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Australia Communications The Internet IT

How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout (nytimes.com) 149

Not very pleased with your internet speeds? Think about the people Down Under. Australia's "bungled" National Broadband Network (NBN) has been used as a "cautionary tale" for other countries to take note of. Despite the massive amount of money being pumped into the NBN, the New York Times reports, the internet speeds still lagged behind the US, most of western Europe, Japan and South Korea -- even Kenya. The article highlights that Australia was the first country where a national plan to cover every house or business was considered and this ambitious plan was hampered by changes in government and a slow rollout (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source), partly because of negotiations with Telstra about the fibre installation. From the report: Australia, a wealthy nation with a widely envied quality of life, lags in one essential area of modern life: its internet speed. Eight years after the country began an unprecedented broadband modernization effort that will cost at least 49 billion Australian dollars, or $36 billion, its average internet speed lags that of the United States, most of Western Europe, Japan and South Korea. In the most recent ranking of internet speeds by Akamai, a networking company, Australia came in at an embarrassing No. 51, trailing developing economies like Thailand and Kenya. For many here, slow broadband connections are a source of frustration and an inspiration for gallows humor. One parody video ponders what would happen if an American with a passion for Instagram and streaming "Scandal" were to switch places with an Australian resigned to taking bathroom breaks as her shows buffer. The article shares this anecdote: "Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world have downloaded Hand of Fate, an action video game made by a studio in Brisbane, Defiant Development. But when Defiant worked with an audio designer in Melbourne, more than 1,000 miles away, Mr. Jaffit knew it would be quicker to send a hard drive by road than to upload the files, which could take several days."
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How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    How dare someone else have a monopoly on internet service!

    • by skirmish666 ( 1287122 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @04:27PM (#54421437)

      Speaking of monopolies!

      Non paywalled link is a Murdoch paper. Coincidence that just as they look like they're about to be sold off, they speak out about the economically short-sighted move a lot of people think he lobbied for in the hope that internet broadcasters wouldn't run him and his overpriced cable out of town on the horse he rode in on? I think not xD

    • Totally right. The second they let Telstra into the deal I knew the infrastructure was going to be fucked. They bitched and whined that they were being left out of the NBN and a lot of people were happy it was working that way. Then the NBN Co caved and let them in the door and the project immediately went south. Combined with Malcolm Turnbull's fiddling with the tech it just got worse and worse. Now it turns out that the problems are worse than just infrastructure, they oversold connections where the techn

  • I pay $540 per year for my internet connection. That's pure internet cost. I don't have cable or landline. I've not included my mobile though at least some of that is arguably internet too. They are trying to do it with a one time payment of about $1500 per person? That seems like they've low-balled it, especially when you consider that their landmass is almost equal to the contiguous US. So with less than a tenth of the population density, their costs per connection should be higher than ours.

    • I pay $540 per year for my internet connection. That's pure internet cost. I don't have cable or landline. I've not included my mobile though at least some of that is arguably internet too. They are trying to do it with a one time payment of about $1500 per person? That seems like they've low-balled it, especially when you consider that their landmass is almost equal to the contiguous US. So with less than a tenth of the population density, their costs per connection should be higher than ours.

      Most of the p

    • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

      The NBN costs are for the physical deployment: people would still pay monthly fees for the service. There is lots of blame to go around: for example, politicians sabotaged things by deciding to save money by throwing out the all-fiber GPON plan and instead to use DSL for the last mile.

      • They didn't even save money if you look at even the relatively short term picture though. 76 months, which is a little under 6.5 years is the figure I read where the FTTH network would have recouped the cost of the additional investment, after that it would have been more profitable than FTTN.

        I keep hearing how the coalition are supposed to have good business know-how, but they went with the plan that after 6.5 years will cost more to run and runs at a fraction of the speed: 40% faster on average than DSL

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It was never about saving money but making a point of differentiation from Labour at the 2013 election, which, like the last election, was a very close race.

