There’s been a lot written about the National Broadband Network (NBN) since it was first announced, but one thing which has been fairly consistent throughout has been the Liberal/National Party roundly criticising it as too expensive, too complex, and inappropriate.
Yet the NBN is one of those rare policies that has the potential to completely transform how Australia is connected, and so deserves significant investment and attention, rather than half-baked approaches.
A lot of people get genuinely confused by the technology and the speeds involved, so I wanted to break it down into some basic concepts.
If we look at broadband in Australia at the moment via ADSL, you might say that connectivity from your house to the internet provider looks a bit like the following:
Sure, there’s a connection there, but the pipe is pretty small, and so the amount of things you can do with that pipe are pretty limited.
On the other hand, the NBN promises a much bigger pipe:
With that bigger pipe, you can continue to do the same things as you’ve been doing before, only much faster, and you can do new things that didn’t fit into the previous pipe at all.
After much discussion about how they could do an advanced communications network for Australia so much cheaper and better than the ALP, the LNP’s version of the NBN turned out to look like the following:
A slightly bigger pipe so you can do the things you’re currently doing a little bit faster, but not really any more room for doing anything new.
The ALP version of the NBN is promising to deliver a speed of 100Mbs. The LNP version of the NBN (which will supposedly cost more than half of the NBN) delivers a promise of just 25Mbps – a tiny increase by comparison against what Australian households currently get for broadband. So more than half as expensive, only a quarter as fast.
That’s their first target. They say they’re aiming for more. I say “supposedly cost”, because the LNP NBN will consume considerably more energy than the ALP’s NBN, and they’re not bothering to factor those ongoing costs into the equation. In fact, they’re studiously avoiding mentioning that at all. Climate change, who cares, huh?
But let’s take this away from computers for the moment and give an alternate analogy: television.
If we were to evaluate the current broadband environment and alternate policies with TV, you could consider it thusly:
- Current broadband is the analog equivalent of having SBS, ABC, 7, 9 and 10.
- LNP broadband is offering you the conversion to digital on just those channels, with no extra channels – but you can choose one channel to get in high definition. Just one.
- The ALP NBN is offering you the analogue channels, plus all the new digital channels, plus some Pay TV channels … and, you can broadcast your own channel if you want, too.
Two extra points about the LNP version of the NBN, using the TV analogy again:
- Imagine a big, 2-3 metre diameter satellite dish sitting on street corners helping to provide the signal. Tens of thousands of them. That’s also part of the LNP plan. That’s where all that extra energy will be used. Their system requires large, bulky equipment cabinets, which for the Australian climate will need activate cooling systems.
- Imagine being told that your current antenna stays in place and you only get reception as good as you’ve been getting up until now. If you want to get complete reception (i.e., the “max” speed promised by the LNP), you’ll need to fork out thousands of dollars for a new antenna.
The LNP broadband policy is one which firmly looks back at the internet of the early 00’s and says “That’s all we need!”
The ALP? Their NBN is about looking ahead and saying “Imagine what you can do if…!”