Australian government to support the video games market, which is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

As a result, many technology companies are moving overseas to meet the demand of increasing expectations that the Australian government cannot meet domestically, similar to previous industries we have seen do the same after agreements such as the Lima Declaration passed.

From both an individual and professional standpoint, the NBN rollout has had significant effects on Australian society already, as the rest of the world continues to pioneer new technologies and modes for the coming digital era that Australia cannot adapt with.


Was this an effort to block streaming services by the likes of Murdoch? Was this an effort to stall any alternatives for the impending 5G network, which has many countries concerned across the planet?

Could this have been a calculated effort to ensure an ISP monopoly for collective actions such as the recent banning of websites following the Christchurch event?

One thing is for sure: The Fourth-Industrial Revolution is here, and unless Australia adapts to the ever-increasing global demands that digital disruption is predicted to bring to the world, we may find ourselves losing our position as one of the world’s leaders in innovation.

All information on available NBN services for your specific address can be checked using the NBN rollout map.


RELATED LINKS

Federal election: NBN promises past and present explained | ABC

Telstra will axe copper network | The Age

‘Many people are going to be worse off’: How the NBN is ‘cheating’ home owners | New Daily

Cancer eating the heart of Australian democracy | SMH

NBN an ‘obsolete network’: How Australia became a ‘third-world broadband country’ |  New Daily

The experts agree, Turnbull’s NBN is ‘a national tragedy’ | New Daily

Over a million households on the NBN have the same internet speed as their old connections | Daily Mail

NBN Co reveals 54,000 FTTN users can’t get over 25 Mbps | IT News

NBN users’ key complaints centre on slow speeds, drop-outs, ombudsman report says | ABC

Australian gaming industry being held back by lagging internet speeds | ABC

Connect homes to NBN via our 5G: Optus | News.com.au


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