In a submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the National Broadband Network inquiry into the NBN in regional and remote areas, the WA government has argued that the Turnbull Government’s Statement of Expectations for the NBN should be updated to require the network meet a mandated minimum peak speed of 100 Mbps.
The Western Australian government has taken a position that might convince the other state governments to speak up about the $50 billion being spent to build a second rate NBN.
The NBN is failing to meet the needs of many Australians, not just those in regional and remote Australia. The reason is simple. The Turnbull government’s Multi-Technology Mix (MTM) plan is a failure that is costing as much as the original plan to rollout fibre to homes and taking just as long or longer to complete.
Mr Morrow has recently stated that NBN Co will no longer offer a Fixed Wireless 100 Mbps wholesale product claiming that the cost of upgrading the Fixed Wireless network was prohibitive.
The Fixed Wireless debacle turned into farce this week, as NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow made remarks at the Joint Parliamentary Committee hearing in Sydney that appeared to blame gamers for the congestion on the Fixed Wireless network.
Whilst NBN Co and Mr Morrow are in damage control over a range of issues related to the confusing and unjustifiable statements coming from the NBN Co senior management team there is a growing frustration that the Turnbull Government is not listening.
And this is quite evident if you follow what is happening at the Joint Parliamentary Hearings. The government continues to call people and organisations to give evidence in support of the MTM.
Calls for the models and data upon which the claims are based to be released into the public domain to permit scrutiny, continue to be ignored.
The Western Australian government has focused attention on the key issues and asked the Turnbull Government to issue a new Statement of Expectations to NBN Co.
In its submission the Western Australia government has called for a review of what is to be provided every three years to ensure that future technology changes and increases in user demand are taken into account.
In moves that mirror what is happening in New Zealand, the submission goes on to identify that a 25 Mbps connection is not fast enough, the mandatory minimum peak speed should be increased to 100 Mbps and that the monthly data usage charge called the Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) be removed.
“Much of the existing NBN Fixed Line network is currently artificially-constrained where there is often vast capacity available and unused …
“A new model should focus on an approach that motivates the uptake of the highest achievable network speeds for all and permits near 100 percent network utilisation.”
NBN Co also charges service providers a monthly fee for each customer that accesses the NBN known as the Access Virtual Circuit (AVC) charge.
In New Zealand, the wholesale broadband provider Chorus charges only an AVC charge and is building an all fibre broadband network with the capacity needed to ensure that customers can receive 100 Mbps, with targets of a minimum of 90 per cent of this speed during peak periods.
The submission argues for an end to the Fibre to the Node (FTTN) rollout in favour of Fibre To The Curb (FTTC) or Fibre To The Premises (FTTP).
In 2013, I proposed FTTC as an alternative to FTTN, whilst arguing that the nation needed FTTP in coming decades so it would be cheaper in the long run to rollout the future proof FTTP now.
Unfortunately, nothing could persuade the Coalition Government from its disastrous Multi-Technology Mix plan and we’re now seeing the result of this technology approach.
Only 24 per cent of FTTN customers will be able to achieve 100 Mbps connections to the NBN and all of the HFC customers will now be limited to a 50 Mbps or slower connections.
The unreliable, poor performance inherent with the Turnbull Government’s Multi-Technology Mix approach is now here to stay without a major intervention.
In an admission that the Fixed Wireless customers were not data hogs, when compared to fixed-line users, Mr Morrow went on to make a remarkable and unacceptable proposal as a way to solve the Fixed Wireless congestion problem.
“Our average consumption across the NBN network is just under 200 gigabytes per month, and when you look at the fixed-wireless network it’s substantially less than that, so these aren’t as heavy of users; however, in the fixed-wireless there’s a large portion that are using terabytes of data.”
Mr Morrow’s solution appears to be to target the large number of heavy users, a problem that is “big enough that if we did groom them [restrict their connections] during the busy time of the day it would be a substantial lift to people.”
What measure is to be used to identify the “heavy users” and aren’t they likely to have usage profiles that are similar to many users on fixed-line NBN connections?
Surely the solution is to upgrade the Fixed Wireless network however, Mr Morrow appears to be more concerned with profit than customer experience.
“We had to be quite innovative about how we’re going to relieve some of the congestion … we took basically profit away from the company, which is modest to begin with, and applied that profit towards the fixed-wireless area, to spend enough to move that minimum of 3 megabits up to a minimum of 6 megabits.”
There should be an investigation into why Mr Morrow has argued that NBN Co can do no more to fix the Fixed Wireless network, especially when the Government’s industry levy is meant to provide sufficient funding for NBN Co to provide reasonable regional and remote broadband.
The Turnbull Government has spent the past five years arguing that we do not need 50 Mbps before 2025.
In 2017, when Mr Morrow was commenting on demand for gigabit connections he said: “even if we offered it for free, we see the evidence around the world that they wouldn’t use it anyway.”
Both the Turnbull Government and Mr Morrow will be correct if the policy to stifle new and innovative services and applications and to restrict user demand is allowed to continue. It is time for the rest of the states to speak up and demand a better NBN.
Dr Mark Gregory is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering at RMIT University and is the Managing Editor of the Australian Journal for Telecommunications and the Digital Economy.