As Australia steps aside, who will pick up the broadband torch?

As Australia steps aside, who will pick up the broadband torch?

Summary: Australia has a new government, so its days rolling out the biggest fibre-to-the-home network are numbered as it moves to fibre to the node. Where will a world leader in broadband come from next?


As Australia's fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) rollout concludes, a new global broadband leader is needed.

It was big, it was bold, and the world had never seen the likes of it before — a continental network upgrade that promised to bring 1Gbps speeds to 93 percent of the population and undo years of government regulatory failure.

For each element of Australia's government-owned National Broadband Network (NBN) that was grand, visionary, and future proof, there was always the looming spectre of slow progress, questionable reporting of numbers, and issues with Telstra.

With the election of a centre-right conservative government last weekend, any dream that Australia collectively holds of a FttP network is dead, buried, and cremated.

Manifesting in place of the FttP will be a fibre-to-the-node network that would not be out of place at the current time across the United States, England, Canada, or even New Zealand. The only difference now being that instead of consumers having the ability to take advantage of such technology today, Australians will still be waiting a number of years to take advantage of today's technology.

That was the big promise of the FttP network; instead of belatedly catching up to the rest of the world, it was a rare opportunity to show some forward thinking from a government, and leap-frog much of the world in connectivity.

Australia, as a large country with a sparse population, is rightly often compared to Canada across a number of endeavours. But now, in terms of broadband connectivity on offer, the antipodes must hang their heads in shame.

A resident of Timmins, a town of 43,000 people in the northern part of Ontario, has a better opportunity to take advantage of high-speed broadband than most residents across Sydney, Australia's largest city and a city that claims to be a world city.

For the next three years, any Australians not lucky enough to be among the 22 percent that are expected to gain access to fibre services will only have an upgrade to 25Mbps to look forward to. Meanwhile, their compatriots among the lucky 22 percent will be able to access services 40 times that speed.

The new government will not be able to put the brakes on the NBN project immediately, thanks to a number of construction contracts needing to be seen out, but over the next year, the incoming Communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, will be putting in place plans to re-engineer the project in his preferred image.

Until that time, Australia's largest ever infrastructure project will still be an exemplar in how to improve a lagging country's connectivity.

It's been four years of showing the world the way, but now circumstances and new governments dictate that it is time to hand the torch over to someone else as Australia returns to the status of broadband also-ran.

Whomever it is, it is doubtful that entity will be a government, as the majority of network deployments across the globe are handled by private entities.

It will take the likes of Google to announce a nationwide rollout of Google Fiber to compare to the scale of the NBN.

An American nation-wide fibre network offering 1Gbps as a standard connection and an alternative free tier of connectivity at 5Mbps, the current average Australian broadband speed, that would truly be a worthy successor to the NBN's mantle.

Now it's up to the invisible hand of the market to deliver it.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States.

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Topics: Networking, Broadband, Government AU, NBN


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • The invisible hand isn't stupid enough

    "Until that time, Australia's largest ever infrastructure project will still be an exemplar in how to improve a lagging country's connectivity."

    Yep how to spend $6b for 150k fibre premises passed in 6 years. A fair percentage requiring remediation due to poor quality. Great project.

    For the continued talk and economic delusion head to delimiter talkbacks. Nationwide 1gbps won't be touched by Google or any other company; the business case laughable.
    Richard Flude
    • Coalitions mouthpeice!

      Try thinking for yourself for a change. We need more swinging voters, not more hardcore party voters! Big world out side the coalition, your invited to take your blinkers off and look around!
    • Everythings 'a joke' till someone does it.

      It was laughable in the US, till Google started doing it.
      • Google?

        What are you talking about KC and a part of the bay area? And you don't see them rushing out to expand (another Texas City maybe). They might. But my guess is the government is the biggest impediment to it. The other is that many, many people don't care that much as shown by their wallets.
    • A business case does not exist for the imaginative future

      If progress was only made on business cases - then we'd still be in the stone age! Thinking ahead, outside the box, thinking for the future, thinking the impossible - these all rely on a element of risk and daring; but the payoff is not just the linear payoff from the usual linear business thinking! The payoff is exponential! I know it is hard to fathom but investing in the future is just like that - things that seem commonplace now (small fast computers, high speed rail) are the impossible things of yesteryear! Dare to dream!
      • That's right!

        Like explorers . . . oops! Uh cars . . . oops! Phones . . . oops! Ok the moon landing!
  • Classic coalition strategy

    Return Australia to surplus by removing everything the consumer might want or need.

    Watch this space: privatisation of public hospitals is next.
    • Schools first, then hospitals

      There was a committment of millions to pay for public schools to become "independent". The cynic in me says that they want to see them fail, so they can outsource the management of the schools to the private sector.
    • You left out...

      "Return Australia to surplus by removing everything the consumer might want or need."

      You left out "and not spending on infrastructure that will be required in the near future".

      Liberal governments have no vision for Australia beyond the next election...
  • What will you do?

