Why can't Labor sell the NBN's benefits?

Why can't Labor sell the NBN's benefits?

Summary: The National Broadband Network (NBN) is Australia's biggest-ever infrastructure project, we're told. So you'd think the government could do a better job of selling its benefits than TV advertising containing little more than vague generalities and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's magic smart dishwasher.


The National Broadband Network (NBN) is Australia's biggest-ever infrastructure project, we're told. So you'd think the government could do a better job of selling its benefits than TV advertising containing little more than vague generalities and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's magic smart dishwasher.

Even the head of NBN Co, Mike Quigley, seemed stuck last week when Business Spectator asked him to explain the consumer applications for 100-megabit per second fibre connectivity.

For Patch Monday this week, Stilgherrian sets the challenge: what are the real-world NBN applications that could help sell the project? We hear from Jonathon Fergus from UK-based development firm Spiral Arm, avid photographer and GPS enthusiast Wolf Cocklin and economist Martin Jones.

Stilgherrian also sums up the week's NBN-related politics, and takes his usual random look at the week's IT news.

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

Running time: 33 minutes, 15 seconds

Topics: Broadband, Government, 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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  • Great analysis on what Turnbull is doing and could/should be doing. To me what he's advocating isn't dissimilar to the former HiBIS program run by the Liberals. In my experience that was an absolute joke for the most part, a monumental waste of money, and I'd be keen for someone to a post cost-benefit analysis on it. Compare the patchwork of HiBIS installs to a ubiquitous future-proof fibre connection and it would be clear that the NBN is a much better option than what the Libs are spruiking.
  • why not just get data from countries such as S-korea, canada or japan where fiber is in place. see what there figures are, see how it changed their country and then compare to aus. better than spending a useless $150mil on a cost benifit analysis. Malcolm talks of wasting money , i think eveybody knows the NBN will be good , a cost-benifit analysis is the waste of money that Labor doesnt and shouldnt have to spend
  • Tax payers shouldnt have to pay for broadband.
    Internet users should buy whatever plan they want.
    If the Government has a few billion to throw around, fix hospitals and schools.
    Jack from Carina
  • Turnbull has a good idea, and he's about the only person in the upper house that has had a business that dealt with proving access to users.

    A CBA is a very good idea, in ANY business, and when you’re going to spend 11Bn on a network that may not produce a ROI, or even an 80% ROI within a reasonable amount of time, why do it?

    I ask you as a Joe average;
    You get heaps of your friend’s pressure you into purchasing a Play Station 3, it costs you $500. All your friends want to use it, but one has all the cables for the TV, and they want you to pay $250 for them. Ok, you say, so now I got a PS3, and the TV cables, and are $750 in debt. You now rent out the console to your friends at a much reduced rate, because a friend called the ACCC says you’re the incumbent, and can’t make a large profit from renting it out (Look at Telstra). It takes you a LONG time to reap back the costs of the PS3, and you only get to use it a few hours a week.

    Now if your performed a CBA, you would go STFU to your friends, no?
  • Japan and South Korea have much higher population densities, smaller territories to cover, economies that are larger, economies that are far more IT literate and less hostile weather conditions compared to us, so any comparison is not really valid. FTTN makes more sense in a country as large as ours.

    What I struggle with is that the Government is talking this up but destroying rural communities with their water policy. If they are serious about helping rural communities, irrigation is more important than broadband (It's just the greens won't support it).
  • Yes that's why we need a CBA [sic]...

    Because comparing nation building infrastructure, which will benefit Australians in their homes/business and replacing the old dying copper infrastucture (that will be need replacing one day soon, like it or not) to an obviously equally PS3 scenario, is most apt!

    Seriously...you jest!
  • If we think about what we could do with the additional bandwidth, there are only a few applications that I can think are useful/worth the price. These are:
    > parallel gaming, so lots and lots of people can go online and play within a HD environment
    > telemedicine, so we can get remote location connected with HD TV and have patients being examined remotely be doctors
    > video, either streaming or downloaded, so one can watch HD TV.

    The thing with the HD TV is that even if we had the bandwidth now, the problem is that no one in Oz seems to be interested because the content distribution channel is tied up legally. We can't watch US content because we are banned from doing so and the content distributors in Oz (Channels, 2, 3, 7, 9, 10, etc, etc) don't want people in Oz watching overseas content without them being involved. They would loose money because they can't sell ads. Unless these problems are solved, I'd argue providing 100 mBits to everyone over fibre is like building 4 lane expressways across the country but banning automobiles and forcing everyone to use horses. What's the point??? Let's change the laws first so that I can use Boxee/Hulu legally and then the telecoms providers would happily provide the 100 mBits to people's houses because the demand would be there and people would be willing to pay. The public wouldn't have to fork out anything to build the network.
  • The tax payer will end up paying the full $43b+ because Conroy won't be able to come up with any private investors to cough up the additional $17b because the necessary documentation giving proof of a worthy investment hasn't been done.
  • All these comments about wireless seem to forget a key point.. Even wireless towers have to plug into a fibre backbone.. So Malcolm's vague comments about backing wireless is really not useful, we need an NBN anyway.. Simply, the deprecated copper network which was a post-war government investment which later became telecom and now telstra, is flaky at best, so what private investment will replace this entire network, making sure to include all the regional (and capitals, like Hobart and surrounds in Tasmania) areas that currently don't even have thorough mobile network coverage, let alone decent internet..
  • @Duro - there's a very clear difference between fibre to towers and fibre to every single residence in Australia. So no, we dont' need the NBN to have fibre backbones to major sites (schools, hospitals, towers etc) - we don't need to dig up every single street and garden in Australia.
  • That's right, there is no 'killer app' at the moment and not much (anything?) on the horizon.... 720p HD requires a little more than 1M and Full HD requires around 4M, so unless you are intending to run 20 or so video sessions why bother with 100M, Conroy's offer of 1G to the home just prior the election was pure farce.

