A range of answers to common questions about whether Australia needs the NBN and what would happen if we don't heavily invest.

I work in the Internet field running and you might think this immediately invalidates my opinion or predisposes it to the bias that “of course we need the National Broadband Network (NBN) you idiot!”. Well, that’s not true — I like to approach each issue from an impartial basis and determine whether it’s for the benefit of Australian’s as a whole. The reality is — it is my opinion and I do believe we need the NBN. And this is the very argument I had with another person across on the Australian technology blog Delimiter. The post that started it all was a comment by Malcom Turnbull — the Federal Telecommunications Opposition Minister — where Mr. Turnbull stated

To go from 50 megabits per second to 100 megabits per second in a residential context would be imperceptible; the user experience would be no different.

This really set me right off. I’ll post my somewhat long comments below for you to read in response to another user primarily called “Alain” — but pop on over to Delimiter to see the mammoth 300+ comment post for yourself if you’re interested.

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I’ll respond to your comments again but unfortunately I don’t have the time again to reply on this thread — thanks for the discussion nonetheless.

Regarding Anonymous Commenting on Blogs

“That old furphy gets a airing again, of course you are very selective on who that ‘put down’ attempt applies to, if it applies to everyone in blogs like this Whirlpool, ZDnet etc you have eliminated 99% of all posts in one hit as having any legitimate comment.”

Legitimate commenting online IMHO should link to a real online presence — hence the reason Facebook has implemented its online commenting system as one of many. You comment differently when you attach your real profile in comparison to an “anonymous” one because you do not care what you post — knowing that no one will ever attach this back to your name. The anonymity that one hides behind tends to provide a contextual behavior that you would not have if people knew who you were. I am not selective who this “put down” applies to in any sense — I think it is clear that your legitimacy is only increased when you provide critical commentary without hiding behind some “unknown name” because you care about your identity and therefore structure your arguments accordingly. It’s not so much providing your “real” identify as it is providing a consistent one — feel free to read this.

“Oh great build FTTH nationally, spend $43 billion of taxpayer funds and they will ‘invent something’ to justify its existence — brilliant!”

You assume this a stupid thing ? In 2000, when the Internet was not even validated as a widely accepted concept in Australia — we used existing infrastructure to enable and facilitate connection. 10 years later — we are still using the same infrastructure albeit with a better facilitation mechanism. In the next 10 years, 20 years and even 30 years — the usage and consumption of the Internet will be compulsory and an inherent part of culture [if it is not already]. Perhaps you don’t believe that services in the future will continue to rely on Internet at a greater rate ? History has already shown the path that innovation has taken across the last 10 years. Do you assume that in the next 10 or 20 years — the reliance and consumption of services will not be at a faster rate than what they are currently at ?

Let’s assume we do nothing — cost only increases as a function of time. IF we decide that we need faster infrastructure for broadband services in Australia in 2020 or 2030 — then the cost will far exceed $43 billion [even though this is not the total cost]. Let’s assume we build the project in “incremental” stages across the next 5 governments — then again, the total cost will far exceed the current projected budget. So the argument you present is more likely one of — “never build” — because across the next 30 years — building either a) privately or b) through incremental stages — will ultimately yield a slower, more expensive and poorly spread broadband service which has a higher net cost to consumers. Read this paper as one of many. Australia ranks 14th — Switzerland, Japan, Greece, Korea and many other countries are already implementing FTTH nationally — of course, all these countries are “wasting their time” as well I assume ?

“Where does that argument ‘fail’, what is it about BB infrastructure in 2011 that fails to display Youtube properly?”

Because YouTube is an amorphous website that is constantly increasing it’s data demands. Youtube “works properly” now because it is unable to innovate at a faster rate because services are simply not available to justify the increase in innovation. If Australia had faster access to internet, then YouTube would innovate at a faster rate accordingly which would provide an even greater an immersive experience to the entire community.

Again, yes youtube works. But no technological innovators want their service to “just work” — they want to innovate and provide a new and immersive experience to their users. In 10 years time, youtube will challenge Television stations just as Hulu.com and NetFlix are already doing in the US. You connect to the Internet directly and consume services across these services — this will become common place and already is becoming common place in the States.

