Friday, 18 March 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: State of the Internet

By February 2016 NBN Co was 65,268 "construction completions" short of its planned budgeted target of 94,273 fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) installations and behind by 740,000 
premises connections, with connection costs to each house or business also blowing out according to an internal company report obtained by Fairfax Media:
"The report, which was never intended for public disclosure, reveals the extent to which the more than $46 billion project has drifted off course, mainly during the time when Mr Turnbull was in direct control as communications minister - the portfolio he held before replacing Tony Abbott as Prime Minister in September……
Under the heading "Commercial in Confidence: Scale the Deployment Program", the report outlines a plethora of faults, including that delays in power approvals and construction are being caused by electricity companies which account for 38,537 premises or 59 per cent of overall slippages against the target.
Another 30 per cent of delays are down to material shortages and a further 11 per cent are attributed to completion reviews.
"Construction completions currently sits at 29K against the corporate budget of 94K," the report states.
"Gap-to-target has increased from 49,183 to 65,268 at week ending February 12.
"Construction completions gap can be attributed to 3 main issues: power, supply, and completions under review."
Also noted in the report is  a rise in the cost per connection of design and construction, which has now reached $1366, compared with the target price of $1114 - a 23 per cent increase."  
Image of Telstra communications pit (Sydney) from Delimiter, 1 March 2016

By now I imagine we are all used to images of aging sections of Telstra's copper network (such as the one above) when people discuss Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull's new and 'innovative' National Broadband Network (NBN).

What we are not accustomed to are images of NBN's actual blunders with Fibre To The Node (FTTN). Planning and operational blunders which appear to be at least a partial cause of the treacle-slow roll out of Malcolm's ill-thought out hybrid scheme.

Examples in South Australia sent to North Coast Voices by a resident of that state. All comments under images are his:

 "The houses near these nodes all have underground power and phone lines. It would have been quicker and cheaper to run fibre."

"NBN running kilometres of new conduit and 200 pair 4 gauge copper cable (left) and nodes side by side with another 190 metres away."

"There is a node to the left of this pillar. This is all 200 pair copper cable. Cheaper, faster sooner. BULLSHIT."

"Generator​ at Murray Bridge, close to power"

"Strathalbyn​​ - Power on both sides of the road and they were running a generator hired from Able Hire many months.The tower was laying in the grass for six months so why wasn't the power ready to connect from day one?" 

As for those NBN costings:

A cable with 4 fibre optic fibres costs 70 cents per metre if bought in large quantities. A cable with 4 fibre cores costs $2.00 per metre in small quantities. These prices are easily verified.
Householders have to pay for the whole footpath, the whole gutter, half the road, sewer, water-main and fire points, gas pipe, 
storm-water pipes, telephone wires and conduits and power poles and lines or underground power. This is an enormous cost. Contrast this with a relatively small piece of fibre optic cable that is only going a short distance to the Optical Splitter that connects blocks of 32 houses, the cost per connection would be minor, only the cost of a few metres of fibre cable to connect between streets. You would soon have a town or suburb connected for minimal cost.
Currently, when connections are made using copper wire, these copper wires that go from a house to an exchange may be up to eight kilometres in length, which is sixteen kilometres of copper for the two wires. This is a massive cost compared to fibre optic cable.
Landowners with large properties have run their own copper phone lines on top of fences in the past, but distance can be a significant problem with copper. Fibre optic cables can be reliably run 200 kilometres without amplifiers. Also electric fences can cause interference on nearby copper lines. Fibre optic cables are not affected in this way. I have been assured by Peter Ferris of NBNCo that large property holders will be able to cheaply obtain and run their own fibre cables and then easily obtain a connection to the network.
[South Australian resident, 2010]

A South Australian resident just seven kilometres by line of sight from the Adelaide central business district has been quoted $150,000 to upgrade to a National Broadband Network fibre connection. Read more:

The NBN access lucky dip:

