You Can’t Blame The NBN For Everything

You Can’t Blame The NBN For Everything
Image: Supplied

Let’s be honest. There are a lot of things that have not gone well for NBNCo. From sweeping policy changes that the Coalition Government introduced, to deployment challenges and some “creative marketing” on the part of RSPs (Retail Service Providers), there are some things that clearly could be done better. But not everything that is wrong with broadband access is the fault of the NBN.

Last week, an article ran on a number of news services, pointing to issues one person had that they attributed to the NBN. I want to focus on a couple of the claims made in the story.

To get Wi-Fi, I have to take my laptop to the living room. When I take it back to my study, the connection dies. It’s like the way I used to listen to Radio Australia in New York in 1989, with a radio hanging on a coathanger out the window. Primitive. Like Australia’s NBN.

While it’s true that many (most?) people source their wireless router through their ISP or RSP, poor WiFi performance can be the result of many different things. Building substrates, electromagnetic interference from appliances and other, nearby networks can all interfere with your local wireless performance.

I recall setting up a network for a friend some years ago and had to manually tweak the frequency his router was using. The performance difference was huge – from almost no coverage within a few metres of the router to clear signal for about 10 meters outside the house.

Wireless network settings and the local environment are hugely influential on wireless performance.

Then there’s the ludicrous conflation of this problem with the recent net neutrality debate.

Then I read an article about US President Donald Trump wanting to overthrow Obama’s Internet Freedom, which provides all web users with the same speed and access, at the same price. The Trump policy will reward those who can pay for faster internet and deprive those who can’t. This, I realised, is what we have in Australia. I asked the Telstra shop man about it. He said: “Of course.”

President Obama’s Internet Freedom policy was about service providers prioritising specific types of internet traffic – not abut end user contracts. I can’t say much more other than this points to a significant misunderstanding on the part of the writer.

The pricing system we have had in place for consumers has been predicated on two main things; volume of allowed traffic and speed. It has been that way for most of the last 20 years or so, since HFC cable and then ADSL were introduced. Net neutrality isn’t about retail market strategies; it’s an infrastructure and regulation policy.

After a visit from a technician, the writer of the article, said:

NBN couldn’t deliver Wi-Fi reliably from our living room to elsewhere in an apartment with solid walls. It would, he said, if we paid to upgrade from 25 Mbps to 50 Mbps.

Now, if this was the advice given by the tech, he/she needs to be taken out for re-training. The NBN delivers an internet connection using various different technologies depending on where you live. Once it gets to your house, it’s up to either you or the RSP to install suitable equipment to share the connection. Whether that’s a regular router or a mesh system.

Adding a 1Tbps connection won’t make an iota of difference if the signal can’t get though the solid walls.

RSPs have been hauled over the coals by the ACCC over their advertising and service delivery. Just last week, the ACCC announced they were taking Optus to court over their failure to promptly connect customers after disconnecting them from their HFC network.

Earlier today, I saw another comment on a friend’s social media account. The friend was asking if others were finding they had frequent dropouts on mobile calls. You guessed it – someone said they were ever since the NBN came to their neighbourhood. If someone can point to how these two things are related, please enlighten me.

NBNCo knows there have been problems with their network. And they are taking steps, albeit belatedly, to rectify some of the issues.

For example, the way RSPs purchase Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) is changing. NBNCo is ensuring RSPs purchase enough CVC capacity to service customers before they are connected, not after. This will help ensure customers get the performance they are paying for. In many cases, customers were connecting to the NBN only to find they weren’t getting the speeds they were paying for. It’s hoped that move will help resolve that issue.

Customers also need better education. When the toaster at your home doesn’t brown your bread to your liking, you either fiddle with the settings or, if it’s not working at all, buy a new toaster. You don’t blame your electricity retailer or the distribution network. Routers are the toasters of the internet. Sure, some RSPs will supply a router, and if you’re getting your phone service through the same router then the settings are often hidden from you. But if the wireless signal is strong near the router and weak elsewhere then the router either needs to be better configured or replaced with a more suitable device.

