FttP half-truths mask whole-NBN deception

FttP half-truths mask whole-NBN deception

Summary: Malcolm Turnbull has been spruiking 12Mbps minimum broadband for years. Suddenly, it’s "just not satisfactory" — and it's OK for him to continue to dodge any substantive questions around the Coalition’s plan. Maybe that’s because nobody's asking them.


Reading transcripts of National Broadband Network (NBN) press conferences where one was not present can be agonising for journalists.

Y U No

(Credit: David Braue/ZDNet)

Seemingly obvious questions not asked, important answers not given and still more self-contradicting changes in Liberal Party policy foster a sense of irritation and an overriding desire to yell obscenities through the window.

The neighbours are now in therapy, but Liberal telecoms policy remains as malleable as ever, after Malcolm Turnbull this week jetted all the way to Gippsland, Victoria, to join local member for McMillan Russell Broadbent in cutting the ribbon on OptiComm's new fibre-optic network, which has brought fibre services to a housing estate in rural Drouin.

Turnbull's shadow portfolio means that he's not a normal fixture at big broadband ribbon-cutting ceremonies (the bulk of them being NBN related), but this was too good an opportunity to miss: here was a private-sector developer that took Optus Internet backhaul to an area that, like mine, is not scheduled to get NBN services for years to come.

For someone that continues to blindly argue his faith in Australia's private-sector telco industry, it was a great opportunity for Turnbull to spruik his still-opaque NBN policy. One can just imagine the canned applause as Turnbull hit NBN Co with one zinger after another, no doubt feeling quite smug as he emceed the event as one long attack on the NBN.

Turnbull so dominated the doorstop that, halfway through the Q&A, Broadbent interjected meekly, to ask "does anyone want to ask about the details of the announcement?"

Nobody did. The fawning media ignored him and begged Turnbull for more meaty details about how OptiComm had installed better fibre services faster than NBN Co could ever hope to.

NBN Co have, Turnbull said, tried to effectively insist that they should be the only [greenfields] provider, and the consequences being that only a handful of greenfield sites have actually been connected to the NBN."

We know this is true, because Turnbull says it is true. Right?

So, those three other Drouin-area housing estates, where NBN Co is actually installing fibre right now, don't exist?

They're right there on the NBN Co roll-out map. Canterbury Estate, Stockman Wood Estate, Bowen Heights. All are currently being fibre-d by the same NBN Co that Turnbull so proudly proclaimed was being outpaced by OptiComm.

In fact, judging by the map, NBN Co appears to be at some stage of roll-out in dozens of new housing estates around the country. Turnbull must have very big hands.

I'm not looking to diminish the effort of value of OptiComm and its ilk; they have a role to play and it's great that they're ensuring that homes built in the 21st century can be serviced with broadband that doesn't come from the 20th.

The problem is the tendency to point at one example of a successful approach and act like it's going to save the world. The fact is that OptiComm and other greenfields specialists are cherry-picking the easiest and smallest portion of our housing market; to suggest that this is some sort of private-sector awakening, rather than an appropriately opportunistic investment, is deceptive and wrong.

Turnbull has long argued that the Coalition’s fixed-wireless policy in rural towns would deliver the same 12Mbps services as NBN Co’s. Now, because Turnbull has jumped aboard the good ship FttN, 12Mbps services are suddenly “just not satisfactory”? …. isn’t this the same shadow minister who’s been loudly shouting from the rooftops that speed doesn’t matter?

I have addressed Turnbull's misplaced faith in the private sector numerous times in the past (for example, here and here) and will not bore you by doing so again. Use your reading time to instead read Turnbull's post-event doorstop — which is available, without a blush, for reading on Turnbull's website, where visitors have continued the time-honoured tradition of trashing Turnbull's Fibre-to-the-Node (FttN) ideology on his own blog. Kudos to him for not moderating them into oblivion (although, if he did, there would be no comments left).

There is much to say about this amusing event, but for now, let me direct your attention to two glaring problems.

First is that Turnbull continues to avoid addressing any of the real question marks around his policy. While simultaneously attacking Labor's supposed 100 megabits per second (Mbps) NBN dogma, Turnbull continues pandering to a mainstream media that is concerned only with sensationalised claims about 100Mbps vs. 50Mbps, 25Mbps, 24Mbps and 12Mbps.

This lets him completely avoid the real questions around his policy — which are not being asked by reporters, who mainly seem keen on being drip-fed statistics with which to bag the NBN.

If Turnbull wants to suggest that what OptiComm did in Drouin has any bearing on the rest of Australia and his broader FttN strategy, he should have been asked questions like:

  • When will OptiComm extend its fibre network to service the rest of the Drouin area, and what level of Coalition subsidy will be necessary to make this happen?

