Feelpinions on the Coalition NBN Policy

Malcolm Turnbull’s – and therefore the Coalition’s – alternative policy for a national broadband network was finally released this morning.

As a policy, not a bad one. In fact, it was a good policy way back when John Howard’s government proposed the same thing, Fibre to the Node.

It is also markedly better than the Opposition’s idea early in Abbott’s tenure which was to rely heavily on wireless, a policy that Turnbull knew – proven in this FTTN-reliant policy – to be flakey.

The problem is, FTTN was something we should have had some time ago and any responsible national telco should have done it. We know Telstra had that responsibility removed from it some time ago via the magic of privatisation and the systematic failure of both Labor and Coalition governments to enforce structural separation on Telstra before privatisation.

The fact there is just one single copper network means that the incumbent doesn’t have to do anything. So they don’t.

In fact, one of Turnbull’s older arguments about broadband is that the market will sort it out, which we know to be false. The philosophically similar hybrid fibre cable (HFC) networks of both Foxtel and Optus were halted before passing a really meaningful market penetration, with Foxtel in particular opting for satellite for cable television delivery.

Just so we’re clear, FTTN means that fibre will be rolled out from the existing telephone exchanges in both party’s policies. The Coalition’s policy will terminate the fibre at the node, or one of those green boxes or barrels you see around the streets. From then, your existing copper strand to your premises remains. However cruddy that might be, which in my case, is very.

Labor’s NBN brings the fibre to your home, meaning a far more stable, robust and inherently faster connection. No attenuation, so silly jiggery-pokery to fool the line into thinking it’s much fatter, it just works, because it’s not a radio signal down the line, it’s light.

The Coalition is playing a lot of silly games with this policy release. They say FTTN will cost significantly less than the $70bn-$90bn they say the Labor NBN will cost, and therefore are running with fantasy rather than reality.

They say their FTTN will cost just a tick under $30bn which is interesting because Howard’s FTTN was just over 20% of that, so attacking Labor for cost blowouts feels a little hollow.

They are asserting that broadband prices will rise by 2021 somewhere in the order of 50% when the market history defies that trend. My 500Gb plan is half what it was two years ago.

Crucially, the Coalition are not saying whether the wholly inappropriate line rental charge will still be charged on a FTTN connection. On the NBN it will not, so their price comparisons are dodgy for two reasons 

1. they’re made up; and 

2. ignore reality

So they don’t even make the grade as a decent deception let alone as a policy.

The policy also states that there will be no change between the plans users choose now (12mbps) and in 2021. That is rubbish and requires no explanation at all. Most of us get that on ADSL2.

The policy claims that Labor’s NBN destroys competition in the infrastructure, which is kind of true, but there isn’t any now because of the patchy HFC network and the wholly Telstra-owned copper network and exchanges. 

The difference is, the Labor NBN makes the providers compete on price rather than infrastructure, which is what consumers care about. In the real world, people just want to switch it on and make it go, they don’t care how they get it, as long as it’s good. FTTN is good but FTTH is better.

The Coalition also scraps the wholesale price limit, meaning that if you’re outside metro areas, good luck seeing either better broadband or lower pricing.

Turnbull has gone on television and radio today to sell the policy and keeps telling us how there’s plenty of life left in copper and with VDSL technology with vectoring, we can get to 100mbps.

 Great. The Labor NBN can and will easily hit 1Gbps, which not many of us need now, but it will be Something Many of us Need before too long. Oh, but if you live in a greenfield site, you’ll get the glass because it’s better than copper.

 Yeah, I know. Consistency is not a strong point in this policy either.

The other bit that sticks in my craw is that if you want FTTN in a place like mine, you can pay for it yourself. I’d say that this will cost somewhere in the region of $2000-$4000 and if you’re not getting it to run a Telstra service across it, heaven help you getting it before the continents return to the formation of Gondwanaland.

But what it comes down to for me is this: the overall situation for broadband users in this country will not improve. The vast majority of us get somewhere around 12mbps already and pay the same on ADSL as we would on fibre, less the Telstra line rental of $35.

The Coalition’s mix of technology ensures a fundamental inequality. If I’m further away from the node than next door is, I get a lesser service for the same money.

If my strand of copper is awful, but next door’s isn’t, I get a lesser service for the same money. If I live in a greenfield site, I get 100mbps on fibre. If I don’t I take pot luck with VDSL and vectoring voodoo.

Let me put it another way. In a race car, grip is important. The FTTH policy, the Labor policy, gives the race car all the grip it needs to go fast for the ENTIRE track. It’s a brand new, FIA approved Formula 1 track, if you’ll pardon the awful analogy.

