An open letter to Mr Malcolm Turnbull Re: NBN Policy

Malcolm,

Firstly, a quick aside – as I am sure others have mentioned – the first mistake the LNP have made upon winning the election is assuming that it was a referendum on policies rather than a massive backlash and protest vote against the LAB fiasco. This is no different to the backlash against the LNP at the end of Howard era. The vote is not, in and of itself, the end – you are still an elected official of the people and the people are speaking. It’s now the time to listen and prove your worth as leaders of the nation and not a modern day equivalent of the Lords of the manor.

The NBN is a fundamental requirement for the integrity of the spirit and tenement of the phrase “building the infrastructure Australia needs for the future”

The OECD recommends that Governments build FTTP networks. Fibre-To-The-Premises or Home (FTTP/H) is currently being rolled out in over fifty countries around the World and are done so by experienced market force enterprises including the very telecommunication companies you have supported by investing in. To say that they were “sound business choices’ but then say it is “wasteful” and “not required” for us is hypocritical and borderline offensive.

That said – let us explore the issue based on the underlying technology and premise of the alternative you have put forth.

Copper technology is 100 years old, not indeed the wiring running the actual lines. Those lines still degrade, break down and require(d) replacement every decade especially if sheathing was damaged. That said, the old 15y lifespan argument used by some to not roll out the fibre was based on the tech of the seventies.

Yet now we talk about two additional factors being micro manufactured polymer optics and dispersion compensation techniques both add decades to the life of the cables. Since then they adapted polymers to glass fibres to hermetically seal and prevent stress on the glass itself, which led to the creation of fibre optic cables that have lifetimes well over the 50 years of current (extended) copper use. Manufacturers such as Nortel now quote an average lifetime of 60+ years for fibre-optic cables – far more than the typical underground copper cabling.

When taking into consideration that once spliced there is no need to disconnect terminals to inspect, remove corrosion, clean and dehumidify means that there is a significant drop in the maintenance induced stress (and thus costs) to the media let alone the other issues that affect copper such as water penetration.

Whilst some point to the improvements to technologies and the speeds delivered over the current copper lines – well, yes, through the use of electromagnetic transmission there have been astounding accomplishments over the last few years. And as the transmissions will need to be electromagnetic in nature which is effectively radio or sound signals, by definition, copper transmission will always be limited by the speed of sound. Further it is limited to a single wave form of transmission.

Fibre optic, on the other hand is limited only by the speed of light.

In the late nineties and early 2000s the CA.net project in Canada operated a coast to coast storage array replication utilising fibre optic and eight individual colour coded wavelengths of data over the same connected strand of fibre achieving 10Gb per wavelength – that is 80Gb/s of maintained data in a full down/up stream connection. With the current crop of technology we can now provide over a Tb per strand … the limitation being not the fibre, but the transmission and receiver units required to meet these today would simply not fit in the current exchange layouts – and most business users would baulk at a rack mounted “modem” let alone a home user.

But see, that’s the point isn’t it? In a few years, they too will shrink – the network will be able to support the new wavelengths generated by the new transceivers and all without changing a single connection. The Node concept is unworkable – ask anyone who in the last decade has been on the end of a Telstra Node and who could barely get decent phone lines let alone broadband over the thin pair of copper strands they shared amongst the street.

The faith of the Node design is that the “market will correct towards the need” however, that argument is only true in a full multi-competitor market that Australia is not. The debacles with Telstra, Optus and Vodafone over the last decade have proven that in all of the related market spaces.

The arguments here are not just about the technology, the upgrades or the future-proofing of the network, they are about the ability to ACTUALLY deliver the needs of those who need it the most.

It is about a transformative vision for our economy and society.

The inherent inequities of this policy will deepen the digital divide and delay equity of access to educational, business and health care initiatives and advances in rural and regional Australia. These are services that NEED FTTH – or more specifically, the ability to have dual channel high speed connections – we’re not talking about the silly arguments of downloading videos faster – but the ability to allow a file to load whilst discussing the changes, to have true interactive video conferencing – in short, the upstream is just as important as the downstream – and copper cannot meet that need.
In short, maintaining this policy relegates us to the digital backwater of the world, rather than a chance to transform our “5 pillar economy” nor to lead the world.

There are jobs TODAY that cannot be done on the maximum theoretical throughput of the Coalition’s proposed technology. There is nothing transformative at all about rolling out slightly faster copper for some people.

We need the government to think beyond the next election. We need the government to actually put the nation first and ensure we don’t waste money on a solution that is obsolete before it is even rolled out – to save what, 10% of the budgeted costs?

Let us not also forget the original Twelve Networking Truths : http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc1925.html.

Make listening to the people and course correcting the future the legacy and the this the underlying root of the next three years of the LNP.

Please put in the infrastructure we need as a nation.

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