The equipment in your home is either yours or the the RSP’s responsibility – not NBNCo. The only exception is the installation of a modem which so required for HFC, FTTP and FTTC connections.

We have had capacity and performance based pricing for internet access for many years. Initially, we paid a premium for cable or ADSL over dial-up, then we paid extra for higher download limits and more for faster connections (like 100Mbps over 30Mbps from Telstra and Optus for their HFC services). This isn’t a net neutrality issue in my view.

Where the NBN has been connected and RSPs have done the right thing we generally see happy customers. But when RSPs don’t do the right thing, by not purchasing enough CVC from NBNCo or deploying the wrong equipment in a customer’s home then we see problems. And NBNCo, because of its press profile and some real issues when it comes to deploying on time and on budget, gets the blame for everything.

And that’s simply not fair.


  • I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Liberal Party and in particular Tony Bloody Abbott. Also the fact that lobbyists have way too much sway, much like the US and just look at that friggin shit storm of a model to work with.

    • I agree.

      It’s Abbott’s fault you didn’t read the article, it’s Abbott’s fault your router doesn’t send a wifi signal through your wall, and it’s Abbott’s fault that the NBN is causing mobile reception to be bad despite being completely unrelated.

      I bet we could cure cancer if we just started blaming it on Tony Abbott too.

      Thankyou for illustrating precisely the kind of user education issue the author described and adding more veracity to the point being made.

          • Dude, relax. When it comes to the shitstorm we call the NBN I agree with you. I was just having a little fun with what logicwut said about Abbott and cancer. Seems even that’s not possible these days.

            Having said that, its neither Abbott or the NBN’s fault if someone has shitty WiFi, which was the point of the article. Which you may have missed when you posted about Abbott screwing up the NBN.

          • To be fair, I don’t blame Abbot, Guy’s a twat, but I don’t blame him for this – I blame all of them. This has been a total 50 billion dollar cluster-truck, and they’ve all had a hand in wasting $2000 per Australian.

            Then we have the tradtitional telco’s now overselling the infrastructure and such. All in all I think I actually blame NBNco the least…

  • Thank you Anthony for calling this article out! When I read it, I had to briefly consider that this convoluted mess was an attempt at satire. But no – it was a comment piece from an author who clearly doesn’t understand any of the topics raised, and has no interest in doing so.

    The conflation of these misunderstood topics and lies is simply lazy journalism and the author deserves to be called out for it – interestingly the comments section on this comment piece was turned off.

    But why let the facts get in the way of a “good” story?

  • Although I don’t like to say it, I blame the idiots who go around complaining about their problems to others not realising that it’s up to themselves to fix it.

  • What a waste of space this article was. Yes, as per the last 25 years WiFi performance does rely on in building equipment – this is not news and bears no relevance to the performance and multiple failings of the NBN. I’m not sure why lifehacker is writing apology articles for the NBN & LNP but it doesn’t exactly flatter.

    • This wasn’t an apology for NBNCo – the first paragraph called out some of the problems with the project and network. But, as another commenter put it, NBN gets a connection to your door. What happens after that is between you and the RSP. The article I referred to blamed the NBN for a poor WiFi signal inside the house and there was also poor advice from an RSP. The NBN has plenty of issues – but the article published by Fairfax was poorly researched.

      • An excellent article Anthony. Explains a lot of things customers need to understand. But in the end, no router can deliver faster Internet than the NBN connection provides. Far too many customers are stuck on the inferior FTTN service, which simply cannot supply 21st Century broadband. Secondly, for years now NBN Co and the government have known that consumers were being stiffed. It is only because groups like Internet Australia and ACCAN made a fuss and the ACCC and ACMA have intervened that we’ve finally seen some actions designed to fix this debacle.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!