[LINK] NBN white-elephant-to-be: better spend the $$$ on other things

Robin Whittle rw at firstpr.com.au
Thu Aug 19 15:50:28 AEST 2010

Hi David,

I didn't say that 100Mbps etc. was purely for couch potatoes.
Obviously such speeds, upstream and downstream, will be valuable for
some businesses and people at home, especially those working at home.

If I thought the NBN could deliver its promises for $43B, then I
wouldn't be so opposed to it.  $2k per person for comprehensively
connecting all homes, offices, factories etc. seems like a pretty good

However, firstly I don't think the NBN deliver its promise at that
price.  Secondly, even if it could, I am not sure that such a large
amount of money should be spent on this goal of faster than DSL speeds
for most of the country, when there are other urgent priorities with
higher rates of return, financially, socially and environmentally.  As
I mentioned, preventive health, health in general, education and
development of massive solar thermal power stations all seem to me
more important than giving most people faster than DSL speeds.

Its not too hard to give everyone permanent Internet access - via DSL,
HFC or 3G.  3G has speed and volume limitations, but it can still be
used for getting to most of the population, since 3G does or will
cover most places where people live, work and travel.  Internode
offers 3G mobile for $15 a month, with 500MB of data.  This is with
the Optus 3G network.  Telstra's NextG network has much greater
coverage, and their prices are higher.  Still, 3G can give effectively
permanent (untimed) Internet access for most of the population today,
without much additional expenditure.  It can't do video speeds for all
those people, but it can put them all on the Net, without tying up
their phone lines or being depending on the DSL suitability of their
phone line.

Nor did I say the government should not be investing in broadband.

However, $43B is way too much, I think.  Also, there's no way it can
be done for this price.

The costs of laying fibre in streets are enormous.

There's an article in today's Age about cost blow-outs for the
Victorian government building low-key railway stations, on existing
lines, in flat paddock-like settings.  4 years ago, they were
estimated to cost $20M - now the cost is $55M.

Do you really think the NBN will be built, on time, on budget?  If so,
please give some estimates of how much directional boring needs to be
done, at what prices.  This is mainly in the street, but also getting
new fibre cables into homes if their existing conduit isn't suitable.
 Even stringing cables from power poles, and doing drop wires to the
homes involves a huge amount of work.  Fibre is not exactly dirt cheap
either, and we need a lot of it.

Also, the costs of labour-intensive fibre pulling and splicing on this
massive scale.  Fibre splicing and testing of the splice is done with
an extremely expensive fusion splicer, which welds the silica fibres
together with an electric arc, while they are held in precise
alignment so the core (10 microns or so) is lined up.  Before this is
stripping and cleaving of the hair-thin fibres.  After this, and
testing, is handling the fibre joins and tucking them away safely.
This is extraordinarily fiddly stuff, which needs to be done with
great skill, outdoors, all over Australia.

Then there is the opto-electronic gear, most of which will come from

It would be great to have the NBN.  But I can't see how it can be done
for any cost we could actually afford, or that we would want to spend,
given our other priorities.

  - Robin

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