  • How will the Coalition assert control of Telstra's local loop across the rest of Drouin, to ensure copper-connected residents can access their choice of FttN provider?

  • ADSL2 Exchange heatmaps suggests that residents outside the immediate centre of Drouin are peaking at under 5Mbps over existing ADSL services. How many additional fibre nodes would need to be installed, and where, to bring the entire town up to spec with the Coalition's FttN plan?

  • How will the government ensure that residents in greenfields estates aren't technologically isolated by the spread of private-sector operators who are ignoring NBN Co specifications?

The second curious thing about the announcement is Turnbull's very curious twists of phrase. His new catch-cry — in which he slams NBN Co's plan to deliver fixed-wireless services to rural towns with fewer than 1000 premises — has come out at every recent appearance, yet in this latest launch, it seems to have occasioned yet another policy back-flip.

Turnbull is now arguing that even tiny bush towns will get a speed bump with the installation of VDSL services that will service the centre of town, with what he claims will be up to 80Mbps services. This, mind you, over the same copper lines that are in such bad shape that many rural residents are still struggling to get more than dial-up speeds.

Turnbull is now arguing that even tiny bush towns will get a speed bump with the installation of VDSL services that will service the centre of town, with what he claims will be up to 80Mbps services. This, mind you, over the same copper lines that are in such bad shape that many rural residents are still struggling to get more than dial-up speeds.

Undeterred by reality, Turnbull now sees VDSL as an alternative to fixed wireless (favoured by both NBN Co and, a few months ago, the Liberal Party). In Drouin, he argued that "the difference between fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) and fixed wireless is gigantic."

No kidding. But there's more.

"You're talking about very high speeds, upwards of 100Mbps down to 12 m[bps]. Now, that's just not satisfactory."

Turnbull has long argued that the Coalition's fixed-wireless policy in rural towns would deliver the same 12Mbps services as NBN Co's. Now, because Turnbull has jumped aboard the good ship FttN, 12Mbps services are suddenly "just not satisfactory"?

The Coalition's policy continues to mirror that of Labor, as Turnbull seizes on his new-found love of VDSL and proudly proclaims its ability to deliver at least 5Mbps at 1km from the exchange — and that "many of them would get 80Mbps".

Isn't this the same shadow minister who has been loudly shouting from the rooftops that speed doesn't matter? Why, then, is he now arguing that the Coalition's FttN will magically deliver speeds nearly as fast as fibre?

It is, of course, because he's decided to play the speed game against Labor's NBN. "Under our approach," he said, "we could very cost-effectively, and arguably more cost-effectively than fixed wireless, deliver fast wire line broadband to a lot of smaller country towns and, in particular, a lot of regional towns, particularly Gippsland."

Telecoms journalist-cum-guru Richard Chirgwin has penned a nice explanation of why this proposition is utter bunkum, so I will not reinvent his wheel here, or mention that many internet users in areas like Drouin are using old copper connections that barely support ADSL, much less VDSL.

This approach also violates Turnbull's claims that he is technology-agnostic. In reality, Turnbull has been picking one technology after another, floating one technology after another at the press, until he can find one that sticks. He most definitely has a favoured technology this week, and that technology is VDSL.

As he continues dodging the real devil-in-the-detail questions about his deployment strategy, Turnbull is dancing around a mainstream media that has a duty to demand more real answers about his proposed alternative, but lacks either the technical nous or the genuine interest to do so.

His disingenuous promotion of private-sector fibre projects, as though they were a national solution, belies their restricted scope and potentially anti-competitive nature — and highlights just why Australia must expect more from the man who would unpick the NBN.

What do you think? Is Turnbull right about VDSL? Does he owe Australia more clarity about the policy complexities around his ever-changing policy? Or is he on the right track?

Topic: NBN


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • Spot on David

    Turnbull jumps around like a frog on a hot plate when asked detailed questions about his policy.

    The fact is, even his headline figure of 'many will get 80Mbps' is moot. Most of the speeds he talks about are only possible via VDSL2 which uses vectoring and requires 2 bonded copper pairs, as you know. Most households in Australia don't have access to these pairs. In which case the highest they're likely to receive is 50Mbps at 500m from the node up to 80Mbps around 200m from the node.

    The simply question that needs to be asked and it's not bEing is ' what percentage not Australian premises will get access to speeds significantly above that of ADSL2?'

    Even if it did get asked, along with how much will it cost consumers and how will ULL be enforced over FTTN, it won't get answered. Turnbull doesn't need policy- he needs to bag the NBN as that is what the people against it or unsure want to hear.
    • Surely that's asked with "how much"

      Obviously FTTN is not going to be as fast as FTTH, however it can be delivered at a fraction of the cost. ADSL2+ for a fraction of FTTN cost, etc.

