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We've heard a lot of criticism from the Coalition on Labor's NBN but no mention of what they might do themselves. Today we got some details.

Cost. The Coalition's plan is forecast to cost $20.4 billion vs Labour's forecast of $37.4 billion.

Speed. 25-100 megabits per second by late 2016 and up to 50 -100 megabits per second by 2019. Labor's NBN promises speeds of 100 megabits per second with future upgrades to 1,000 megabits per second.

Delivery: The Coalition are opting for fibre-to-the-node(FTTN) vs the ALP's policy of fibre-to-the-home(FTTH).

Prices: The Coalition's policy promises that projected prices will be $24 per month cheaper than the ALP's NBN.

Fibre-to-the-node technology means that optic fibre goes to a cabinet in the street. The internet is delivered by using existing copper wire infrastructure to complete connection to premises.

Fibre-to-the-home means the optic fibre comes straight to your home. This would be used in new housing estates with no existing copper infrastructure. This is also the case in areas where copper had to be replaced due to degradation. Other areas where there was sufficient demand to justify it, such as business centres, industrial and commercial parks, schools, hospitals, medical centres and universities would get FTTH.

Under the Coalition plan, first priority would go to areas with the poorest services and greatest need for upgrades.

Comparisons

 

Coalition's Broadband Policy

Labor's NBN

Rollout cost

$20.4 billion

$37.4 billion

Speed

25-100 megabits per second

100 megabits per second

Future Speeds

50-100 megabits per second

1,000 megabits per second

Delivery

FTTN

FTTH

Monthly Plans

$22 per month cheaper

 

Completion

2019

2021

 

Our thoughts

At $20.4 billion vs $37.4 billion, the Coalition's policy certainly comes in a lot cheaper than Labor's. The monthly plans also are promised to be $22 cheaper per month. I haven't seen any sample prcing plans so I'm not quite sure what that actually means.  The promised speeds are significantly faster than current ADSL speeds but do fall short of NBN speeds.

Mssrs Turnbull & Abbott seem to think the promised speeds are more than adequate for most users. This may well be true for current usage. But it is a myopic view of internet usage.

The way the internet is used has changed significantly. I first connected to bulletin boards by dial up in the early 1990's. It was slow. Emails were not sent straight away. They were bundled up and sent overnight. Getting a message through in 24 hours was significantly faster than the postal service. A far cry from the almost instant delivery of email nowadays.

A couple of years later, I was able to connect via APANA (Australian Public Access Network Association). This connection was upgraded to a dial up connection with the internet.

Microsoft released Internet Explorer 5 which came in as 50 megabyte download by dialup. This took about 3 hours. Oh how we complained about that. ADSL was just starting then and not many places had it. Downland by dial up was painfully slow and it tied up the only phone line in the house. With ADSL, you could miraculously surf the net and use the phone at the same time. Downloads were also significantly faster.

Faster downloads changed behaviours. You could watch video online and download music. Something unheard of with dialup. Similarly, NBN speeds will also result in changes to the way we use the net. Areas such as telemedicine are already being explored.

Data backup is one area that will greatly benefit from better broadband. We take photos, shoot video and have music collections. Once upon a time that meant photographs, slides, VHS tapes and LPs or CDs. Now, most of that content is digital. It exists on computers at home. How many of us have backups? Not many. I've got a backup server at home which has around 1.5 terabytes of data. I'd like to back up all my data to a cloud. To do this with my current connection is simply not tenable. To back up my data would take almost 27 weeks (around 6 months).

Network Speed

Time to download a 1TB file

1 Mbps

3000 hrs (18weeks)

10 Mbps

300 hrs (12.5 days)

100 Mbps

30 hrs

1000 Mbps

3 hrs

 

Labor's NBN policy is faster, but more expensive. It promises to deliver fibre-to-the-home to 93% of Australians. For the other 7 per cent who live in rural and regional areas, running fibre will be too expensive. Labor will use satellites and wireless technology to connect them.

The Coalition's network will mostly use fibre-to-the-node. Instead of running the fibre all the way to homes, the Coalition will run the fibre to cabinets in street. From the node, internet will be delivered using existing copper telephone wires the rest of the way to the home.

Running broadband over copper wire has limitations. Firstly, you cannot get the same bandwidth from running electrons down copper as you can from running photons down optical fibres. You can nay change the laws of physics. Secondly, the signal sent down a copper cable degrades over distance. The further you are from the node, the slower the speed will be.

About 70 per cent of Australians, or roughly 9 million homes, will get FTTN by 2019 under the Coalition plan. These will be new areas where there is no existing copper network.

If you have copper wire but want fibre delivered to your home, under the Coalition's policy you will have to pay for that. Cost for that are quoted by Senator Conroy as being up to $5,000. His figures are based in the UK's BT pricing.

"…if you were 1000 metres away for example in the UK, ah, it would cost several thousand pounds. So, you know, several thousand dollars to get fibre pulled to that premise." Malcolm Turnbull interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM, 9 April 2013.

Conclusion

The Coalition's policy will result in cheaper broadband that will be completed sooner. The sting in the tail is that is not visionary and won't future proof Australia's digital future. Labor's policy is more expensive, but it is the better option in my humble opinion.

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