The company rolling out the ‘nbn’ network has sent flyers to residents in St Kilda offering them $100 to sign up to the nbn.
The news is potentially significant as the nbn company has come under further fire for the ballooning cost and delay-ridden deployment of its Fibre-to-the-Node-focused copper network upgrade. The most recent leak is detailed in the SMH and includes the following:
“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”
If the nbn company is paying an additional ‘sweetner’ of $100 (which would roughly cost the nbn company an additional $10 per card to setup) to potential customers this potentially increases the cost of some connections to $1476 – a 32 per cent increase, or almost a third. However, it’s not clear how widespread this practice is.It may be that these connections were cheap and the $100 made good commercial sense to get customers onboard early - unfortunately getting reliable information on such matters these days is all but impossible.
We are all getting fibre
The flyer raised other questions too. On ringing the number and asking about the deal and whether the connection was for Fibre-to-the-Home, Fibre-to-the-Basement or Fibre-to-the-Node, we were initially told that we’d have to ask the Retail Service Provider (RSP) to find out. However, the nbn operator soon reversed their position on this and said it was a “fibre network.” When asked to clarify whether this was full Fibre-to-the-Home, we were told, “Correct, yes.” After confirming a few times that we were being told that fibre to the home was being installed nationwide, the following exchange took place”
nbn operator: “Everyone Australia wide will eventually be on the nbn network”
PC World: “But you said fibre?”
nbn operator: “Correct”
PC World: “So everyone is basically getting fibre?”
nbn operator: “Correct, yeah so, at the moment we have copper and they’re going to remove that and put in the fibre which will give us the faster internet speeds and whatnot”
While it would be unfair to accuse a seemingly-helpful operator of intentionally misleading customers about the nature of the connection, it raises concerns that front-line nbn communications professionals are telling potential customers things that aren’t true. [Update: In this instance, Fibre-to-the-Basement was being offered with existing apartments' copper wires being used.]
What we're actually getting
The most-evolved plans for an Australian National Broadband Network cost $38bn and saw 93% of the country receiving Fibre-to-the-Premises infrastructure which replaced all corresponding copper. This digital infrastructure would have provided a fixed and reliable digital connection to homes and businesses in the same way as water and electricity is known to “just work.” Such an infrastructure would have provided a platform for new health services, aged care services, the digital economy, media distribution, communications, numerous social benefits and much more. However, it was abandoned with the change of government at the last election who were in favour of a $46bn upgrade of the existing copper network which did away with almost all of the above benefits for largely-political reasons. While, the long-running, stated reasoning of implementing the same benefits “Faster, Sooner and Cheaper” has always been a sham, the letter does give us some insight into the stated purpose of the copper-upgrade network. It says:
Get ready for life in the fast lane
- Watch your favourite shows and play games without constant buffering.
- Stream music without the wait.
- Make video calls to anywhere in the world.
- Get fast access to learning tools and cloud services.
The first claim is contentious on copper-based networks as even in premises with upgraded nbn copper, claims abound that some speeds are too low to handle the consistent 20Mb/s required to watch Ultra High Definition 4K video on services like Netflix. Streaming music is rarely an issue with even the slowest broadband connections. Video calls have been normal across even mobile phone networks for many years already. The claims about the cloud may or may not be true as they are as vague as the number of cloud applications is enormous.
But the disclaimer makes these concerns moot anyway as none of the claims are guaranteed. A footnote says, “Your experience, including the speeds actually achieved over the nbn network depends on the technology over which the services are delivered to your premises and some factors outside our control (like your equipment quality, software, broadband plans and how your service provider designs its network.)” While on the face of it, this is a standard disclaimer, in reality most of these scenarios have already been cited as reasons for poor nbn performance within Australia.
This all emerges amdist a backdrop of unprecedented police raids on Federal Opposition offices regarding a leak from within the nbn company. Fairfax mentions that government and nbn company officials have been brushing the leaked documents aside as unimportant. Yet they're apparently not unimportant enough for Australian Federal Police raids to be deemed necessary. Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus is quoted as saying, “Tonight’s events are unprecedented — we have never witnessed such an extraordinary action during a federal election campaign.”