Last night I dreamed that Australia is building a National Broadband Network using the best future-proof technology available, that it’d be a national project rather than relying on moody telcos who’d rather invest in Chinese real estate websites, and that it’d reach out to cover towns of just 1000 people. Oh, and that Telstra was being split up. Weird.
Oh, it wasn’t a dream? Excellent. Now what does it all mean?
As I wrote yesterday, moving to fibre-based broadband is a much-needed catch-up. That the fibre will reach all the way to the home (FTTH) is the best plan — a little more expensive now, but a solid long-term investment. While Mark Pesce quite rightly pointed out that 100Mb/s is “only” what other leading nations already have, I’d bet that by the time the last of the remote towns are being hooked up in eight years’ time, the CBDs will already be seeing Gigabit (1000Mb/s) links.
Yes, $43 billion is expensive. As Duncan Riley calculated, that’s around $5000 per household. But we’re creating brand new infrastructure to completely replace a copper network that was built across more than half a century. This is an investment on similar time scale.
Malcolm Turnbull’s tunnel-visioned whinging that it won’t be profitable misses the point, or at least is working on too short a timescale. Infrastructure doesn’t have to be profitable in and of itself to be of value. Unless we’re selfless upstanding citizens like the Macquarie mob, we don’t build roads or sewers or street lighting to make money, but to provide what the nation needs. Typical Liberal, Turnbull can’t look at anything without wondering how to turn a buck.
Actually, it won’t all be new infrastructure. As Crikey reported in January, there’s already plenty of spare fibre in the ground, laid in “just in case” during the first dot-com boom.
“There’s dark fibre from the Pilbara to Perth and Kalgoorlie, Warrnambool to Geelong and Melbourne. Even Mt Gambier has fibre optic cable sitting there,” a former Telstra wholesale employee told us.
“It’s kind of like rats. There’s bound to be some fibre optic cable within about six feet of you.”
Once NBNCo starts operating, don’t be surprised if Telstra suddenly finds some fibre available for lease. No wonder the other ISPs were happy with yesterday’s announcement. They’ll be able to lease capacity from the government-owned NBNCo without having to deal with Telstra.
As analyst Paul Budde wrote in New Matilda, if the NBN is really open access, the service-providers can start using it directly, without any telco acting as gatekeeper.
“My research suggests that once the network is deployed, healthcare alone could represent 25% of its traffic.” He writes. “Services related to education and energy/environment could take up another 25%. Over time the traditional telecoms and internet services will only account for perhaps 25% of the NBN.”
As an American, telecommunications journalist Om Malik needed to get past the “socialist” aspect of a government actually doing something useful before lauding the benefits:
Just like investments in railroad systems and highways transformed societies over the past two centuries, broadband networks can do the same for societies in the new millennium. Exposure to next-generation broadband gives entrepreneurs and engineers a chance to tinker and come up with some interesting ideas.
Had it not been for early exposure to broadband in Sweden, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis couldn’t have come up with Skype. And having met some of the entrepreneurs out of Australia, I know it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing innovative ideas bubble up from Down Under.
Other countries would be well-advised to a cue from the Aussies!
Broadband is a disruptive technology. Those who have it will create its new uses. Personally, I’d like Australia to be a creator here — though whether a government-owned approach is best, well, that’s not my department.
P.S. Note to politicians and journalists alike: There is no such unit of measurement as “super fast”. Please, people, talk like grown-ups.