    A recent study in the US found that 8-10M was enough for the standard family.... and HD on my WDTV Live works real nioce with my 'crappy' DSL which is so 2000's.
  • I do have to agree with pmerrill. It's excellent to see such a revamp of the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS), but there is hardly any content out there that it really willing to merit it.

    Television, for example. It is not impossible for live, free-to-air TV to be streamed over the Internet (most commercial and AM-band radio stations currently do this). It surely would not be too difficult to simultaneously broadcast across the airwaves and to the Internet (it would probably be just a matter of setting up a second feed from whatever broadcasting systems they currently use, patching it to their internal network backbone and going from there).

    Education could probably benefit from this as well. The concept of the virtual classroom is not all that far-fetched, I feel. That is not to say that the traditional classroom can be done away with, but actually enhanced by using the available technology. So that during school hours, students participate in group activities laid out by curriculum requirements and standards, and at home they can utilise that time to review their days' or weeks' work or provide assistance to their friends if they are struggling.

    In that sort of set up, security would need to be monitored carefully. For example, students could be enrolled into a virtual classroom by the nominated school's IT department, but then reviewed against the school's enrolment registers and approved by the principal. Teachers, as well, could be put in roles like a forum moderator, but where they only have read access to student chat rooms unless specifically requested by the student for assistance.

    Other ideas are out there, but these are just ones I can think of. But it is going to need a big shift from thought to reality before the NBN is actually of any benefit.
  • I can remember my IT guy telling me when he put a 1gig hard drive in my computer that I would never fill it up and should go for a cheaper option. He lacked future vision.
    In the year 1900 the overseer of the US patent office tendered his resignation because in his opinion there were no major things that could be invented and technology had peaked. He lacked future vision.
    To all those worried about if NBN is of any use today consider how long it will take to build and then look five years past that.
    The old 1 gig hard drive was only 12 years ago now I have one 2000 times that size. Where will the internet be in 12 years?
  • Unfortunately , no matter how tempting, and that it certainly is, the NBN is a Trojan Horse.
    It will provide the government of the day with a single network, to the home, with the nodes available to allow total monitoring of all internet traffic. The potential for abuse of this power is mindblowing. Never has a population allowed itself to be so exposed to such intense scrutiny as will be provided by this, one, State controlled monopoly.
    There will be no effective alternative network left with any chance of competing with the monster.
    If you want some faceless official collecting your every thought, go right ahead and support this hardware trojan. Just remember Conroy has not thrown out his censonship aspirations, they will be hidden in the belly of the beast.
  • (1)In our harsh enviroment optical fibre will last less than 12-15 years before breaking down, S Korea is already experiencing problems (fact)
    (2) not even .01% of the population would use even 10MB/S with current or near future Apps
    (3) if even 1% of our populantion did use 100MB/S to its full capacity it would far exceed NBN limmitaitions of national bandwith and all would be speed limited.
    (4) the vast majority of our population does have speeds they are satisfied with according to many surveys compiled over the last 12 months
    (5) Only 4 years ago copper wire had a max carry speed of 1.5MB/s, current tecnology takes copper to over 20MB/s, already new tecnology is to increase that speed to over 50MB/s very soon, (a saving of around $43B )
    (5) when put to a current survey asking if the average aussie would spend $43B on the NBN or on aging and failing medical infrastucture 96% voted for medical.
    (6) we have been used as a testing ground by other countries for too many possible future tecnologies already without our own GOV using us as guinea pigs too.
    (7) it is far better to watch a smaller country (in area) to test this tecnology as they dont have to run 1000s of KLMs of fibre at enornmous cost.
    (8)In a mobile age when more than ever our young population want mobile internet how does optical fibre help?
    I could keep going on with more than 50 points as above, but finding it a little hard to find many points on the positive for the NBN, can anyone help?
  • Well... let's all go back pre-NBN when Telstra ruled and we plebs weren't allowed to have ADSL2, were charged exorbitant amounts for exceeding our piddly downloads and we (and probably you especially) were all whinging about it, etc, etc, etc...

    Fast forward a few years where everything has improved, is on the improve even more and everything has changed for the better!

    Oh apart from you still whinging , so please continue...!
  • we are still at pre-NBN and prices are far cheaper due to advancments in tecnology in wireless and copper as well as competition, nothing to do with fibre optics or a NBN
  • Really?

    Perhaps you and your half empty glass are pre-NBN, but shhh, better not tell that to those in Midway Point Tas, who are obviously staring at a blank monitor, under the wrongful disillsuionment that they are, and have been since July, actually enjoying the fruits of the NBN.

    But as I said, please keep whinging...!
  • But,,,,4 years ago the 1.5 was an artificial limit imposed by telstra because they didn't want residential plans to butcher the prices of the more expensive enterprise class links . Another reason that private enterprise should not be in control of such vital services.
  • I don't think anyone here disagrees on FTTN being invested in, but the expense in FTTN is pretty hard to justify. We should start work on the backbone now, and see what the CBA recommends for the rest.