When the NBN was first touted over a decade ago, we expected a high-speed network using the latest technology. But after a change in government we saw the original vision crushed and we landed with the multi-technology mix pushed by the Coalition government.
That's left us with a mix of technology that has made NBN Co's deployment task more difficult and led to consumers getting a wild mix of different performance outcomes. Now, the outgoing boss of NBN Co has spoken out, saying the use of copper is at the heart of many of the network's problems.
With the surge in complaints about the NBN hitting the telecommunications Industry Ombudsman's (TIO) office, it's not surprising Morrow, who is leaving NBN Co later this year, had some things to say. While the roll-out of the network moving along, it's clear there are lots of people who aren't happy.
Morrow agreed that the original model, where the vast majority of premises would be connected to a fibre-optic cable that would deliver the fastest speeds and best reliability, was best. He achnowledged in a paper published by NBN Co and reported by the ABC that the multi-technology mix didn't bring the same peak performance to users but that it did make the project cheaper - even taking into account the higher fault rates caused by non-fibre technologies.
In an address to the National Press Club, Morrow discussed the findings of research conducted by economics researchers, AlphaBeta. That research was able to match up data from the recent census with NBN's rollout data to give a very precise snapshot of what the NBN has delivered. He called this the "NBN effect".
The research showed that where the NBN was available, new business establishment was running at five times the rate of areas where the NBN hadn't reached. And the self-employed women in NBN regions grew at an average 2.3 per cent every year, compared to just 0.1 per cent in non-NBN areas. He also cited work done by CSIRO in helping people in remote communities where there was a historically high incidence of serious - but easily treated - eye disease. The NBN allowed thousands of eye tests, and early diagnosis, to be completed remotely.
There's little doubt that the NBN, as it it exists today, is making a positive difference. But the challenge remains to ensure it meets the needs of the future.
Morrow published an interesting summary of the challenges he has seen in his oversight of the NBN's development via LinkedIn. In particular, he notes the challenges of the multi-technology mix including the technical problems and how this leads to end-user confusion.
In a perfect world, we'd all have low-cost access to a fast, ubiquitous network. And we would have been close to that if the original plan for a fibre to (almost) every home or office network had remained the plan. But politics resulted in the multi-technology mix. And many of the complaints that NBN Co faces are a result of that policy decision - something that Morrow has noted.