      NBN Co cost to taxpayers already forecasted to be over $50 billion and climbing (sure they'll 7% return ROFL).
      David it doesn't take Turnbull to mock NBN Co/s greenfield strategy. There latest business plan laid it bare:

      "So less than 20 months after [NBN Co] predicting that 172,000 greenfield premises would be passed and 132,000 connected, 0.6 per cent of the coverage target and less than 0.2 per cent of the active service target have been met."
      The Australian "NBN Co fails on target rollout" 7 Aug 2012

      Questions need to be asked of all plans. I'd start with the plan from the government already committing $50 billion of taxpayers money.
      Richard Flude
      • Reliable sources ?


        You blew your whole argument which is poor anyhow when you quoted your exemplary source, "The Australian", constantly anti the NBN, proven guilty of misinformation and has even had to publish withdrawals.

        The most interesting recently re "Macquarie Telecoms" , reported on their data facilities and results, all for the benefit of the investors of course, but left out an absolutely crucial aspect for their future profitability which effectively is deceiving the investors.


        and I quote

        "However, capturing the business market for the NBN could provide a saviour for Macquarie Telecom’s falling telco revenues. "

        Sure the Mickey Mouse FTTN plan will do the trick for them and all the other businesses Aust Wide I am sure
        Abel Adamski
        • The figures were in the two NBN Co plans

          The story was in the Oz.

          Every source of information is unacceptable to you guys except the Labor party spin machine.

          All attack the source, never the information. Conroy 101.
          Richard Flude
          • Err

            No... the Murdoch press have been found to lie, by the Australian Press Council and others...



            It is you in denial Dick.
          • Every media outlet has been incorrect at times

            Print a correction and move on. The figures above aren't incorrect. who's in denial?
            Richard Flude
          • Too easy...

            You... (easy answer Dick).

            Of course newspapers make mistakes...

            Now read the Print Councils finding and then tell us which part of that finding that 3 articles were intentionally misleading, will you still need explaining to you?

            BTW you still have a number of unanswered questions from previous threads. Do you not have the conviction to even attempt to support your BS?
          • Which article relates to the information presented?


            The Oz no good, previously The Age was dismissed. Now the NBNCo corporate plans aren't acceptable.

            Ad hominem attacks are a common, but poor form of arguement.
            Richard Flude
          • Not as poor as ignoring facts...

            Thank you for proving that you are in denial, Dick...

            Because AGAIN the proof is there. 3 articles found to have been misleading, which part of this do you not grasp?

            And when asked to simply back your claims, because you can't, you cry personal attack or as is the case here, Ad hominem...LOL... Where have I seen this formula used before?

            BTW you STILL didn't answer those questions, Dick *rolls eyes*
          • The facts were presented

            You deny them because they were reported in a media story of a paper you don't support, even though the numbers were from the NBNCo own documents.
            Richard Flude
          • FFS...

            Hello Dick...

            The Print Council (the print media's own sheriff) found the Murdoch media mislead with 3 NBN articles...

            This has nothing to do with supporting or not supporting, and argue as you blindly must, but you argue against the FACTS...

            NBNCo cannot guarantee... err, of course they can't, that's common sense. No one anywhere would ever make such a bold guarantee (and I'm sure you would be the first one here ridiculing them if they did). But they have presented a case to categorically display how it will all be successful.

            So who should we believe Dick, NBNCo and their team of experts and the likes of KPMG's analysis or you...?

            Also Dick, easy question a simple yes or no wil suffice... should we or should we not take notice of the NBN Corporate Plan?
          • Right, what would I know

            I'm the uneducated one; two post grad including a Masters of Commerce (accounting & finance). Can't possibly match those KPMG guys;-)

            20 years delivering IT projects; today a CIO.

            We've seen it all before, including the talkbacker spewing nothings with the anonymity of not using their real name.

            But keep it going; clearly you're right;-)
            Richard Flude
          • Splendid... Dick

            *golf clap*

            I'm impressed... although like me choosing to remain anonymous (as is accepted practice and as such is my choice Dick) it is equally easy for anyone to be an "internet hero...".

            Seriously how do we know who you are, if that is your real name and if you have any qualifications at all (with all due respect Dick, having read your comments... well???).

            But unlike you guys and your endless FUD... benefit of the doubt to you Dick... *another golf clap, nice work*.

            However, even if what you claim is so, nonetheless, you still can't quite understand the stupidity of FttN (using dated, damaged, obsolete copper) even when countries abroad who have started FttN have then changed to FttP?

            You disagree with a panel of experts who claim building FttN with it's not exclusive path to the future needed upgrades to FttP, "unviable"?

            You claim FttN cheaper, ignoring that FttP will be required (in other words you hide the future costs and scream cheaper - perhaps you are an accountant after all) and call the NBN taxpayer funded one minute and off budget or taxpayer risk the next?

