FttP – Rest of the world is wrong but Australia is right?

At the same time that most countries around the world are issuing studies and plans leading to extending their roll out of Fibre to the Premise (FttP) networks, Australia’s Coalition Government studies and plans, time after time all indicate that FttP is the wrong way to go and that the MtM (Multi Technology Mix) is so much better for the country.

Tellingly, on the same day that the latest report raving about the MtM and slamming FttP was issued, the American University Community Next Generation Innovation Project (Gig.U) launched their report highlighting the social and economic benefits of FttP. Their aim is to stimulate the creation of gigabit communities. Cities and communities all over the USA are putting plans in place to become a ‘Gig city’ as they see this as critical for their economic and social development. The FCC also firmly believes in these ‘Gig’ developments and has thrown its support behind these developments. We already saw similar developments in many of the European countries with, for example in the Netherlands now nearly half of the cities linked to FttH networks. Scandinavia, South Korea, China, New Zealand, Hong Kong, France and many more countries all have plans in place aimed at extending FttP infrastructure in their countries.

Why then are the Australian reports so different from those coming from other countries as well as the many reports coming from ICT companies such as IBM, Cisco, Ericsson, Google, Microsoft, Intel and the list goes on? These all rave about the social and economic benefits that FttP infrastructure can deliver to society.

Put simply it is all about the outcome you want to achieve in your report and based on that outcome you formulate the questions.

Obviously the cost benefit analyses of those countries that support FttP do put more value on the gains made by digital productivity, innovation and the opportunities for new economic and social developments. These analyses are not hard science and as such they are very subjective. The Australian cost benefit analysis – in order to confirm the political message – conveniently downplays all of that and by doing so it is not too difficult to come up with that ‘terrible’ negative cost benefit for FttP.

In line with this, the forecasts made in the report regarding the broadband speeds required by Australian users are also totally out of wack with surveys taken by others in Australia and around the world. According to the Australian Government we seem to require only half of what is forecasted than people in other parts of the developed world.

How can you make these low speed requirements predictions over a 25 year period with the enormous ICT developments that are currently taking place around the world, wouldn’t you want to err on the side of overestimating rather than underestimating these requirements, if these predictions prove to be wrong where do we find the extra $20 billion or so to complete the roll out to a proper FttP infrastructure?

The latest Vertigan report states that if demand for the services increases MtM can be upgraded to FttP, the reality however is that NBN Co will not have the money for such extra investments as per the government policy – their funding will be further squeezed. There is no room in the Government’s plan to fix the under capacity if the predictions prove to be wrong.

The original FttP plan was to lift Australia from the bottom of the OECD ladder of broadband quality to the top, we can now be certain that Australia will continue to linger on at the bottom for decades to come.

If the government was truly interested in independent reports the outcomes would have been more in line with those produced in the rest of the world. Also, if the Government was really serious about its claim of future proofing the broadband infrastructure it would put much more emphasis on FttP as the end goal. Surely we can walk a MtM path that will lead to FttH, there are several other countries doing that as well, but these countries still see FttP as the end goal and not MtM. In such reports you can still support FttP and praise its virtues while at the same time develop a path towards that ultimate goal through MtM. However, there are no plans, no investment strategies and no vision on how to move Australia on from MtM to FttP; a development that is inevitable. Under the current plans Australia will be stuck in a half way house for quite some time.

The report also talks about the delays in the roll out of FttP. In the meantime however, we have not seen anything happening on the MtM front, other than one highly publicised pilot project on the NSW Central Coast, this despite the fact that when in opposition the Coalition promised that a roll out of the MtM  would start in 6 months time.

In the end it comes down to what the vision is you have for the future of your country. Those countries that believe in a  future where digital infrastructure is important, who are keen in stimulating the transformation of their economy and who want to create an environment for innovation will be looking towards FttP. Those countries without such ambitions are happy to be the followers rather than the leaders.

Yes you can achieve many benefits over MtM infrastructure, but by following that path you don’t give the country a chance, to lead, to innovate, or be at the forefront of the digital developments.

I am not shying away from stating that my bolder ambition for Australia would be to lead and innovate and it’s sad to see that this opportunity – as it was put forward by the previous government – is now slipping away, putting us back again as a mediocre country in ICT developments. This also reflects other government policies in relation to, for example health care, education, energy and the environment, all areas where a high quality digital infrastructure could assist the country in transforming its economy. This would lower the costs of these sectors while maintaining and improving the lifestyle of its citizens. In my opinion that is what the difference between FttP and MtM is all about, it is a question about what you see as the vision for the future of the country.

Paul Budde

See also:

Australia – National Broadband Network – Developments and Analyses 2014

Australia – National Broadband Network – Cost Benefit Issues

Australia – National Broadband Network – Infrastructure Analysis

Australia – National Broadband Network – NBN Co 2.0

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