Malcolm Turnbull's “cheaper, faster” claims for the Coalition's broadband plan compared to the NBN are simply not supported by the facts, says Kieran Cummings.
ON MONDAY NIGHT, Malcolm Turnbull decided the smartest thing he could do is appear on ABC 7.30 to spruik the supposed benefits of the Coalition’s (undisclosed uncosted) plan. Turnbull opened strong, jovially plugging his “Coalition Broadband Test” (survey).
Leigh Sales was having none of it, straight off the bat asking if Turnbull could give a comparable figure to the ALP’s NBN policy ($37.5 billion for 9 out of 10 homes having 100Mbps internet or faster):
"Would you please give me a comparable figure for your policy?
This is where Turnbull started to go off the rails.
Yes, one question in & Turnbull was throwing an Abbott. Turnbull was unable to give a figure for the Coalition’s plan, merely stating that the NBN would cost double the $37.5 billion that is clearly stated in the NBN Co Business Plan. He ignores that the revision of the cost for the NBN was an additional $1.4 billion (or 3 per cent of total expenditure). This figure has come from the people with knowledge of the inner workings of NBN Co.
Rolled into the response was Turnbull’s go to line that “[NBN Co] has only had about 5,000 connected”. Having studied the business plan, I see nowhere that Turnbull could possibly have gotten this figure from. I can see that the Tasmanian Stage 2 First Release Sites (TAS S2 FRS) had completed work for 8,746 premises. Yes, that’s TAS S2 FRS alone, nationally that number is closer to 30 000 premises.
This is when Turnbull started to get a bit nervous, relying on the same phrase repeatedly to fend off probing questions from Sales.
LEIGH SALES: OK. We’ve unpacked their policy, now let’s unpack yours. I said they’ve got nine out of 10 homes, which will have broadband internet at speeds of 100 megabits per second. What will you have?
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well what we would have if we take out approach, we will be able to deliver very fast broadband much sooner, much cheaper and more affordably.
This line is becoming a tired dog-whistle that panders to the “it has to be cheaper” crowd, which is slowly being diminished by the reality of a fibre connected nation. Without any solid policy, let alone costings, throwaway lines like “we can do it cheaper & faster” are meaningless. Turnbull goes on to say that all users will be within 1000 metres of a VDSL2 cabinet ― something that, when you examine the numbers, is going to be far more expensive than a GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network) setup. GPON has a range of 20 kilometres total loop length, servicing up to 32 ONTs (Optical Network Termination), far more than can be serviced by a 1 kilometre VDSL loop. Claims that 1/3 of customers will be able to receive 80Mbps VDSL2 [VDSL2 Whitepaper] is ambitious at best, with the bandwidth falloff for VDSL2 Profile 8 (more than likely what will be deployed to keep costs down & deliver service to 1kilometre) not even making it to 80Mbps at the DSLAM (Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer, i.e. Exchange Equipment). Add to this, that to support even the 80Mbps services that Turnbull claims British Telecom offer (they’re actually “up to” 76Mbps), a minimum of two pairs (bonded) are required to run the service, and one pair to run a telephone line. The requirements for lead-ins is that two pairs be installed to the first socket in the premises, the Telstra/Optus networks are both designed with this in mind, leaving little room for two pairs to be taken up by a VDSL2 service.
This would mean that under the Coalition’s “plan”, not only would there have to be 20 times the number if cabinets as with the NBN’s GPON solution, but there would have to be, at the least, a new copper pair for every premises connected to the network. With the maintenance savings from decommissioning the copper network being estimated at $700 million per annum by BIS Shrapnel, by adding, at least, an additional half the total number of pairs to the network, the increase in maintenance costs will be $350 million per annum.
Suddenly the “cheaper, faster” argument from Turnbull looks hollow and myopic. Turnbull then goes on to claim that the cost difference between FTTH & FTTN is 3 or 4 times greater, but does not go on to cite where he has come to this conclusion. It flies in the face of NBN Co Chairman Harrison Young’s claims that FTTN would, in fact, be more expensive to deploy. Somehow we are to believe a politician that has repeatedly been less than honest when it comes to the NBN over the Chairman of the company tasked with deploying the NBN.
The cost differential between fibre to the cabinet and fibre to the node on the one hand and fibre to the premises – which is what the Government is doing − is about three or four to one everywhere in the developed world it's found.
Turnbull then went completely off the rails claiming that
“...most people in the engineering industry, the civil construction industry that are familiar with the NBN think that the cost of the project is likely to be as much as twice as the Government is forecasting and take 20 years.”
Not only does this claim hold no weight in the real world, it’s purely designed to introduce fear, uncertainty and doubt into the debate. I have yet to read an article, blog, or even tweet, by an engineer that supports this claim. If anything, the LNP plan would take longer, cost far more and be out of date by the time it’s finished.
Basic calculations on bandwidth requirements (supported by the ABS), is that they will increase 80 per cent year on year. If the average ADSL2 connection (considered “good enough” by the LNP) is 12Mbps, within 4 years the Coalition’s broadband plan will be out of date, within 7 years the 1000Mbps connections on the NBN will be “good enough”. The difference is that, as Ericsson put it 3 years ago, VDSL2 is “taking the wire to the limit”. British Telecom are already upgrading their VDSL deployments to fibre optic services, so the Turnbull’s usage of British Telecom (and most of his other examples) is based on information that is at least 3 years old, if not older.
While the unhinging of Turnbull on ABC 7.30 was amusing, it does show a man who’s losing his grip. When posed questions to support his position, dog-whistle sloganeering kicks in; when pressed on technical details, misinformation kicks in; and when posed with technical data (whitepaper) on Twitter, complete denial kicks in.
In summation, Turnbull is doing a great job at showing the NBN is not only the best method for delivering services neglected by Telstra since they were sold off by the Liberal party, but also the cheapest method. The more interviews Turnbull gives where he goes off the rails, blaming the NBN for Telstra neglect, claiming cost blowouts and delays are unacceptable, and generally misrepresenting technologies and companies ― the better for all of us who want to see the NBN implemented.
(You can read more by Kieran Cumming on his blog sortius.is-a-geek.com or follow him on Twitter @sortius.)
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