Free broadband will help the NBN's case

Free broadband will help the NBN's case

Summary: Some of the major benefits to society from a ubiquitous broadband network will come from government services, including health and education. That means access to these services needs to be free, so everyone is able to make use of the channel, displacing other, more costly, ways of interacting.


Some of the major benefits to society from a ubiquitous broadband network will come from government services, including health and education. That means access to these services needs to be free, so everyone is able to make use of the channel, thus displacing other, more costly, ways of interacting.

This isn't a new notion. Economist Joshua Gans raised it over a year ago at a Senate Select Committee hearing in Melbourne. He suggested the government provides free access to a basic internet service that included public services.

Industry analyst Paul Budde agrees that we should be working towards a free government network, available to all households through the National Broadband Network. For example, e-health services could be available to all, without needing to connect to a commercial retail service provider.

Simon Hackett, managing director of Internode, is less convinced about the idea of a direct connection for government services. He says we only have one network in the home, which means only one connection to the NBN.

Paul Brooks from Layer 10 Advisory disagrees, arguing that we have multiple networks into the home — television, our phone, internet. A government-provided network could be another one.

This week I ask whether we need free government services for everyone to realise meaningful benefits from the NBN and, if so, why is no one doing anything about it?

Running time: 31 minutes, 51 seconds

Topics: Broadband, Government, Government AU, NBN


Phil Dobbie has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and, since coming to Australia in 1991, has held senior marketing and management roles with Telstra, OzEmail, the British Tourist Authority and other telecommunications, media, travel and advertising businesses.

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  • Some inputs.

    1. iiNet has freezone. So using that concept you could have all government services logically separated from bandwidth.

    2. Another model which is available over TransACT in ACT, is to have multiple providers over the same bandwidth. I suspect this approach is bit messy for most consumers. Including me ;-)

    3. There is an assumption that everyone will have access to NBN. In my Motorhome I must use 3G broadband. So I am unable to get free NBN for government services. This applies to most grey nomads. Also for many people who are renting. Why connect a line for 12 months lease? Landlines shouldn't be assumed.
  • But the NBN will also provide wireless. It's not all fixed points.
  • On top of that, with the NBN up and running wireless connections will be alot faster and alot cheaper. The NBN will make it very easy for companies to come in and deploy 'Pay if you need it' Wireless access points. There is a possibility that 3G towers will not be required or will just simply be used as giant Access points, connecting to the NBN
  • You're absolutely right Phil, this is an old concept but one that seems to keep being dismissed by the powers to be (I think inappropriately). Throughout all of last year many of my conversations referred to this "free" or "subsidised" shared network as an "Open ASP Eco-System", translated as an open Application Service Provider network for apps providers, not network carriers.

    The important enabler for the approach is an unbiased, fair, open, NATIONAL Layer-3 wholesale network provider with no conflicting interests from vertical integration. Some will argue that a public utility should deliver this functionality, maybe an extended USO Co or possibly even NBN Co in the future (this is the most economically efficient option). Such a unbiased and open layer-3 service provider then allows small application service companies to focus purely on the end-user value propositions without all that tedious mucking about in network infrastructure space. I.e. it could deliver one of those "it's a beautiful world" outcomes.

    As far as the commentary from you interviewees: Paul Budde is right on the money; Simon's assumptions that everything has to be one network are an ISP view of the world and not really necessary; and Paul Brooks' security issues are pretty much resolved exactly the same way that end-to-end security on the Internet is solved (this is just a walled garden version of the Internet but not for carriers, for consumers). Also, don't set up a dedicated Government port, instead setup a shared Application Providers Network port, then all the other RSPs really become combined Network and Application Service Providers (which most are already anyway).

    The breakdown of the four ports then becomes:
    (1) Power and Utilities (Smartgrid etc)
    (2) and (3) RSP Dedicated
    (4) Application Provider Shared.
    Michael S Cox
  • Stephen Conroy has never explained to me why I need the NBN.

