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May 10, 2013

'Conroy's new BFF' spills on How Fast is the NBN site

This week the How Fast Is the NBN website has got both Liberal politicians and the media up in arms about its accuracy. But the site's creator, James Brotchie, defends the speeds shown.


My involvement with How Fast is the NBN, a website which compares the speed of everyday internet usage such as uploading Facebook albums and downloading Game of Thrones using either Labor’s National Broadband Network or the Coalition’s broadband policy, has been a wild ride.

I felt that the ALP was doing a poor job of selling the benefits of their enormously more capable and future-proof Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) National Broadband Network. Neither party, nor the media, had been able to succinctly demonstrate, to the non tech-savy audience, the difference between Labor and the Coalition’s NBN policies.

The average person has never experienced speeds greater than a few tens of megabits. When connected to my university’s network, my downloads will regularly hit 800-900 megabits per second and uploads 300-400Mbit to severs around Australia. Going home to my poorly syncing 4Mbit down 0.5Mbit up ADSL2+ is always depressing. I wanted people to be able to “feel” the speed and appreciate the wide performance differential between FTTP and FTTN (Fibre to the Node).

The site launched at 3pm on Tuesday May 7 and just exploded on social networks. The website has since been liked by over 50,000 people on Facebook and tweeted over 6000 times on Twitter.

Personally, I was perplexed by the Coalition’s response to the site. It’s clear on the website bio that I had always been a Liberal supporter — I simply happen to disagree with the Coalition’s broadband policy. I expected the Coalition’s response to be gentlemanly: an email, a phone call … some correspondence! Instead I was labelled Conroy’s “new online BFF” by shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.

I expect such banter between politicians. Directed towards a member of the public who votes for your party on the other hand; I didn’t think politics had reached that level.

Yesterday in Crikey, Stilgherrian raised questions about the speeds used on How Fast is the NBN. The rationale is that the NBN FTTP, as envisaged by Labor, can well handle 1000/400 (which will be available from December). It’s unlikely that you’d be able to pull the full 1000 down or 400 at the present time due to a multitude of factors (perhaps you’d achieve 80-90% of the speed). However, my goal was to present a simple, mathematically ideal-case scenario of what will be possible such that the average person could understand.

I chose the 25 Mbps download on the Coalition’s side because:

  1. By 2016 that’s their guaranteed minimum down speed as found in their policy document; and
  2. Tony Abbott expressed that 25 megs would be “more than enough for the average household”.

After someone has gone onto the website and experienced the “more than enough, for the average household”, will they agree with this statement, given the FTTP alternative?

I chose the 5Mbps upload on the Coalition’s site because xDSL technology tends to have an upload speed varying between 1-3 Mbps when a download of 25 Mbps is achievable. I was optimistic and chose 5 Mbps, making the Coalition’s technology seem more capable that it really is.

Three out of the four examples I presented on the site involve file uploads, rather than downloads. The Coalition has refused to provide any guarantee on upload speeds. Speak to anybody that’s currently working from home and has to handle big files (engineers, graphic designers, software developers) and you’ll hear curses of frustration at their slow-as-molasses xDSL and HFC upload speeds. I feel the discussion to date has overlooked upload speed; they should be the primary line of questioning until we get a statement from the Coalition regarding an upload speed guarantee.

One final point: the biggest misconception I’ve seen broadcast by the mainstream media and the Coalition is cost. I explicitly didn’t want to get into the financial aspects of the plans on the site; I wanted to purely focus on the competing technologies. People need to realise that that NBN Corporation is set up as a government-owned corporation. The government holds an equity stake with the remainder of costs being financed using privately placed debt.

The money isn’t being “spent”, it’s being invested. It’s the distinction between buying a carton of beer and consuming it versus buying a share in a brewing company. Over the life of the project, NBN Co is expected to generate a return of investment of 6-7%. The NBN will be valuable asset, generating steady, stable, cash flows into the future.


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44 thoughts on “‘Conroy’s new BFF’ spills on How Fast is the NBN site

  1. PkD

    Shush now with your facts, there’s a good boy.