    @Richard you need to check your facts.
    I really look forward to the coalition failure FTTN, you will get what you wish for, crappy unprofitable broadband.
    • An the leftoids claim of facts

      Providing none. Life's so simple with their little experience.

      One acknowledged failure, another policy yet to fail. Fanboys written it off already, unable to articulate why.
      Richard Flude
      • I love it how

        we have no experience and knowledge. I keep thinking of you as a man who is so old and "knowledgeable" i keep wondering how you manage to type out all paid propaganda pass your arthritis.

        For once. Just sit down, be quiet and let the majority of Australia decide its government run broadband.
  • ADSL2+

    Here's a challenge. Give every domestic consumer an ADSL2+ service like mine and see how many think they need better. I regularly do online consultation with it (heard of Skype et al?), it's brilliant. It will handle pretty much everything Labor said we need fibre for. Sure a lot of the copper is dated, but a it of it isn't. Commercial premises are a different matter, many of them would make good use of fibre. You don't need a 6 lane freeway to your front door (unless you have a house full of teenagers with cars).
    • You also don't need a corrugated horse track

      You need a viable roadway. If we're going down the car analogy.

      A more "IT" analogy for the comparison between FTTN and FTTP is printers. FTTN is an inkjet printer: sure, it costs a lot less to buy, but they cost a packet to run, and they have a very short life span - in the long term, they're the expensive option. FTTP is a laser printer: it's more expensive, but they're much cheaper to run and have a much longer lifespan.

      FTTN is going to cost us a packet more in opex - but all we hear about is the initial capex. Oh, and we'll have to do FTTP eventually, so not only will we spend this money on FTTN, but we'll also waste a lot of money in operating expenses to keep it running. If you want a road analogy, FTTN it's like saving money by only building a gravel road but because it's so busy, you have to grade it every single day - and the slowness of the road means people waste a lot of time.
      • I think

        The best road analogy would be instead of only providing enough road reserve and foundation for a dirt track to your house, you build and allocate enough road reserve and foundation so that the person at that house can choose between having a eight lane super highway (if they have want to actually do something with their internet) or just a gravel road.
      • That's not even the point

        In the States FIOS (Verizon) has been installing FTTP at a huge risk to the company. A huge investment, it will probably eventually turn a profit. Their biggest headaches come from local government.

        If people are willing to pay for it, if there is a return on investment people will build it.

        But, my guess is that Aussies are not willing (or at least enough of them) and that means for the majority it's not needed (we buy things we HAVE to have).
    • If only everyone got a decent ADSL2 service

      Which is the issue with the FTTN. Not everyone can get ADSL2 or get ADSL2 with decent bandwidth requirements, mostly due to the aging copper.

      The car analogy fails as usual. You don't have to have the fastest option, you can have the slower options, but at least upgrading is a simple under FTTP. Under FTTN, maintenance is high people can't get guaranteed speeds, because it is raining an nobody can be bothered working out where the copper is getting wet.

      Finally the cost was and should never be an issue. Its only an issue in the eyes of the coalition supporters because that is what the coalition used as a tool to win the election. $40 billion is a small part of our budget and the country could easily afford this, but because the opposition decided they wanted to win an election and decided they didn't like the broadband policy, it was a bit too communist for them, they opposed it. They are willing to spend $5 billion per year on maternity leave for the relatively well off, instead of cutting that from the public service....
      Justin Watson
      • Cost

        In regards to cost, I wonder how many people have looked at the ISP charges for using the top speeds on the NBN. That won't come out of taxes. I suspect when they do look at it, they'll opt for a cheaper service which could just as easily be provided on copper. There is plenty of copper in good condition, why not use it. I'm not aware of any computers with an NBN fibre port on the back: somewhere it has to convert to copper. It's just a matter of where.
        PS. I am not anti fibre, I led a team developing a large Government network based on fibre: fttn, and it works well.
        • At least it is future proof

          The top speed services might be expensive now but at least you can sign up for them in the future when prices come down. On FTTN you are stuck on one slow speed especially upload speed.
        • I am

          A minimum wage casual worker who has moved out of home while gaining the experience necessary to move up in the world. I can afford to, and choose to, get the most expensive plan iinet has to offer on NBN. It is $100 a month and I get a terabyte of usage at the highest speeds in Australia, and the top 2% in the world according to With 2 roommates that both enjoy their internet, it is nice to know that no matter what they do, when i get on the internet i can still make a skype call or play a game or upload something to work or uni within a reasonable amount of time without having to worry about contention on our connection. This plan is also cheaper for the amount of usage (just usage) than telstra or optus both on cable and adsl2. Plus I DON'T have to worry about whether or not I am close enough to the exchange or if someone else on that node is going to start checking their email. Did I also mention that i don't have to worry a lock in contract. It is leave whenever i want.

          If i wanted to lower my usage to 200gb (still a lot for any home) but keep the top speed. It would be 80 a month. Still much cheaper than any adsl plan of equivalent data from telstra, optus or internode.

          Tell me again why I would prefer the "cheaper" copper plans.

          And please. If it is travelling 10m (i.e home) over copper, it can easily get up to 1gbps.