            So it's quite apparent you either don't understand the funding aspects of the NBN or are intentionally being misleading... why would you do that Dick?

            You herald an unknown broadband plan from Malcolm Turnbull, bluntly back the Murdoch Press (even after having been shown that they were found guilty of intentionally misleading, regarding the NBN) and whilst referring to the NBN as a monopoly, refuse to accept that they will (or even may) therefore receive monopoly returns?

            Shall I continue?

            Imo, if you are indeed what you claim Dick, you are letting your obvious political allegiances (and possibly the threat of the NBN to your own business dealings) sway your professional integrity and/or common sense.
          • What political allegiances

            I'm against the NBN, this doesn't make me for Liberal FTTN. I'm for a competitive private sector.

            Given you don't believe any media sources, the NBNCo corporate plans I didn't expect you'll believe me. More of the same ad hominen attacks.

            What panel of experts are you talking about?

            $50+ billion of taxpayers' money, money that could be used for many other things; or not spent (leading to reduced taxes).

            A fixed internet monopoly doesn't guarantee any level of return - monopoly or not people will only pay for services they want and can afford. This is econ 101 (my other post grad qualification).

            Please continue. Oh clever name calling, first time I've heard it;-)
            Richard Flude
          • Ideology...

            Name calling, ad hominem please... poor Dick... harden up (pun intended).

            If you don't like me calling you Dick, just say and I will stop, it was simply used because it's the shorter (pun intended) form... not meant as a derogatory remark. Like Bill for William... FFS, some people eh?

            I've heard all the poor me excuses from those unable to answer simple questions (should I ask them again, so you can disappear and reappear at the next thread) before Dick!

            * "I'm against the NBN, this doesn't make me for Liberal FTTN. I'm for a competitive private sector."....

            ** This failed miserably (remember) - bringing us to here. Leaving us with one of two choices, regardless of what you want (in your perfect market driven, non-existent world) ... so which is it Dick...? Then NBN or MT's secret plan?

            * "What panel of experts are you talking about?"

            ** WTF, you are kidding aren't you? My friend if you don't even know why the NBN is now as it is and why FttN was decided unviable, you really have no credibility (oh there I go again with personal ((truthful)) attacks) and you really need to 'educate' yourself ;)

            * $50+ billion of taxpayers' money, money that could be used for many other things; or not spent (leading to reduced taxes)."

            ** An obvious comment meant to either provoke or proving you have no idea (yes, yes personal, ad hominem, whatever)...

            Please continue (that's what I asked you to do, previously)... LOL
          • FTTH was Rudd+Conroy's thought bubble on a flight

            because their previous thought bubble of FTTN ($4.5 billion) was going to have issues with compulsory acquisition of Telstra infrastructure. These are your experts?

            The FTTN plan is better because it isn't $50+ billion! When the choice is 1/10th the price I take the few billion of govt funding. Both will be a waste - the govt record on delivering services in the sector is universally poor.

            "An obvious comment meant to either provoke or proving you have no idea"

            The sentence doesn't make sense; an obvious comment that proves I have no idea?
            Richard Flude
          • Mr Wrong ... LOL

            I'm glad you admit it Dick.. you have no idea... now we are getting somewhere ;-)

            No they are not MY experts they are THE INDEPENDENT experts which you didn't even know about ...LOL. Yet you are here telling us all, because you have a Masters, Mr CIO... ROFL... yes and I'm a billionaire playboy!

            Government delivering in this sector is universally poor. Really, Telecom delivered home phones to Aussies, a privatised Telstra and the subsequent pseudo competition didn't deliver broadband... bee bah, wrong again Dick...

            FttH on a flight... well as I have said before, if that is so, those two mere snake oil politicians are smarter than all the others combined. Because on one single flight (don't forget the napkin/envelope they wrote on..sigh) they in one fell swoop, easily surpassed, 15 years of Coalition comms policies.

            So much so MT is still trying to catch-up and he even has to hide his policy for fear of ridicule, in comparison... WOW all on one flight!

            FttN for $5B... where did you get your Master's... at the school of Kellogg?

            Time to scream personal attack again...!
          • It is little wonder you don't use your real name

            What a troll.
            Richard Flude
          • Real names...

            No one here is obliged to use their real name. If you have done so that is something you have done by your own choice. Your ill-informed opinions will be evaluated for what they are regardless. Hope that helps.
            Hubert Cumberdale
          • It's little wonder you HAVE to lie about yourself...!

            Unlike some Dick, I won't scream personal attack... ad hominem, because I will never need too... I have facts to support me so fire away.

            Ooh also I won't need plan B... to scream troll either.

            Now are you ready to answer questions or are you again going to cry personal attack and then hypocritically... err, personally attack...LOL!