Certainly, if you want to have 1 TV — with shitty non-HD quality video’s displayed at poor resolution — existing services will work fine. DO you really think Mum and Dad who have just bought a new sony 3D television will want to continue along this line ? No. Now let’s assume there are 4 TV’s in the same house — all wanting to consume services at the same rate of consumption ? Again, existing services render this impossible without painful buffering and generally do not justify a family use case.

“Err what, that doesn’t make any sense, is that intentional?”

I’m unclear where you’re confused here. Read my first paragraph — the incremental increase of broadband infrastructure in Australia will be entirely more costly distributed over the next 20 years as opposed to upgrading the entire network as one project. Governments are responsible for pushing society forward as a whole — not providing incremental services to incremental aspects of society which promotes fracture and class separation. This is exactly what the Government is trying to avoid by upgrading the infrastructure in Australia entirely and I strongly applaud this effort.

“Australia is already ranked what?”

17th on broadband speeds and will quickly loose any status in the top 50 if we choose to avoid upgrading our infrastructure as a whole. Korea, Japan, Finland, Sweden, France are already far above Australia and are all increasing rapidly. Review this if you need evidence.

“What innovation? — or do you consider the NBN rollout is like a lottery, based on a assumption that innovation in the future can ONLY be be met by a fibre to the home taxpayer fed rollout.”

Perhaps you need a definition of innovation — I’m happy to provide one. From the Princenton dictionary — “being or producing something like nothing done or experienced or created before;”. Clear ? Evidently, existing services will not be able to handle products of innovation in the next 10, 20 or 30 years. In the last 10 years, we have grown into a culture of technological reliance and innovation. Every seemingly must be “realtime’ even now — and this will only change in the future.

Do you believe that future services in the ‘average’ home of 2 parents and 2 child with immerse entertainment, multiple computers, streaming music, multiple streaming video connections, multiple gesture based appliances, multiple home appliances and home automation are all going to run across a 2.4mb shared connection ? It’s a strange belief in my eyes if you do. Given what history has already shown us in the last 10 years — I strongly believe that all the above services will require a vastly superior experience in comparison to what we have today and innovation in all these areas will require faster and wider broadband pipes.

“Many users are happy today with HFC, ADSL and ADSL2+ BB speeds, if you gave someone FTTH today who is totally happy with ADSL2+ or HFC what are you achieving here?””

Yes, the key word again “today”. So because one is happy with services they consume “today” — is your argument that this will contine at perpetuity ? New services arrive that require increased bandwidth and consumers upgrade accordingly. All you need is for Netflix to arrive in Australia [it will in the next 12 months] and already every household which wants this service will be upgrading their internet to handle streaming movies and television. So and so forth the data usage patterns are driven. The issue you seem to miss is that multiple service offerings through multiple services and devices in the home across the next 10–20 years will require an absolute increase in bandwidth and speed. There isn’t a question that this is going to occur — it’s a fact.

“Seeing as you have not defined what the innovation is it sounds like you understand that current speeds are adequate but to help prove your case supporting the need for FTTH you have to rely on ‘stuff’ that has not been thought of yet.”

Again, look above or in any dictionary. Innovation is a fairly clearly defined word. Of course, this is the point — there are many services already invented that aren’t in Australia yet for a whole range of reasons. American’s are already screaming for faster internet and it’s the whole premise for Google’s 1gbps expansion projects and the like — people are consuming more services, through more devices at a faster rate in their homes.

In the next 10 years, the reliance on hard-drives will disappear completely and you’ll have a screen, a keyboard and connect to your OS over the internet. Look at Google Chrome OS — it’s already doing this and it’s evident that the future of online services are going in this direction. Do you honestly believe that 2 or 3 or 4 users in the same household booting and using their computers across the internet are going to be able to do this on existing broadband services ? Absolutely not and this is just their computers. Add in the swather of other services offered — music, education, home appliances, security , television, video, gesture based applications and all the rest which will require the internet — and you quickly discover existing infrastructure will render any and all such scenarios impossible.

“Reminds me of Concord the fastest commercially available aircraft in the world, where is Concord today?”

