02.NBN policies head to head
The competing Labor and Coalition NBN plans are based on the same technology – fibre cables to deliver the internet – but there are significant differences between the scope of the networks.
In technical terms, Labor has a more ambitious plan to run fibre cable all the way to the home or premises (FTTP); it will cover 93% of dwellings in more than 1000 towns and cities across the country. It is already building satellite and fixed wireless connections for remote areas.
Anyone living in a rural area will know that fast, affordable broadband has been a long time coming, whereas city dwellers already have relatively fast broadband in most areas. The NBN currently being built will help rural consumers catch up with the services and convenience of broadband.
Tony Windsor, the independent member for the federal seat of New England in northern NSW, has been a supporter of the NBN because of the benefits he says it can bring to rural and regional Australia.
“It could be a paradigm change for people in rural areas,” he argues. “It can negate the issue of distance and scale of providing internet services for people living in the country. It can bring the benefits of cost effectiveness of doing business in the country with the lifestyle benefit of rural areas.”
By contrast, the Coalition’s plan is to run fibre to a node (FTTN), or street box, in most areas, while continuing to use the copper phone line (as is done now with ADSL) or pay TV hybrid fibre-coaxial cables to connect the internet to the house. It will continue with the satellite and fixed wireless plan for remote areas. A second stage, at some future time, would see fibre extended to the premises eventually.
Malcolm Turnbull, the Coalition's communications spokesperson, claims “the important thing about the Coalition’s policy is that we have not mandated one single technology and are committed to investing as efficiently as possible to maximise benefit to end users of the network.”
The maximum speed over the network will be lower under this plan. It promises a minimum download speed of 25Mbps by 2016 in all areas of the country, and 50Mbps by 2019 for 90% of wired connections.
It’s planning to use “vectoring” - which can potentially minimise interference between signals on different pairs of wire in the cables that run from the phone exchange to households - to improve speed over the phone wires. However, the plan makes no mention of upload speed, and the Coalition hasn’t said whether upload speeds will increase.
Under the Coalition plan, individuals who want to connect fibre to their premises from the node would need to pay for that connection themselves. The cost has been estimated at several thousand dollars, but it would depend on the distance and physical environment.
Every day there are more reasons to use the internet, and this is driving our need for a fast, reliable country-wide broadband network. In the future, more critical services will be accessed online, and equity demands that all households be capable of connecting to a reliable, fast network at the same time. This can only be achieved with a complete fibre network.
A partial fibre network that relies on copper wires severely limits speed and capacity and leaves the network unfinished and reliant on ageing technology. Fibre that runs to a node requires a large number of powered boxes that will feature prominently on the streetscape. It will also mean that money must be spent on maintaining the phone lines, and eventually running fibre the last distance and replacing street-level node boxes.
A complete fibre network is technically superior and will be able to handle data demands - which will soon move beyond a zettabyte a year globally. It will foster innovation and underpin critical e-services, which are needed to manage growing expenditures such as health.