Denham Sadler
February 7, 2019

ACCC blames FTTN for NBN woes

NBN

ACCC blames FTTN for NBN woes

Michelle Rowland: "The multi-technology approach has simply not been what the Coalition promised."

Fibre-to-the-node connections are to blame for most of the slow NBN speeds but “further work” could help them reach “similar speed” to the other technologies, according to an ACCC report.

The claim has been slammed by former Internet Australia boss Laurie Patton who said it is “rubbish” and the government needs to face the reality of the current NBN.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released its fourth Measuring Broadband Australia report on Wednesday morning, outlining NBN fixed-line broadband speed and performance.

The report found that fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) connections are performing significantly worse than fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) options, accounting for most of the 13 percent of tested connections that are underperforming.

“Those services never come close to delivering the maximum speed promised, because of either limitations with some FTTN lines, or connection issues such as in-house wiring faults,” the report said.

But the section of the report that has piqued the interests of telco experts is the claim that with further work, FTTN connections may achieve similar results to the other options.

“The results show FTTP and HFC services deliver about 86 percent to 87 percent of maximum plan speeds at busy hours, compared to about 79 percent for FTTN. However, when underperforming services are removed, the results are comparable for all technologies, at almost 88 percent. This demonstrates that with further work, many more FTTN customers could expect to see similar speeds on their current plans as customers on other NBN technologies,” the ACCC said in the report.

This claim has been slammed by former Internet Australia boss Laurie Patton, who said it’s time for the ACCC and government to face the reality of the NBN rollout.

“Surely it’s time for the ACCC to simply state the brutal facts. No amount of tinkering can turn the FTTN network into 21st century broadband. In the week the banking regulators have been slammed for looking the other way, we’d all be better served by a more robust assessment of the problems plaguing the NBN,” Mr Patton told InnovationAus.com.

Mr Patton said the ACCC is “comparing how good bad internet is”.

“The problem is the ACCC keeps comparing FTTN speeds as though that’s good enough. Whether people are getting the best that FTTN can deliver is somewhat moot because it’s still not 21st century broadband. The thing that disappoints me about the ACCC’s approach is they’re not looking to the future - it’s a very static analysis,” he said.

“They need to be saying to the government that this isn’t going to be good enough, even in the medium term let alone the long term. The only solution to FTTN is to rip it out and replace it - it’s not upgradeable.”

The ACCC report found that the performance of most retail service providers has “remained steady” across the peak evening hours, although TPG and iiNet have experienced a decline in download speeds from the last quarter.

The report found this could be due to retailers migrating their customers to new wholesale NBN products that were launched in October.

While the report provides a damning indictment on the current speeds offered by FTTN connections, it claims that it is possible to improve this.

“FTTN connections delivered an average performance that was noticeably lower at 79.6 percent but the figure improves dramatically once underperforming connections are excluded, essentially achieving parity with fibre-to-the-premise and HFC connections,” the report said.

“This indicates that addressing the causes of underperformance of FTTN connections in particular would promote equivalent speed outcomes for customers currently on the same NBN plan regardless of the NBN access technology used to supply them. These causes could be located at the customer premises, or in the access network between the premises and the exchange node.”

This is the first time that the ACCC has provided information on the differences in speed between the various NBN connection options, as the NBN shapes up to be a significant issue during the upcoming election campaign.

The ACCC report proves that the government’s preferred FTTN is inferior, shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland said.

“The multi-technology approach has simply not been what the Coalition promised. The NBN is now $21.4 billion over budget with too many consumers regrettably having a suboptimal experience. The latest ACCC report is merely confirming what we have long known - that fibre-to-the-node is regrettably a technology that has inherent limitations in both speed and reliability,” Ms Rowland told InnovationAus.com.

Federal Labor is said to be considering writing down the value of the NBN in order to make it more affordable and provide more access to fibre technology rather than copper.

“The Opposition is making noises about having to write down the value of the NBN. I don’t think it’ll matter who is in government, that’s going to be a very serious issue to be contemplated, otherwise NBN Co is slowly going to go broke,” Mr Patton.

The NBN will be a “huge” issue at the upcoming election, especially in regional Australia, Mr Patton said.

“If people in the cities are disappointed, people in the bush are ropeable, especially businesses trying to compete in regional centres. I think the NBN is going to be a massive election issue,” he said.

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