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28 September 2013
By Matt Hrkac

OPINION: Australia NEEDS the (FTTP, not FTTN) NBN

The NBN (National Broadband Network); which would deliver world-class high-speed internet access to the home of every single Australian regardless of their socio-economic situation is a very important issue to me. It is, in fact, one of the big reasons as to why I voted for the Australian Labor Party on the 7th of September in the federal election. The party that was implementing this policy. A policy that would future-proof Australia - as well as bring in a massive profit for the government (and thus less cost to the taxpayer) over many years following its completion. This would have replaced the copper infrastructure that was put in place well over a century ago with technology that would serve us properly for the next century. The new Coalition government, however, wants to use the copper infrastructure to deliver a national broadband network.
 
 
Coincidentally, a similar argument by naysayers back in the early 20th century argued for keeping the "iron wire that had been in use for over 30 years because they give as good as results [in 1910] as the copper wire lines" in response to the 'visionary' statement for its time, saying "copper is used for greater efficiency". Sound familiar? It should. It is the exact same argument that the Minister for Communications and Broadband Malcolm Turnbull uses to describe his (the Coalition's) broadband policy - which relies on outdated technology (copper wire) because it is "used for greater efficiency (than fibre-optic cables)" and is "cheaper" and can be delivered "more affordably." It is certainly quite ironic considering that Malcolm Turnbull invested in FTTP technology in France as well as Spain - the same technology that he is denying his own people.
 
For those who are unaware; the Coalition's broadband (NBN) policy, in contrast to the Australian Labor Party's policy described above, involves running fibre-optic cables from an exchange, to a node up to 1,000 metres away from the home, and then running copper wire the rest of the distance to people's homes. To put this into perspective; it is like driving along a four lane freeway up to 1km from the outskirts of town, and then forcing cars into a single lane of traffic. It grinds things to a snails pace at best, and really doesn't make any sense what so ever. To add, data degrades the further it has to travel along a copper wire (in simple terms, the further away from the node one lives, the slower their internet is). Tests have shown that data can travel through fibre-optic cables for well over 200km with very little degradation over that distance. Furthermore to this, copper wire itself degrades over time as climate conditions such as rain and intense heat have their way. What this means is that copper wire costs more to maintain (in the order of around $1 billion dollars a year) then fibre-optic wire does.
 
Secondly, the Coalition's broadband plan will only promise speeds of up to 25 megabytes per second by the year 2019. That is compared to Labor's plan that would have promised broadband (download) speeds of up to 100 megabytes per second by just three years later. In terms of broadband speed, Australia currently ranks in 41st place with an average internet speed of 4.7 megabytes per second according to the latest reports. This is compared to South Korea which averages broadband speeds of over 14 megabytes per second, and Japan which averages speeds of around 11 megabytes per second. Both of these countries have adopted the use of fibre-optic technology directly to people's homes - so it is pretty much a certainty that there are households in in South Korea and Japan, as well as households in much of Europe and North America that are already experiencing speeds up to and over 100 megabytes per second.
 
Knowing that internet speeds year after year are increasing in the most developed countries - six years; the time frame that the Coalition are promising internet speeds of up to 25 megabytes per second (and in many areas, less) by, is a long time in a technological sense. Average broadband speeds in Japan and South Korea would have already surely increased to this by that time as the uptake of fibre-optic to the premises' increases in these countries (and overall generic improvement in fibre-optic technology as well). The end result, should the Coalition's broadband policy go ahead, we end up in the same position in six years time as we are now; and with the need to spend even more money then is necessary to upgrade our infrastructure to full-fibre optic in several years time anyway. Upgrading our broadband infrastructure properly through Labor's NBN, doing it properly and doing it now; would push our average internet speeds into the top ten on the global scale by the time it was to be completed by 2021. 
 
We also have to consider the fact that 4K video resolutions will eventually become the norm and will require even more bandwidth to stream such content then what we currently have available. The data transfer capabilities to stream 4K video resolutions with ease will greatly benefit small businesses and allow them to compete nationally as well as overseas (despite their ignorance) as well as greatly benefit healthcare and age care workers who would be able to check up on patients without them having to leave their own home and as if they were with their doctor; which is particularly relevant for the elderly as well as those who live in remote rural areas, several kilometres away from their nearest doctor or hospital. A full-fibre NBN wouldn't just benefit gamers and internet trolls.
 
Contrary to what some naysayers do say - wireless and satellite based internet is NOT the way of the future. It is merely there for convenience for the end user; and is simply not practical nor affordable for a business or company to use. A full-fibre broadband network is the way to go; and is future-proof to our country as it will allow businesses to compete on the international stage. Do it once, do it right. Lets just hope that Malcolm Turnbull listens and continues with the NBN roll-out in its current (Labor's) form.
 
- Matt Hrkac.

About the author:

Matt Hrkac is a writer and photographer based in Geelong. He has particular interests in politics, elections, social movements and the trade union movement.

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