Understanding the broadband election

Understanding the broadband election

Summary: High-speed broadband has now become an important election issue, with the two major parties offering vastly different policies. How do they compare?


High-speed broadband has now become an important election issue, with the two major parties offering vastly different policies. How do they compare?

Labor's National Broadband Network (NBN) is already building a fibre to the premises network to 93 per cent of Australians. Originally offering speeds up to 100Mbps, that has now been increased to 1Gbps. It's a public-funded $43 billion project, although the government-owned NBN Company would be sold once the network is complete.

The Coalition policy announced last Tuesday it will spend $6 billion, primarily in subsidies to existing carriers to improve existing hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) and ADSL2+ networks, with fixed wireless networks in outer suburban, regional and rural areas. Network speeds will range from 12Mbps to 100Mbps, although Liberal will leave most of the decision-making to a new National Broadband Commission.

On Patch Monday this week, network engineering consultant Narelle Clark spoke to us privately about the policies. Clark has a serious track record in internet technologies, and until recently was research director for the CSIRO's Networking Technologies Laboratory. She's vice-president of the Internet Society of Australia, and sits on the board of trustees of the Internet Society globally.

Clark confirms that it's quite feasible for NBN Co to increase the speed of its fibre from 100Mbps to 1Gbps. However, fixed wireless in suburban areas could require a base station at the end of every street.

Patch Monday also includes Stilgherrian's random look at some of the week's IT news headlines.

To leave an audio comment for Patch Monday, Skype to stilgherrian, or phone Sydney 02 8011 3733.

Running time: 29 minutes, 43 seconds.

Topics: Broadband, Government AU, NBN


Stilgherrian is a freelance journalist, commentator and podcaster interested in big-picture internet issues, especially security, cybercrime and hoovering up bulldust.

He studied computing science and linguistics before a wide-ranging media career and a stint at running an IT business. He can write iptables firewall rules, set a rabbit trap, clear a jam in an IBM model 026 card punch and mix a mean whiskey sour.

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  • I agree with Labor/Greens now. We need the NBN for Australia's economy.
    I did think the Coalition's wireless idea was not thought through that well. Let's just cross our fingers the filtering policy will not get approved next year.
  • The filter is still alive:
    Labor's Craig Emmerson: "We actually think the concept of an internet filter is right. So does Tony Abbott."
    The filter was not dropped, only delayed.
  • IF NBN is built and then SOLD, how will that differ from the Telstra monopoly we have today? It seems we would replace one monopoly with another. The new owner would need a return on investment - up goes prices.
  • Just how does it hep the economy? $43b could be used for roads, health, airports, schools, trains etc which would provide a lot more jobs and improve our day to day lives much more than simply getting faster internet...
  • Who would buy it for $43b??
  • So we will all stay at home and use the internet? I think not! Telstra signs up 3 wireless new customers and cuts one fixed home line. I think we need fibre to nodes and them G4 wireless. It seems that wireless is the future and fixed lines are history. Check Telstra share price as it is one a downhill ride. They would be happy to sell the copper to the NBN for the $11 billion that the government is offering.
  • The point is it is 43b over 8 years with 20b being invested by private enterprises. This means it is around 3b a year. Very small in comparison to the 22b spent on defense this year and the 155b spent on social security and welfare also this year. The NBN is not something which will last 5 years, it will be still used in 50+ years. This infrastructure will remove the use of telephones within the house and make available voice over IP throughout the country. Imagine making video calls anywhere in the country for nothing! How about the idea of working from home where you can remote into your work which can help with less traffic, less population and more money in your pocket. This will help schools education, currently most Queensland schools are limited to 1.5mbit or Satellite connections. Out in the bush, students can be taught in virtual class rooms. Imagine video on demand where you could select any TV show or movie and watch right on demand. Then there is the benefits of Health...Imagine have a doctor a video call away? This sort of fast connection is limitless...who knows where it will head us in 5/10 years. If any money is being wasted it is Abbotts idea of Broadband. 6b for patching a infrastructure which will be out of date and need replacing before it is finished. This needs to be built by the government as private enterprise has had 15 years to do something. Think of the NBN like the roll out of the Telephone infrastructure 100 years ago. Imagine if this hadn't been rolled out!
    Lord Rocker
  • Wireless will always only be a supplement to wired. Wireless will always be slower in speed, always have black spots and laggy ping rates. Wireless is a shared medium and therefore will slowdown to dialup speeds at peak times depending on how many are connected to the same tower. Fibre is not limited to any of this!
    Lord Rocker
  • I don't like the idea of it being sold either...but it will be much different then the Telstra monopoly. Telstra has a wholesale and a retail division and therefore a very strong case of conflict of interest. The NBN will only and always will have a wholesale division. One of the major problems arose when the Liberals sold Telstra and didn't split both divisions. The Liberals also should have never sold the copper either. If the NBN does not get built with a Liberal win we will be put back with another decade or 2 of Telstra Monopoly ;-(
    Lord Rocker
  • The point I am trying to make is that we don't live a stationary lifestyle. We are all on the move and a fixed place internet will not suit our lifestyle. I use the internet mobile almost all of the day so high speed fixed will not be of any good to most mobile business. If I stayed home or in an office different story, but most business are now going mobile. When I am in Thailand a lot of internet is via wireless as they have embraced mobile business.
  • Many good points there. I'm not saying wireless will be removed, wireless will always be there but only as a supplement. Thailand is a very small country and therefore the total cost of wireless would be minimal. Could you imagine how much it would cost to cover Australia? I believe it is $160,000 a tower. Already the Australian 3G network is under heavy strain. The only way to solve this problem is to build more towers. Abbotts way is definitely not the way to go.
    Lord Rocker
  • If they "should never sold the copper" - why is the idea to lay optic fibre then sell it, such a brilliant idea we should all support? If it was such a bad idea before it how can it suddenly be great.
  • I live in a metropolitan area, and under the Libs plan, in 8 years time I will have the choice of my current 1.5Mb peer gain ADSL or ... nothing (there is no cable in my area, and I'm in a blackspot for every wireless network) - so exactly the same situation as now. While with the NBN I will have 1Gbs+ fibre to the home and true competition (because NBN will be wholesale only).
    Given the choice between technological stagnation and progress, it doesn't take a genius to know which plan is better...
  • The only reason why wireless is becoming popular is because it's succeeding copper. In other words, most people don't have a choice. Copper is outdated technology and wireless is already providing speeds faster than 1.5Mbps.