So you’re comparing an airline jet which services a single industry to the internet which services almost every application we currently use ? Nice use case comparison. The reality is — the internet is now more important and utilized by almost every service and device you use in either an indirect or direct capacity. If you don’t use it — businesses do to process basically anything you purchase or consume. I don’t understand how you can possible draw any similarities in this regard.

The concord failed primarily due to the crash in 2000 and a loss of confidence in it from this point forward [in addition to other reasons]. In comparison, Internet sites crash all the time — do you stop using them if they do ? Of course not.

“You are muddying data usage with speed need, 100 gig under FTTN or HFC is the same data usage as 100 gig under FTTH,”

Really am I ? The shortcomings of HFC are well known — including primarily limited downstream [technologies such as Docsis try to help out] and even more limited upstream [ala channel bonding etc] and fundamentally the medium itself — the signal is a less ‘transparent’ one in comparison to fiber which why the requirement of amplifiers is needed and it’s a shared access network throttling bandwidth [just like wireless]. Evidently, the weakest point of HFC is the move from linear TV to non-linear HD video in both uplink and downlink.

“We tend to overestimate the short term impact of a technology and underestimate the long term impact.” — Dr. Fancis Collins — Direct of the Human Genome Project

Yes, upgrading HFC will be a ‘short-term fix’ — no it will not be enough to compare to FTTH in the future and a migration will be required eventually anyway due to it’s shortcomings. Again, your ‘incremental’ increase plan is just a more costly one across the life of any broadband project.

“Except this one requires the existing working infrastructure to be ripped up to ensure people use the NBN, is that what you mean by ‘innovation’ perhaps?”

Again, refer to the definition of innovation. Shared connections are the failure of almost all the technologies you mention in the future of consuming digital services in our country and every other country implementing a FTTH network understands this. Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Greece and so on are all building FTTH because shared technologies do not facilitate, and will not facilitate, the required demand in the future. Again, the reason google is building FIBER 1gbps trials in many US States and hope to expand this across the country. Again, the reason Australia needs FTTH and again the reason so many other countries are adopting the same strategy.

“Oh you are serious, sorry I thought it was a joke, so why cannot we do that today?”

Simple scenario. A team of surgeons — let’s assume 5 — each require HD video in real-time, each require machinery to operate as “hands” and each is remote. You think a broadband connection of 24mbps will handle this ? Absolutely no way would it. This is the problem — the shared network is not enough to facilitate the need. All you need is one “buffering” link or one “poor image” and you have the potential to kill the patient. This not to suggest that FTTH will not have these problems — but the risk of these problems is mitigated to a higher degree.

“Yes but all of your ‘innovations’ are also missing, but that’s ok apparently.”

I’m unclear that it seems history is an unacceptable use case. Compare the year 2000 to the year 2011 and you can fairly easily create a list of “innovations”. In the next 10 years, we will consume more services, at a higher rate and demand more speed through more bandwidth. In the tens years after that, it will continue at a higher rate.

Finally …

The sooner you accept that the world is moving to one of data services without the “cynicism” of “we won’t innovate” or “why waste money on products not invented yet” — the sooner you will realize that the future of digital services in this country requires a FTTH. Other countries realize it, we shouldn’t be any different. History has already given us a glimpse to what’s achievable in realistically 5 years [2005–2010 being the real growth] — and in the next 10–20 years its only apparent that such innovation will continue.

While I respect that you don’t believe in the NBN and I applaud that you have a evidently strong belief that it is a waste of time — I think many of your views are cynical. I don’t necessarily hold the view that you’re “irrational” — if you didn’t hold such a strongly pertinent view against the NBN — then everyone on this blog would simply “agree” :) And that’s no fun is it ? As I stated I am all for government accountability and cost scrutiny and transparency — but in view Australia needs this broadband plan to adequately take us into the future for the next 10, 20, 30 years and beyond. Innovation is already apparent from the last ten years and Australia needs to arm itself for the benefits that the Internet can bring over the next 10, 20 and 30 years. Otherwise we will be left behind — with a populas demanding increased speeds and bandwidth to consume services other countries take for granted — and digital services which will be upgrade through private organisations, at a slow rate with an incredible increasing cost burden as a function of time on consumers which will lag us far behind the rest of the world [or should I say, further behind than we already are].