        Also, it was sabotage, but presumably as a matter of collusion between the Liberals and the higher-ups at Telstra and Foxtel, as well as Rupert Murdoch himself. Fun fact: Telstra and News Corp. (i.e. Murdoch) each own 50% of Foxtel, who hold a virtual monopoly on satellite and cable TV in Australia. Interestingly, throughout the 2013 election period New

    • Everyone loves to blame NBN problems on the copper. While I agree that building fiber to the node is stupid, that's not the biggest problem with the NBN. The pricing model of the NBN means that only huge ISP's can compete on price, by massively oversubscribing. To compete you need a very large number of customers in each geographic area, so you can reduce your CVC charge per person. CVC? Well there are 3 costs associated with leasing a line from the NBN. First is the customer end, with difference price tier

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Thats for a normal, average city. Isolated ares get a satellite service.
  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @01:10PM (#54419679) Homepage Journal

    Mr. Jaffit knew it would be quicker to send a hard drive by road than to upload the files, which could take several days

    Or as Andrew Tanenbaum said back in 1989, "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway."

  • As a wise man once said - "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a truckfull of USB flash drives traveling on the highway".

    We send stuff online even if its something which could be sent as a batch rather than needing any interactivity.

    Resource limitations like this make it more clear where we really need bandwidth and where an alternate would work.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      RIP, Steve Jobs

    • But think about the latency. Sure you can get a lot of data across the country if you fill a train full of harddrives, but you can't use a solution like this to stream Netflix, or upload a video to Youtube.

      • by ghoul ( 157158 )

        But the point is not every application cares about latency. If you are sending a music video off to the editing house to get edited and sent back in a month you dont care about latency.
        If you are streaming a netflix video you do care.
        But most of the time we dont think about what application cares about latency and what doesnt.
        Only bottlenecks like this make us think about it.

    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      The wise man was Andy Tanenbaum.
      It was a station wagon, not a truck.
      It was tapes, not flash drives. Flash drives hadn't been invented in 1989.

      • by ghoul ( 157158 )

        Thanks for the correction. I remembered reading it somewhere but just couldn't recollect. On second thoughts it should have been obvious it was from the "Guru" of networking.

      • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

        It's not like the addage needs to change: station wagons and data tapes still exist, now with capacities measured in terabytes.

  • Verizon's FIOS project. My city got strung with fiber and was one of the lucky ones. However when they saw the cost all bets were off.
  • I'll take reliable over "speed". If it's reliable, one generally learns to work around the slow areas, such as reducing YouTube resolution if it's not a video that needs it. If it's unreliable, then you often get stuck with nothing, and have to go out and get a life while it's jammed up.

    I live in a relatively populated area and we still have crappy telecom choices. We even upgraded to a "faster" plan, and it still jams up on weekends. They simply spread bandwidth too thin, and blame it on wind, sun-spots, M

  • 448/96 kbps is the highest I can get here, just some ten kilometers from a large city.

    A friend of mine in Australia has explicitly said that I am the only person in his social circle to whom he CAN'T complain about Australian internet speeds.

    • There are still plenty of people in Australia on 512/64kbps ADSL(1) and 56kbps POTS connections. NBN was only meant to cover 95% of the population, that being those in the six major metropolitan centres covering less than 1% of the landmass.

      Dayboro, itself only about 30km away from the Brisbane CBD, only has ADSL1 connectivity in its exchange. Drive 5km northwest of that and you have no ADSL, no POTS, no CDMA coverage and no sewerage. Another 2km and you also have to provide your own power and water.

      • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

        I think that kind of situation arose because once the govt announced "NBN!!!" years ago, Telstra decided to halt or severely curtail any expenditure on ADSL{2+}. Our exchange in the sunshine coast hinterland has a 6-month waiting list for ADSL because all the ports are occupied - you've got to wait until someone else cancels before you can get in, and they're NOT going to upgrade to a higher capacity DSLAM when the NBN is scheduled to arrive here in August. Also, you'd be lucky if the backup batteries last

      • by jezwel ( 2451108 )

        NBN was only meant to cover 95% of the population

        Originally 93% with fixed line FTTP, 4% fixed wireless, 3% satellite.
        By installing fibre to the home future upgrades for higher bandwidth would be much cheaper, with the intention that profits would eventually push fibre even further into that wireless space.