  2. David Allen

    Thanks. Malcolm is a great disappointment in so many ways isn’t he?

  3. zut alors

    Thanks, James, your contribution has been excellent.

    Re your last paragraph in this Crikey piece: even Abbott should be able to comprehend it. But he doesn’t want to. Meantime, Malcolm chooses denial. They are determined to sell us a pig in a poke.

  4. Jennifer

    Link for LinkedIn posting doesn’t work

  5. claudedwalker

    Truth is Stilgherrian probably wished he had that idea. He should probably just get behind the site as a useful way of educating people about a policy. Brochtie’s decisions seem well-reasoned.

  6. Will

    Good piece. Congrats on your site blowing up.

  7. Elvis

    Ah, the truth.
    It makes one feel clean, doesn’t it?

  8. bjb

    “The Coalition has refused to provide any guarantee on upload speeds.”

    I’m really surprised that even tech savvy commentators overlook this. It’s obvious Malcolm’s masters want us all to be placid consumers and they want to be the gatekeepers of content distribution. With high speed uplink, many, many more services become available.

    I’ve used the example before of Grandma talking/seeing the grandkids on a HD video phone. Sure, right now this can be done on a tiny and generally crappy Skype link, but with the NBN, full HD video is possible. With the Coalition’s alternative, it’s barely possible.

  9. jennatilz mckrackin

    How many hits has http://howfastisthenbn.com.au/ got?

  10. David Hand

    Try investing in a brewery that doesn’t actually deliver any beer in its first three years, mate. Then you can talk about a 7% rate of return.

  11. Gavin Moodie

    I join other Crikey commenters in congratulating Brotchie on his site and piece.

    One of the deep flaws of capitalism generally, and Australian business people in particular, is requiring returns on investment in very short periods. Hence the government needs to invest in anything that has a payoff in > 1 year or sizeable externalities, both of which are true of the national broadband network and other major infrastructure.

  12. zut alors

    Gavin Moodie, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    What was the investment cost (per vehicle) for the first five years the Sydney Harbour Bridge was operating…prohibitive, no doubt. Therefore was it irresponsible and profligate of the NSW govt to build it? And why did the bridge need all those extra lanes…

    FTTN? phooey.

  13. Chris Johnson

    “I explicitly didn’t want to get into the financial aspects of the plans on the site; I wanted to purely focus on the competing technologies.” Aye, there’s the rub, James. The Opposition’s broadband policy isn’t competitive, Malcolm didn’t need to hear what he already knew nor that his credibility was once more in free fall. Facts and honesty count for nothing in politics – it’s the spin, always the spin.

  14. Interrobanging On

    Young, smart, technical and always been a Liberal voter?

    Perhaps the distorting effect of growing up and becoming a voter in the anomalous economically-sunny Howard years…this has turned the heads of many youth.

    But in arguing against the mule Coalition broadband plan, seeing the falsity of the spin ‘cost’ arguments against it, quoting a typical evasive lowest common denominator Abbott ‘well its good enough for now’ excuse, being dismissed out of hand as an ALP toadie for daring to disagree and more, James is arguing against the nature and practice of the Liberal Party, not just the isolated case.

  15. CheshireCat

    Ah David hand, you crack me up. The NBN is delivering beer….it might not have paid for itself yet…but what investment does within 3 years?
    Particularly what major infrastructure project does? Many wouldn’t have even finished yet and wouldn’t have returned a single cent to coffers.
    How long do you think it takes to get a mine up? To build a new railway or toll road? The toll roads I’ve seen take more than a decade to give a positive return to investors.

    And the beauty of the NBN is its government owned..it will have to make a ROI or they can simply adjust the prices. While the libs plan will have a similar borrowed outlay and have a far harder job of making a return (who wants to pay off the investment cost on something that delivers so little?)

  16. Scott Bennett-McLeish

    Good stuff!

    What an eloquent response to a rather political overreaction. All for a site that is quite simply demonstrating the *technical* merits of the download and upload speeds of the two vastly different policies.

