NBN Rethink: Why We Need ‘Fibre-To-The-Driveway’ Right Now

Ever since the Coalition government came into power and declared it will use the fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) model for the National Broadband Network (NBN), experts and vocal technology-conscious citizens have been up in arms about it. But the argument against FTTN has been mounting for years. Faced with overwhelming evidence and new technology alternatives, the Government can no longer ignore that their NBN vision is short-sighted. They need to act now instead of dooming us to an archaic broadband network just to save face. Here are four reasons why fibre-to-the-distribution point (FTTdp) needs to be adopted for the NBN.

Cheetah shadow image from Shutterstock

Internet Australia has come out to urge the Federal Government to consider FTTdp — also known as “fibre-to-the-driveway” — as an alternative to FTTN and upgrading the existing hybrid-fibre-coax (HFC) network. Currently, the NBN model involves a lot of old copper with some fibre weaved into it. It’s a patchy rollout model that, at the end of the day, fails to deliver the internet speeds and bandwidth that we’ll need for the future.

Putting internet speed rankings aside, Australia’s broadband is woefully inadequate. The download speeds we currently have are fine for now but they’re not going to be fast enough in the near future. The FTTN model simply won’t cut it and, at the moment, FTTdp looks like a viable alternative.

Here are four reasons why it’s time we adopted FTTdp:

#1 It Helps The Economy

This is one of those things that is often talked about in relation to the NBN, but it’s often vague as hell. For some people, it’s hard to visualise and quantify just how faster internet speeds could possibly contribute to the economy.

Yes, you probably don’t need 1Gbps to stream videos, play online games and Skype relatives overseas, but high speed internet is vital for businesses that want to compete on a global scale in the not-too-distant future. We also want to woo foreign investment from companies abroad and having high-speed broadband would be an attractive proposition for those businesses to set up shop on our shores.

According to a study by the Melbourne University, the NBN in its current FTTN form could potentially boost Australia’s gross domestic profit (GDP) by two per cent in the long term as it has the potential to make valuable services widely available:

“The services we have considered are ones that have documented evidence of their economic benefit. The six service categories included in our study were: cloud computing for small business; electronic commerce for small business and government; a hybrid form of online higher education; several forms of telehealth practice; teleworking; and entertainment services. Of these, telehealth and teleworking stand out as the most valuable contributors to the Australian economy with the NBN.”

Two per cent. That’s modelled off the NBN in its inferior FTTN form. When you factor in the cheaper cost, upgradability and speed differences of FTTdp, that GDP growth could be significantly higher.

Since we’re talking about cost…

#2 FTTdp’s Is Arguably Cheaper Than FTTN

The whole reason behind the Coalition’s feverish commitment to FTTN is a result of the party demonising Labor’s original plans for FTTP as way too expensive and a waste of taxpayers’ money. Fibre is quite expensive and FTTN uses copper for the “last mile” (usually around 400m or less) which theoretically makes it cheaper than FTTP.

But it has become clear that the quick savings the Government was looking for are evaporating fast. While the idea was to offset a large portion of the NBN rollout with the existing HFC network, there have been reports that nbn will have to build over it. Then there’s the cost nbn has to pay to Telstra to maintain the aging copper network. So far the NBN will cost up to $56 billion but it may only be worth $27 billion after construction is complete, according to auditing firm PwC. All for a network that will become obsolete in the not-to-distant future.

FTTdp sits in between FTTP and FTTN. It’s cheaper than FTTP and only a little bit more expensive than FTTN. While it does still use copper to make a connection to the premises, it still brings the fibre closer to the user and makes it easier for future upgrades. I’m loathe to use the word “futureproof” but that is exactly what FTTdp can do. Paired with skinny fibre, which is cheaper and easier to deploy than regular fibre, the cost savings and functional benefits cannot be ignored. It is something even nbn chief, Bill Morrow, has talked about.

But the Coalition government will never give in and go back to an FTTP model for the NBN; not after it spent so much time condemning it. As petty and immature as it sounds, the Government doesn’t want to admit that it screwed up and that’s just an inexorable part of politics.

But FTTdp can potentially remedy this problem…

#3 Both Labor And The Coalition Win With FTTdp

There really is no going back to FTTP — for now at least. The Labor party has lambasted the Coalition for destroying the NBN but has not really provided an alternative plan. Meanwhile, the Coalition is sticking to its guns with FTTN because it would rather jeopardise Australia’s digital future than admit Labor was right about FTTP all along.

With a double dissolution on the horizon and both parties entering election mode, now is the time for them to use the NBN to woo voters (again) and presenting an FTTdp solution will make the beleaguered broadband network marketable (again).

To put it simply, Labor could talk about how it can save the NBN with FTTdp while the Coalition could talk up how it is improving this vital infrastructure with new technology without conceding that it was wrong about FTTN. Everybody wins.

#4 Copper Is Shit

For the love of God, there is no way to justify using copper, which is not only expensive to maintain but unreliable as well. Anything that will bring us closer to a full-fibre broadband network is welcome news.

GIF from the Australian Young Greens

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