        All gone now, the copper based network soaks up an extra $bill or so a year, plus upgrades means expensive civil works to reduce the length of copper.

  • Same thing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 )

    Same exact thing I say when they talk about this with the US:

    Korea: 519 persons per sqkm
    Japan: 348 persons per sqkm
    Europe: 127 persons per sqkm
    USA: 35 persons per sqkm
    Australia: 3 persons per sqkm

    It seems to be hard for tech-enthusiasts to grasp that a widely-distributed population makes providing infrastructure INTRINSICALLY harder.

    • Re:Same thing (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ljw1004 ( 764174 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @03:08PM (#54420643)

      Same exact thing I say when they talk about this with the US:... USA: 35 persons per sqkm; Australia: 3 persons per sqkm. It seems to be hard for tech-enthusiasts to grasp that a widely-distributed population makes providing infrastructure INTRINSICALLY harder.

      I don't think it's useful to talk about the AVERAGE population density. In Australia the population is almost entirely concentrated in small dense coastal cities. If you served those dense cities well, you'd hit such a high proportion of the Australian population, that average internet speeds would increase dramatically.

      • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

        And it's not harder to deploy, just more expensive. The fiber backbones are there already IIRC. Exchange-to-exchange has been fiber for a long time now. It's the "last mile" rollout that's expensive - in some case it's last (many) miles. Still, POTS copper pairs were rolled out decades ago - it's not impossible, just expensive.

      • This is very true, however, the issue in Australia is political. The NBN rollout schedule has been determined almost entirely on a political basis. In Australia the balance of power is largely held by the rural areas and these are the areas that have been prioritized in the rollout.
    • by Shinobi ( 19308 )

      Oh, look, that bullshit again. First of all, the european population obviously fails to include the european part of Russia. Second, many US people will exaggerate just how large all US states are and how small european nations are. As an example, only two US states are larger than Sweden, Texas and Alaska. So, let's compare Sweden with the nearest US states area wise.

      Sweden, 450 295 km2, population density of 24.5 people/km2
      California, 423 970 km2, population density of 92.6 people/km2
      Both have heavily urb

    • by sr180 ( 700526 )

      Over 80% of the Australian Population lives within a 50km long strip of the East Coast.

      The distance here isnt the issue. All of the spare areas are to be covered by Satellite and or Fixed wireless. At the moment, they are currently busting their balls to turn Cable internet into the worlds only L2 provisioned wholesale service, and trying to wrangle a dilapidated copper access network that is life expired into VDSL. Copper maintenance is over 10 times what they budgeted for. And the budget for maintenance a

  • ... trailing developing economies like Thailand and Kenya.

    It may be a bit misleading to only look at average speeds. In a country like Kenya, far less people have internet access and those that do are typically in the urban areas where it is easier to provide high speed access. The further access is extended, the slower average speeds are likely to become, as the hard to reach places with satellite connections etc. bring down the average.

  • put a clause in the contract that if metrics X-Y-Z aren't met the money has to be paid back. Next make it a law that all gov't contracts contain such clauses. Third, enforce the bloody law.