  17. Damien

    Abbott: 25Mbps will be enough for the average persion…

    Just like the head of IBM in 1943: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”

    And the head of Microsoft in 1981: “640K ought to be enough for anybody”

    So… do you really think that 25Mbps will be enough for the average person? Really?

  18. Gocomsys

    Good stuff indeed.
    Looking forward to the Foxtel Fraudband Network?
    Have Murdoch, his Mates and Minions made up YOUR mind how to vote?

  19. GF50

    Well done! “and the truth will set you free” maybe even Malcom?

  20. z craig

    Awesome. Couple of quotes which seem to apt:

    “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM 1943

    “640K (of ram) ought to be enough for anybody.” Bill Gates, 1981

  21. David Hand

    Yes Cheshire, the NBN is delivering to an unquantified number of people in such worthy places as marginal seats in northern Tasmania, Windsor’s seat in Armadale, the Greens seat in Fitzroy and now the vulnerable seats around Blacktown in western Sydney.

    Do you notice the common theme here?

  22. Gocomsys

    David one must Hand it to you. Defending the indefensible is a noble attitude but ultimatily fruitless.
    Progressives (Independents, Labor, Greens) are the future
    and Regressives (Murdoch’s IPA mates) represent the past.
    Let’s face it, Julia Gillard is a strong, intelligent, inspirational and determined woman.
    And then there is your mate Tony.

    Do you notice the common theme here?

  23. AR

    The analogy “two bald blokes fighting over a broken comb” springs to mind.

  24. westral

    The Snowy River scheme was developed by governments as private investment would not look at it due to the cost and time to build. The NBN is the same, Australia needs it to keep up with digital technology but no private comapny would consider it.

  25. Lachlan Hinds

    Nice work Brotchie. what is also being left out of the Fraudband policy is ongoing maintenance costs – not just copper upkeep, currently around $1 billion a year for Telstra, electricity costs to drive the 50k FTTN nodes, carbon footprint, Battery and other node cabinet maintenance. The ‘savings’ of re-hashing the copper network are starting to look negligible for a far inferior system…. and then there’s the reliability of copper vs fibre. Look forward to your further writings James, at least they’re objective.

  26. Pandora's Box

    little additional nodes connected in-line to the main node… small enough to fit in the pit. The same pit which gets fill with water every rain fall. What a briliant idea!
    Perhaps, it will be the atom powered Collis class mini node? I wander, how far will MT go with his BS. His credibility hit the very bottom quitby now.
    In any aspect of consideration, there is no brainer that FTTH is the way to go.
    And yes, as other poster(s) stated already, I would not expect such a useless propaganda style article on Crikey.

  27. mikehilliard

    James, the simplicity of the demonstration I thought was spot on, even though I know you have been criticised over that. My youngest child immediately understood & quipped “I’d rather have the labor one, Tony Abbott or not”. The TA remark was for my benefit, she knows I can’t abide the man. Here in lies the reason for the liberals over reaction to your site. They have relied on the general population not understanding what’s at stake come Sept 14 & for you to reveal the emperor has no clothes is their greatest fear.

  28. AussieAchmed

    what about the extra cost to small business? Having to pay around $5000 to get optic to their premises. Given most lease/rent – who will pay? If the business has to pay will there be reimbursement from the owner for the property improvement? What about the cost of maintaining and then replacing the copper when its failing? Just billions more. As has become the norm infrastructure is not about future proofing, its about the next election. Think Sydney Harbour Bridge – what vision! A bridge built around 60 years ago is still working today…….

  29. AussieAchmed

    Oh yeah, great work on developing the comparison.

  30. Sanjay

    The difference between 20mbs and 200mbs is not any use to 99% of the population because loading a page of script is the same, the only use is with HD TV

  31. drsmithy

    Try investing in a brewery that doesn’t actually deliver any beer in its first three years, mate. Then you can talk about a 7% rate of return.
    How long after the first vine is planted do you think it takes a winery to produce their first saleable bottle ?