    Everyone mentions E-health and Education and to be competitive in business, but what will I be able to do on the NBN that I can't do now?

    And if the NBN will improve things is it worth paying $42B so that everyone has access to it whether they need or want it or not?

    The Irony is that we had a national governmet owned communications carrier because that was the only way to get phone services to everyone in the country. (The city paid a small premium to cover the cost of infrastructure in the country.) But everyone complained about the pricing and the private sector wanted access to the cream so we deregulated and sold out.

    Now we are creating a new government entity duplicating the old one to role out a parrallel broadband network that is faster because the private sector can only invest in those areas that are profitable.

    How long before the NBN company goes the same way as Telstra.

    PS. Why should we get something for nothing? Oh, Sorry we are not. It is costing us $42B. So why do I need the NBN? What will it change?
  • I think people need to stop looking at the NBN as a internet connection that we may or may not need, but as an upgrade to the countries underlying communications network and as such the physical networks of all the telecoms need to be handed over or sold to the NBN Co including wireless networks and the whole combined network made available to all the telecoms on a equal basis.

    Result true country wide telecom network
  • Providing this sort of free service seems like a very good idea and it should be very simple to do.

    It only needs to be provided to those who haven't signed up for Internet service with a provider. My experience in the past has been that if you move in to a house that has previously had a phone installed you will find dial-tone on the line. The only calls that will be permitted are 000 and Telstra to request connection. In the case of the NBN, any premise without an active ISP connection would be connected to the government services network - all this requires is a tiny configuration change that could be totally automated by the NBN provisioning system.

    Those who have Internet service would just use that connection to access government services. The bandwidth required is not much for most web services, and even if services like e-health used more bandwidth the government could easily connect to the ISP 'freezone'.

  • It's not set in stone that the SmartGrid will use the NBN backbone; it may not use it at all. The infrastructure for SmartGrid is necessarily from power distributors to substations, mostly, and that will need to leverage existing communications infrastructure to hold down costs. (IP over power is an option, for example, and is well-proven technology).
  • May I suggest you read a bit about cloud computing? If you're running a business, you can easily link up your data and even computer systems (as in remote desktop instances and server instances) instead of having a separate computer and database at each site. If the NBN rolls out properly, the average consumer may be able to just use a remote desktop instance in a cloud provider instead of buying new computers and software all the time. Its impossible at the moment with the upload speeds and latency of ADSL2, so fibre will be a huge difference for such applications, which are just at its infancy (but is one of the fastest growing sectors, with Microsoft, Google and Amazon all investing heavily).
  • SmartGrid doesn't even need the NBN backbone, the congestion is in the backhaul and not in the last mile, and our current (fibre) backhaul is more then enough to handle any sought of SmartGrid. Devices connected to the SmartGrid in a house only send like a few kilobytes every half an hour or so

    The reason we don't have a SmartGrid has little (or more closely nothing) to do with lastmile technology and more to do with the fact that you need to have devices (dishwashers, TV's, washing mashines etc etc) all connected to the internet, which if it happens to be by cable means you need your house cabled (or if it happens to be by wireless then its a non issue for that device), but more importantly Electricity companies need to actually enable their infrastructure and systems for SmartGrid to work

    Ontop of that consumers actually need to purchase 'smart' devices, and we actually need to address the legality of things like buying from different Electricity companies on demand
  • I totally agree with your comments on the future of cloud computing.

    Apparent speed has less to do with connection capacity and more to do switching and server bottlenecks.

    I am a heavy user of Google Apps Premium and other web interfaces for work. I spend half my time in the office on an ADSL2 connection through Telstra and the rest on the road using a combination of a NextG gateway or tethering my iPhone to my laptop. It works well.

    I am not anti technology or change. I love newer, faster, better, brighter. But, we are not all buying new Volvos or Subarus because they are safer or better, niether is the government subsidising such purchases.

