Broadband access could be an election issueby Francis YoungNews Weekly
, July 24, 2010
I believe that access to broadband will be an election issue for a large proportion of undecided voters (although not necessarily for the broader electorate) in the forthcoming 2010 federal election. It is a concern to many that the Coalition has not yet articulated its policy in this area.
In this political vacuum, wireless and satellite are being touted as cost-effective solutions for most Australians; but, put simply, they are not cost-effective.
I suspect that Opposition leader Tony Abbott may be sitting on the details, so as not to suck media air from reporting Prime Minister Julia Gillard's policy and prime ministerial woes; so we may hear from him once the media smile on her again.
I believe that the Coalition would largely deliver the National Broadband Network (NBN), as currently designed, but without ham-fisted financial oversight.
Coalition policy (see the Coalition-dominated NBN Senate committee recommendations and the National Party 2010 election platform) appears to be to:
1) prioritise a fibre rollout to unserved regional areas and under-served city residents, such as those connected to line-sharing remote integrated multiplexers (RIMs);
2) collaborate with private operators to deliver wireless to the 7-10 per cent of premises never to get fibre; and
3) to get the first Ka-band satellite launched for 12 megabits per second (Mbps) service to the final 300,000 most remote premises.
The CEO of Australia's National Broadband Network company (NBNCo Ltd), Mike Quigley - who has incidentally donated his $2m salary to leukaemia research - announced the next 14 fibre sites in a July 8 media release, effectively confirming that all stakeholders are focussing on regional areas and less profitable low socio-economic towns and suburbs first (e.g., Casuarina, Armidale, Kiama, Riverstone and Brunswick).
No political party is going to use taxpayers' money to build wireless towers as the primary technology in any locality which the May 2010 McKinsey Implementation Study has shown could be more cheaply served by fibre. Wireless is a second-tier mobility and blackspot solution that cannot sustain Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone calls or video, and will remain so for a decade, possibly much longer.
Nor could any party cost-justify expensive multiplexers for fibred nodes while leaving copper running to premises, where speeds fall below high-definition television (HDTV) capability of 10 Mbps after one km and die completely after six km.
Fibre to the node [street pillar] (FTTN), as proposed by the OPEL syndicate (Optus and Elders/Futuris) four years ago, is not a stepping stone to fibre to the home (FTTH), but creates new bottlenecks that are later bypassed with fibre all the way from exchange to premises anyway - a short-sighted waste of money.
Fibre, once laid, is never touched again unless physically damaged, while technology delivers speed upgrades by simply replacing switches in exchanges. For instance, fully-optical switches, developed this year at Sydney University and now being patented, can already deliver Terabit speeds (i.e. 10,000 times 100 Mbps) over the fibre now being laid by NBNCo.
The Rudd-Gillard economic stimulus programs have drained the government coffers, so the Coalition policy should more prudently select the initial beneficiaries of NBN fibre.
But, rest assured, however they do it, fibre to 93 per cent of Australia's population will surely remain the technological goal.Francis Young has worked in IT since 1981 and now lives in the NSW Hunter Valley.