    If there are no consequences for taking the money and running they'll take the money and run. Every. Single. Time.
  • What killed the NBN. (Score:4, Informative)

    by DMJC ( 682799 ) on Monday May 15, 2017 @02:57PM (#54420533)
    A couple of points here. I live in Australia and I got to watch this entire fiasco unroll before me. 1. The conservative party got elected before the main rollout of the NBN could get underway. They had one mission: Kill the NBN anyway they could. They did this because they didn't want the Labor party to have a political victory with a major project, and because it aligned with the interests of the largest cable tv network and news corporations in the nation. Cable TV in Australia is a monopoly owned by Fox. They dominate Satellite, and fixed line pay TV. 2. The NBN Fibre rollout was delayed by asbestos inside the pits which had to be cleaned/repaired before they could proceed. This delayed the rollout by probably 6-12 months as the clearance work had to occur. There was also a political deal made where rural/country areas would be rolled out first. This combined with the fact that the backhaul services had to be built first led to an impression that the network was facing major delays and was taking a long time to be built, when it was actually on time and on budget. 3. Where it was actually deployed the Fibre to the Home NBN works perfectly and I've never heard anyone in those areas complain about having a fibre link. The same is not true of the Fibre to the Node and HFC connections. 4. Australia is not as sparsely populated as people would have you believe. 90+% of Australians live in larg coastal cities like most major countries and Australia's major cities have population densities equal to or higher than Auckland in New Zealand which has Fibre to the Home available. Density/population were never an issue with a metropolitan rollout of the NBN. 5, The conservative vision for the NBN was always a complete clusterfuck. Policy made without proper planning or consulting of industry. Done at the urging of people with a vested interest in keeping the internet speeds in Australia as low as the electorate would allow. The largest ISP in Australia has been quite happily milking ADSL 1.5mbit services for the last 20 years and only implemented ADSL2+ because competitor ISPs began taking marketshare. They refused to do any upgrades or builds involving fibre, unless they were guaranteed a monopoly and the ability to charge massive prices for it.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Funny isn't it, whenever comments on the NBN failure come up they are almost all one of two completely incorrect possibilities:
      * Australias low population density guaranteed the failure, as if the 90% of the continent that is empty was all getting fibre as well and its somehow an excuse for using rotten copper in the middle of Sydney.
      * Proof that government should stay out of infrastructure and private industry will fix it all, ignoring that a private monopoly is largely the reason the rollout was desperate

    • by Anonymous Coward

      A couple of points here. I live in Australia and I got to watch this entire fiasco unroll before me.

      1. The conservative party got elected before the main rollout of the NBN could get underway. They had one mission: Kill the NBN anyway they could. They did this because they didn't want the Labor party to have a political victory with a major project, and because it aligned with the interests of the largest cable tv network and news corporations in the nation. Cable TV in Australia is a monopoly owned by Fox. They dominate Satellite, and fixed line pay TV.

      2. The NBN Fibre rollout was delayed by asbestos inside the pits which had to be cleaned/repaired before they could proceed. This delayed the rollout by probably 6-12 months as the clearance work had to occur. There was also a political deal made where rural/country areas would be rolled out first. This combined with the fact that the backhaul services had to be built first led to an impression that the network was facing major delays and was taking a long time to be built, when it was actually on time and on budget.

      3. Where it was actually deployed the Fibre to the Home NBN works perfectly and I've never heard anyone in those areas complain about having a fibre link. The same is not true of the Fibre to the Node and HFC connections.

      4. Australia is not as sparsely populated as people would have you believe. 90+% of Australians live in larg coastal cities like most major countries and Australia's major cities have population densities equal to or higher than Auckland in New Zealand which has Fibre to the Home available. Density/population were never an issue with a metropolitan rollout of the NBN.

      5, The conservative vision for the NBN was always a complete clusterfuck. Policy made without proper planning or consulting of industry. Done at the urging of people with a vested interest in keeping the internet speeds in Australia as low as the electorate would allow. The largest ISP in Australia has been quite happily milking ADSL 1.5mbit services for the last 20 years and only implemented ADSL2+ because competitor ISPs began taking marketshare. They refused to do any upgrades or builds involving fibre, unless they were guaranteed a monopoly and the ability to charge massive prices for it.

      Slashdot seems to have eaten your formatting. Fixed that for you. Because what you typed is something that more people should read.