After attending a Community meeting yesterday, we were advised that it appears likely we would not be included in the Fibre rollout, as it appears to finish at the council border, not extending to the end of the road (a distance of about 1km).
They (NBN Community meeting people) happily advised that we would receive Fixed Wireless coverage when it was installed.
The problem with the Wireless solution is that none of the properties have direct LoS to any tower where the Wireless would be installed…..
What's left?
NBN Satellite. To be within sight of the CBD (~7km as the crow flies) and have to resort to using a Satellite service for broadband is just crazy.
FTTN would even be better, as the Node would be at most 1km from the last property (if installed at the end of the planned Fibre rollout on the affected road), however, I dont believe FTTN is an option being considered by NBNCo. Read more:

Hills dwellers are not strangers to the vagaries of technology – thanks to the terrain we find so beautiful.
Many residents have tales of having to stand out on the verandah in the cold in order to make mobile phone calls.
Then there are those Cudlee Creek residents who live 15 minutes from Tea Tree Plaza but can't watch the local news because they were relegated to a satellite service at the digital television switch over.
But this region might discover just how off the grid some of its population might be when the NBN Co finishes rolling out the national superfast broadband infrastructure program.
The difference between the "haves" (fibre to the node) and the "have a fraction of what's available" (wireless or satellite) might be the difference of only 100m, depending on where your home is located in this region.
That might not seem so important now but in the future, when reliable access to superfast broadband is considered the norm and the copper wire system is obsolete, residents might find themselves severely disadvantaged.
If you lived in Andamooka in remote SA, you might be more willing to accept that you can only have access to satellite.
But if you live at Piccadilly like Stephen Birrell, and you did your homework before you moved your international business into the Hills, you wouldn't be happy to learn that fibre to the node is too difficult, contrary to initial advice.
Mr Birrell has the means to buy the technology he needs to make his business work, or he can move his company to the US.
His argument is that access to the NBN is being paid for by taxpayers as a basic infrastructure service but a disproportionately high number of taxpayers will receive a significantly slower and more expensive mode of broadband delivery based on geography.
It's why he and his neighbors have started the action group Gully Road Digital Divide to effect change in the NBN roll-out.
Whether the group brings about change in Mayo in an election year remains to be seen.
The cost and complexity of fixed services are prohibitive in some areas but if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants Australia to be the country of innovation, perhaps the criteria need to be revisited or at least debated by the community. [The Courier, 9 March 2016]

Founder & Chief Medical Officer, Wellend Health, Adelaide, Australia

All this paints a poor picture of Malcolm Bligh Turnbull's grand plan for an 'innovative and agile' nation with citizens and corporations connected to each other and the world.

The situation is all the more frustrating when one realizes that NBN Co. has been sitting on an alternative to the optic fibre currently in use - skinny fibre.

Of the skinny fibre trials conducted so far CEO of NBN Bill Morrow has stated: 

The findings are encouraging. Relative to cost, we were able to reduce the cost per premises by roughly $450 per premise. And while this is early, it's still significant. And relative to time, we also believe that we could shave four weeks off the time of the build.

Although to date the roll out remit given to NBN Co. by Malcolm Turnbull apparently would not allow it the flexibility to do so.

Is it any wonder that the internal company nickname for the roll  out of the NBN Mark II is Operation Clusterf*ck.

Which leads to another potential problem - the Coalition's Fibre To The Node (FTTN) apparently continues the current ADSL status quo for many Internet users, which is an electricity dependent Internet connection.

What happens to these FTTN connections (and phone connections consumers are/will be paying for in their home or business plans via their Internet Provider) during scheduled and unplanned power outages1?

NBN Co. obligingly informed us in 2014 that we would need to order its Power Supply Unit Battery Backup Service (which includes a standard battery type used in many different systemsbecause we will not be able to even dial 000 in a power outage.

Which is definitely a retrograde step, because currently if an ADSL connection is knocked out by a power cut at least the landline phone still functions normally.

This question about power outages was asked in March 2016 by that South Australian resident who commented:

“I made several calls to NBN Co to finally realise that I know more about their technology than the help consultants.

Will my phone and internet work if the power goes out? No, you will need to have a charged mobile phone if there's a power blackout.

I then asked the question about why they have batteries in the nodes, if the 'phones are not going to work in a power failure and was told that they hope that they will work.

What rot.

I also asked why the FTTN system will be running slower for the first 18 months and they couldn't tell me.

I know that you can't have the ADSL and VSDL systems working at full power because one system is interfering with the other. The VSDL interferes with ADSL.
Please see:


1. Examples of electricity blackouts in 2015:

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