  32. John64

    With regards to the comparison to Sydney Harbour Bridge… isn’t that why they opened the tunnel 20 years ago – to meet demand and alleviate congestion? And that, I note, is a toll road. And didn’t the bridge construction bankrupt the state of NSW to the point they had to be bailed out by the Federal Government at the time? And doesn’t NSW now have the highest number of toll roads in the country?

    It seems building a big expensive bridge made them think twice when it came to the cost of future upgrades.

  33. Pusscat

    Thank you, James. Your efforts to adjust the focus have resolved my hitherto quite foggy understanding of some aspects of NBN into something approaching clarity.

    And I’m grateful to you for something else.

    Making a coffee after reading your article, I was wondering vaguely how long it is since I felt so positive about someone who I know will be voting for Abbott when I had a lightbulb insight.

    I realised that you belong to a group, All Coalition Voters, that I have been inclined to gratuitously stereotype and castigate as Ignorant Racists on the grounds that they gratuitously stereotype and castigate All Refugees Who Arrive In Boats as Muslim Terrorists.

    Dwelling on the irony of that just might have a salutary and beneficial effect my own future conduct.
    So thanks for that too, James.

  34. Liamj

    What a shame there aren’t more conservatives interested in factual analysis, on say climate, bubble economics, irrigation allocations, or military invasions.

  35. Liamj

    Its unsurprising the LNP likes Fraudband/fttn, because theres more opportunities for private profit.

    I can’t wait for their Medicare reforms, i hear surgery patients will carry $5k in cash into theatre and bid for sew-upers once they’re bleeding.

  36. Person Ordinary

    By any genuine measure, fibre to the home is an order of magnitude better than fibre to the node, which has most of the cost but almost no public value. It is also clear the coalition will win government. The question is can the Abbott government be stopped from carrying out the threat of destroying the NBN? How?

    This outrageous selling out of public interest is similar to the deliberate destruction of public transport in the US. (“General Motors streetcar conspiracy” on Wikipedia.)

  37. bjb

    “can the Abbott government be stopped from carrying out the threat of destroying the NBN? How?”

    Since the Coalitions plan is, as you say, vastly inferior, and more and more people seem to grok this, the Coalition has a problem – how to protect Rupert’s pay TV interests when everyone has high speed streaming broadband. How’s this for a scenario – Abbot et al sell the NBN at a knock down price to Rupert, and every subscriber to the NBN is required to sign up for Foxtel too. (/sarcam off)

  38. klewso

    A bit like your mortgage?

  39. Mike Flanagan

    I think he would prefer the old arrangement, accesws to the keys to the treasury!
    At least Tony the Mad Monk will have paid Murdoch’s consultancy fees.

  40. frey

    David Hand,

    The common thread you are alluding to is the cherrypicked sites you have chosen to try and bolster a false argument.

    You should look at the rollout sites here (which includes plenty of L/NP seats):

  41. tinman_au

    David, all your arguments have been brought up and debunked many times before.

    Your “marginal seats” claim one:


  42. David Hand

    Well Frey, I looked at the roll out map and it is polluted with hundreds of dinky little development arrows that get their own identity on the national map. So the swath of nice blue pins in Sydney include such vast installation as “The quarry apartments” in the Illawarra Road. Exciting stuff, eh? Have the debate around the three year plan if you like, but the NBN roll out plan includes everyone. Of course.

    My list is of regions where the NBN has already been rolled out to towns and suburbs. The NBN pollutes this data with little apartment blocks getting the same recognition as Armadale.

    I also accept that my list is not exhaustive. But every one I have named is true and it’s not a good look, especially when the financial viability of the network is driven by take-up of the service.

  43. CheshireCat

    @David. same old same old, denial of the facts.
    You point to tassie (a state that is completely labor/indie) and neglect to mention all the regional rollouts, essentially the whole of WA and SA are coalition outside the capitals. Coffs near me is the mid north coast centre for rollout..thats a Nats seat…Dubbo in central NSW is getting it right now…super safe Nats seat. Most of QLD, the NSW/VIC border all libs and nats seats. There is no politics behind the rollout…they picked major junction points and roll out from there.

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