    • This is mostly on the mark. It's not just stupidity. Now PM Turnbull was tasked by Then PM Abbott to kill ex-PM's Rudd's legacy by sabotaging it. He produced a substandard dog's breakfast, exactly as ordered, and spent all the available funds to do so, to prevent a rescue. Job done.
  • The original NBN plan for fiber to the home (with the best available wireless and satellite technology for areas not easily reachable by fiber) would have delivered very fast speeds to a large chunk of the population.

    Then we had a federal election and the Murdoch press ran a huge anti-NBN FUD campaign aimed at crippling the NBN in order to protect Foxtel (the main pay TV provider in Australia). There is a change of government and the new government (no doubt with Rupert lobbying away in the background) crip

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Labor government (Center left or Democrats for US folks) sought to roll out a completely new fibre to the premises network that would reach 80% of Australians with satellite comms for the rest. The idea was very popular. With an election coming up the Conservative party (read Republicans) realized that they couldn't compete in terms of nation building projects so they decided to white-ant the other guys plan instead.

    They started claiming that it was too expensive, too wasteful, etc. etc. and that they

  • they used an American for profit approach by accident, sabotaging their network deployment. everyone knows copper needs replaced entirely with fiber;

    really I would try whoever deployed copper and hang them. it angers me so much like a murder or rape of an innocent had taken place.

    a law should be passed world wide too: internet can only be deployed over fiber, not copper.

    https://www.obamasweapon.com/ [obamasweapon.com]

  • Yes just think about us poor unfortunates 'Down Under' with our gigabit fibre to the home ....

    Australia may have bungled its fibre rollout, but NZ's seems to be sailing ahead ....

  • This is where you can say it was the libtards fault because that they locked the country into ongoing expensive infrastructure costs.

    Assuming a fully loaded 384 port NBN node is to be upgraded from FTTN to FTTP, with 4 fibres already allocated to the FTTN DSLAM for connectivity back to the Fibre Access Node, 8 fibres are remaining to potentially deliver fibre services all the way to the customer’s premises.

    However, the 8 fibres will only be capable of delivering GPON services (the FTTP technology

    • by upuv ( 1201447 )

      I completely agree with you.

      The current model of mix mode delivery is complete BS. Because it allows the installations to have such truncated capacity out to the nodes that it is impossible to upgrade in the future.

      I sit here and think, Aus has missed a huge opportunity to get a head a solve a lot of upcoming social problems. Now we have to pay to fix this mess for at least 30 years.

    • Why so few ONUs? I worked for an ISP in a third world country for a while, and we used Zhone equipment, which I would never recommend. Even so, it supported up to 64 ONU per fiber.

      • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

        Why so few ONUs?

        I don't know. I can only guess that for the few years they were planning one type of deployment (FTTP) with the vision that they were designing a network to last. When the entire board was replaced to suit the whims of their new political masters the people re-designing the network just didn't give a fuck anymore, their vision for a future proofed network based on fibre everywhere was over.

        There was a chance to break Telstra's monopoly over telecommunications and instead the political fuckwits ended up pou

  • The NBN when first conceived and actually started to roll-out was basically a great network. Fiber to the home.

    Then the politicians got involved.

    The end result is that for a lot of Aussies. OK a LOT OF AUSSIES. the max speed they will get is less than 25mbs. For a lot of people this is actually a downgrade in service. There is no option to stay with the old service btw.

    And to top it off. The build out is not putting enough fiber in the street to eventually run fiber to the home. So it the whole damn t

  • We have a Fibre network that work... ;-)

    • To expand on what bad_fx said, NZ's equivalent, the UFB (Ultra Fast Broadband) project is the polar opposite of the Australian disaster. Originally the plan was for 75% of the country to have Fibre To The Home, which has now been extended and will be around 84-85%. The fiber companies don't provide ISP services, and wholesale to any ISP, so consumers have a great variety of choice. A variety of plans are available, but currently the two main ones are an entry level 100/20 plan, and a 1000/500 plan. Prices v

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