What FTTN does is provide a half tarmac, half dirt track. It’s a road all right, but you can’t run an F1 car over the dirt bits, so that’s the end of your fun, so you have to go back to driving something higher, slower and less capable of going really damn fast. And on that dirt bit, where the grip is low, not only can you not go as fast, you’re still fare more likely to crash.

 That’s FTTN. A dirt road over the last mile. It actually doesn’t matter if it’s a mile or a foot – copper constrains the bandwidth. And if you compare financial reality – $42bn versus $30bn, there’s no genuine contest.

The trouble is, the Coalition are much better at selling a bag of poo and telling you it’s a bag of lovely chocolate. The Labor government has proven itself incompetent in every way in effectively selling the NBN. The fact it was an election issue last time around was because the Coalition didn’t *have* a policy, so Labor’s looked great by comparison.

Australia is an undoubtedly difficult place to do broadband equitably. The Coalition have abandoned the idea that 93% of the country should get the same and are happy for the status quo to remain. 

It’s not good enough for a modern economy increasingly reliant on services delivered across the internet where we need quality, stable, fast and less lop-sidedly asynchronous connectivity.

The Coalition policy is here. Let me know if I’ve got anything (genuinely) wrong:



Victoria’s Offensive Language Law Changes Are Bollocks

In the fine tradition of politicians looking like they’re doing something, the new Baillieu government in Victoria has decided to fine people swearing in public on the spot. Which, let’s be honest, is different to actually being offensive.

This is instead of charging people with offensive language and hauling them into court only to have the charges dismissed by the magistrate in what is obviously a waste of the court’s time. Offensive language laws are long past their use-by date as the community has become more tolerant (this is different to accepting) of people swearing in public. It’s part of the social fabric and unless the surrounding language is intended to be threatening, most people just brush it off.

Many on Twitter, as usual, are blaming the moral conservatives and the evangelicals but I find it hard to see either of these groups explicitly supporting the new legislation. Basically, the new legislation is more about clearing the matter in one hit, in the same way councils do with parking fines, rather than let magistrates let the ‘offender’ off. These groups might drink a dry sherry in honour of the new laws, but unless my Aunty Betty has been writing letters (and she does), nobody is going to be all that impressed.

I think you’ll find the Victoria Police are behind it.

Baillieu wants to give Police the excuse to grab people on what is effectively a technicality. If a Police officer directs someone to do something and gets the predictable response that goes along the lines of ‘Get f***ed, pig,’ then the Police now have a marvellous excuse for grabbing the offender, fining them a couple of hundred bucks and sending them on their way after what will no doubt be a thorough search. That’s what this is all about, it’s the twenty-first century clip over the ear with added rights infringements.

If you want to blame the evangelicals (I’m not exactly sure who people think these evangelicals are) or the moral conservatives (a marvellous social caricature used as a scapegoat. Again, who are these people? Apart from Aunty Betty, I mean), go right ahead. But I think you’re missing the point. If the Police fine a hundred people on an average Saturday night in Melbourne, that’s twenty grand for the state’s coffers, or a millions bucks for a year’s worth of Saturdays. How many of those hundred people will want to take this to court? Not many. No doubt the process will be as tortuous as contesting a parking fine and that’s the point.

Worse, and far more insidious than the ad hominem argument of evangelicals/moral conservatives, is the fact that it is giving the Police a fantastic excuse to decide to search you where they previously wouldn’t bother. Police probably don’t bother with offensive language charges on their own because it sends them to court, causes endless paperwork and rarely gets past the magistrate. Those are the sorts of shenanigans nobody needs for somebody dropping an f-bomb in public. Now the Police know they’re more likely to make it stick, they’ll fine you and search you because, hey, why not while you’re already writing a ticket?

See where this is going? With a bit of luck, someone they really want to talk to will go for a bit of biffo and they’ve got them in the cells, nice and handy for assessing whether they can get them for something else.

I’m not dismissing ‘moral conservatism’ or evangelicals as a factor, but they’re not the driving force. I can’t say there’s much evidence to support the argument but it is the sort of thing Aunty Betty would do. She once rang my father early on a Sunday morning asking him to preach against a Pizza Hut slogan that went, ‘Get Stuffed.’ He told her to get stuffed, but reasonably politely, as I recall. For the record, swearing doesn’t offend me, despite my membership of the Christian church. There’s rather more going on in society to worry about people saying words to which we have attached weight for strange reasons.

Fining somebody for offensive language is remarkably stupid and is massively inconsistent. People like Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones are wilfully offensive in their on-air and written ramblings yet they never, ever swear at or to their audience. Baillieu isn’t interested in keeping the peace, he’s interested in raking in a few bucks, playing hard ball on law and order and giving Police a new motivation for collaring somebody they normally wouldn’t – or couldn’t.

I reckon that’s far worse.