    But if you had a choice between wireless and fibre, then the outcome would be completely different. If all these customers connecting to the Next G Network had access to fibre, they would immediately go to a fibre network and use that as their primary internet connection, while wireless would be considered a secondary internet connection, mainly due to its mobility.
  • because they sold the copper along with the retail arm of telstra. You have a retailer who sees wholesale customers as scum so treats them with contept, So borderline on anti-competitive, just enough to get the dog barking, but not far enough to get a bite.

    NBN will always stay a network company, Like energex (qld electrical supplier) connects and generates electricity, Origin, agl, etc etc buy from energex and send you a bill.
  • infrastructure always cost money to implement, that's why its called infrastructure, It is a main component in a large system.
    "there's no business case" "there are no services to make use of it" etc etc
    Its chicken and egg. The nbn is built, then the applications that go with it come along and everyone's life becomes better. the billions going in to this network will save billions in new roads and transport infrastructure as more and more people can venture out side of the CBD and still work.
    12mbit is not a solution. The upload speed does not allow for the types of data a work from home/regional city person really needs. And its a maximum troughput not average or minimum.
    I've had a 10mbit connection from optus via cable for 11 years, I would have thought we'd progress a little between then and now, Its taken a decade, but its starting to happen.
    If it wasn't for NBN, tasmania would still be paying more to send data to melbourne than you do to send data to the UK hence the lack of competition there... That is what private sector gets you. Takes a government body to supply to areas of little/no profit, business couldn't give 2 s...
    100mbit or even 1gbit will allow for working from home as if you are sitting in the office accessing the files there and then. your office cubicle will be at home in a home office with a vpn connection to work while the phone can be an extention of the work one. AND when 5pm comes, you can disconnect, turn it off and hang out with the kids.
  • "I don't like the idea of it being sold either...but it will be much different then the Telstra monopoly"

    Yeah it's really different, the NBN Co will be a government owned monopoly like Telstra was, the ACCC which will oversee the NBN is also government controlled.

    Imagine the outcry if the ACCC was a Telstra owned watchdog today!

    Will the NBN Co be a success? you betcha, you can actually legislate to make sure there are no competitors if you have to.
  • NBN Co = Wholesale Monopoly = retail competition
    Telstra = Wholesale & Retail Monopoly = little to no competition.

    Do you see the difference now?
  • nice try, except Telstra do not have a Wholesale and Retail monopoly, there are multiple companies selling retail internet around 214 at last count and multiple companies selling ADSL wholesale.
  • "The only reason why wireless is becoming popular is because it's succeeding copper."

    No it's not the only reason, in fact it is minuscule in the scale, the main reason is the increasing popularity of wireless broadband with Smartphones from the likes of Apple, Blackberry, HTC etc dominating the scene and struggling to meet the massive demand, the back order and wait list for the Iphone 4 alone is incredible.

    Consumers have a choice between high- speed broadband cable or ADSL2+ today and elect to stick with wireless because it's fine for browsing, emailing, downloading etc, which is all many people want it for, and they can put it in their pocket and take it with them, nothing is going to change that habit just because they have fibre at the door.