    The question still is, why do we need the NBN and is it the best way to spend $42B + interest + cost blow outs typical of government projects? If it was such a good idea, Telstra and Optus and Internode would have already done it. Why not let the market determine the roll out of technology and the government subsidies remote or disadvantage areas?
  • 'Free' NBN access for householders for government services provides a fundamental basis for transforming the way these service are delivered in the 21st century and underpins the socio-economic value of the NBN well beyond the current debate of whether it makes a quid or not.

    Hospital beds cost us about $1500 per day compared to home health for $50-100 per day. If 10% of beds occupied by low risk patients requiring only monitoring could be transferred to homes with broadband delivered monitoring, it would reduce the Australian health bill by $3bnpa and be preferred for many hospitalised patients.

    The fundamental value propositions of the NBN are its potential ubiquity and its ability to deliver retail services from multiple competing service providers simultaneously. While the current ISP service model allows for competing retail providers it only allows us to have one provider at a time who can then dictate what content services we can have.

    A combination of ubiquity and multiple service providers would allow governments to lease a portion of the NBNs bandwidth to homes to deliver services such as home health, home detention, home learning etc. without relying on householders own retail broadband service.

    Such an arrangement would also enable government services to be delivered to the 30% of Australians who do not subscribe to a broadband service but need government services, and would have minimal market loss impact on commercial retail service providers
    Friends of NBN
  • "If it was such a good idea, Telstra and Optus and Internode would have already done it." In the same way that our suburban roads would have been built. Bitumen outside the rich people's houses and rutted unmade roads outside the poor folk. And what connects them between suburbs?

    Great idea!
  • @stunz: you are assuming that 100Mbps would be the fastest possible speed on the NBN. Do I have to remind you that the NBN is upgradable? The NBN is capable of speeds of up to 1Gbps, 10Gbps, 100Gbps, etc. With the NBN up and running in 8 years time, chances are that by then the NBN would have maximum speeds of 10Gbps (Business customers only, in my opinion). I'm just sick and tired of hearing people say that wireless will be faster than the NBN by the time it's built. Pure nonsense!
  • I've been saying FREE INTERNET for ages on Whirlpool etc..
    We pay 43bn over 10 years and get nothing. To get something we then have to pay a fee!
    What if the whole network is FREE and unlimited. The government covers maintenance and connection to the web which is estimated at $1bn.
    OK, tax average people $50 a year and business say $200-10000 per year depending on size.
    I then don't have to pay any costs at all for telephone or mobile or internet (saving 10mil people $1000+ a year - that's 10bn in the tax payer pocket for only paying out $50).
    With free unlimited internet, I'll connect my hopspot and leave it open, it costs me nothing right. And where there are wireless holes the government can put in some cheap AP's.
    So my mobile will have a skype like service (which I presume will be free with location based adverts or something) and the same for my home phone as well.
    Then all the arguing about the costs and how it should be justified disappear.
    And don't forget the cost for business being reduced - no phone or internet bill and also all government departments also getting free telecoms.

    OOH, the telecoms people lose out - BIG TIME (sometimes being in government you need to make tough calls), but with all this extra money in the economy rather than the pockets of shareholders, I'm sure the government could come up with some tax break cloud incentives for creating work. The IT sector is struggling with skills anyhow.
  • Phil,

    You spent a lot of time on the question of householders not requiring Internet access when the NBN installation is finished. If your experience is anything like mine, you will find the small class of people least likely to have Internet access, or even understand what it is, are the elderly.

    It is often forgotten that the "young elderly" now will be the "real elderly" in eight years' time. These young elderly are probably already well-connected and I cannot imagine they will be any less enthusiastic about remaining connected as they age and become less mobile. If this assumption is a safe one, perhaps the discussion should centre on the best technical method of providing free access to government services.

    If this issue has not been discussed much until now, it is probably because of the fear governments have these days of keeping assets on their balance sheet. If the government could realise that keeping ownership of the NBN is the answer instead of merely flogging it to get their borrowings down, the nation could make much more sensible decisions about free access to this public resource just as access to suburban roads is free at the time of use.