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National Broadband/Porn Network

Currently we have a new “National Broadband Network” under construction in Australia [1]. It is going to cost $43,000,000,000 which is $5,000 per household. It is designed to deliver 100Mb/s speeds to most homes – that is the homes that can currently get more than 8Mb/s through ADSL2+ or cable connections.

The question is, what can we do with 100Mb/s that we can’t do with 8Mb/s? It seems that ADSL2+ works pretty well for VOIP, video-conferencing, online games, and transferring CD/DVD images (with a little patience). It seems to me that the only benefit in having download speeds faster than 8Mb/s is for downloading high resolution images and video files in a small amount of time – and porn surfing seems likely to be the only reason for someone being so impatient to get high resolution images!

Now there are some potential technical benefits to this, FTTH will allow synchronous upload and download speeds and being able to transmit data at 100Mb/s will be a significant benefit. If the data transfer quota was reasonable then I could run my blog, my web site (including my Debian package repositories), and some other new projects from a server in my own home. Currently Internet access in Australia sucks – mostly because of the cost of international bandwidth [2]. Also while Telstra was run by the awful Sol Trujillo it was trying to gain a monopoly on domestic services via it’s Fiber To The Node (FTTN) scheme, it seems that one of the biggest benefits of the NBN is to prevent Telstra gaining such a monopoly – but as they are going to pay the NBN CEO a $2,000,000 salary [3] it seems that some of the same mistakes are being made. In any case $43,000,000,000 is a lot of money to pay to break a monopoly, there are much cheaper ways of doing this.

Now if the money was to be spent intelligently on Internet access the first area would have to be submarine cables, if the capacity of the connections between Australia and the rest of the world could be significantly increased then it would change the way the Internet is used. I have a US-based colleague who transfers more data from his mobile phone than I do through my home ADSL connection – and he pays about the same amount of money as me! I think that most serious Internet users would rather have an ADSL2+ connection that is cheaper and has a larger bandwidth quota than a FTTN connection with a high transfer rate but a small quota of data that can be transferred – from what I’ve read about the NBN it doesn’t sound like a service I would want to sign up for. Then there is the issue of servers, currently for most uses Australia is not a viable location for a server due to bandwidth costs. This decreases the job opportunities for Australian system administrators and decreases the Australian IT skills base.

The next area that needs attention is wireless net access. The first issue that should be addressed is the minimum cost, the cheapest net access in Australia is via 3G because it avoids all the costs of wiring [4]. It would be good if instead of paying about $150 per annum for 3G net access there were some options for cheaper plans, maybe $60 per annum for 6G of data. In many ways the current Australian lifestyle requires Internet access, and many aspects of interaction with government organisations requires net access, so it seems that the government should make it a priority to provide cheap net access to the entire population. A 3G net access plan of $60 per annum plus a subsidised purchase plan for cheap PCs (maybe taking a Netbook from $350 to $250) should significantly decrease the number of people who can’t use the Internet.

3G access (both Internet and telephony) also needs to be available in more areas. Currently Telstra has the widest coverage of any mobile phone company, but it uses a non-standard frequency which limits the availability of suitable phones and it doesn’t compete on price [5]. So rural users have to pay through the nose for Telstra mobile telephony and they get a limited choice of phones. It would be really good if we had a NBN for 3G phones that covered the areas surrounding most rural population centers to compete with Telstra. If rural users could pay $60 per annum for 3G Internet access and a reasonable rate for mobile phone access (maybe a combined phone/data plan similar to those offered by Three and Virgin) then it would significantly improve the rural access to services that urban residents take for granted.

The NBN plan does include providing wireless and satellite net access to the 10% of the population who will be out of range of FTTH. But I am concerned that it will provide a bare minimum of service and not an integrated voice/data service that permits using the newest features of phone OSs such as Android. In the past I’ve had some commercial experience with satellite Internet access and I have not been impressed with it, the response times were very poor and fully interactive services were almost unusable. The government should aim to provide support for interactive services that facilitate business operations (including video-conferencing and remote server access via ssh, VNC, etc) to as much of the population as possible. I expect that a significant portion of the Internet using applications on smart-phones such as those running the Android OS will require fast response times, so even if a satellite version of an Android phone is ever produced it still wouldn’t be as useful as the current phones.

Finally the government should offer free wireless net access in all major urban areas for the purpose of accessing government services, Australian content, and Australian mirrors of foreign content. This would be a convenience feature for most people and would also be good for emergency access – I shouldn’t have been denied access to government services when the PSU for my ADSL modem died in the heat last week, I should have been able to take a laptop to the nearest government Wifi access point!

In conclusion I think that the government should spend money on lowering the cost of Internet and mobile telephony access for everyone and granting greater access to government services. I am not aware of any evidence to suggest that the current NBN plan will do anything to achieve such aims. But it should be really good for accessing porn sites that use a CDN with an Australian presence.

Update: John Hughes pointed out in an insightful comment that 100Mb/s can be used for watching TV. So this could be a ploy to try and convert Internet access into better TVs paid for by our tax money!

11 comments to National Broadband/Porn Network

  • What can you do with 100Mb that you can’t do with 8Mb? Hit your quota in a day instead of twelve!

    Seriously, though. 100Mb was available in Korea when I was there, and there were no quotas. You could do amazing things with streaming video. The pipes could handle it. I’m sure you could deliver apps in seconds that way if you wanted to.

  • vvill

    Interesting numbers, especailly the 5 grand / house for 100mb/s… Probably bandwidth as opposed to throughtput, but either way they are sure to try to dupe the unsuspecting public into thinking they are getting their moneies worth from the project.. But maybe OZ can justify the spending for that kind of inferstructure, to help keep the industry IT/PC alive.
    Do you think it’s possible to get the OZ porn industry to pay for it? /[*_*]\

  • John Hughes

    What can you do with 100mbits?

    Watch TV.

    That’s what they want you to do.

    Most African immigrants here in France were disgusted to find that the broadcast rights to the recent CAN (African Nations Cup) had all been bought by Orange (ex France Telecom) as a crude ploy to get them to sign up for Oranges ADSL/Fibre IP/TV/Phone service rather than the others. (Why target immigrants? ‘Cos they use the phone a lot. Speaking from experience -my wife is Ivoirienne.)

    (100 mbit fibre does make an apt-get upgrade nice!)

  • etbe

    Daeng: Exactly! Although I’m sure that there will be some Australian-hosted services that have no quotas. Such as the ABC (250MB/hour to download TV shows from the last ~14 days) and CDNs (for porn services among other things).

    vvill: The IT/PC industry will remain alive regardless, and in any case I doubt that it’s worth anywhere near that price.

    We can’t get the porn industry to pay for it, those naughty pornographers are forcing us to get censored Internet access (for our own good) and the government couldn’t do business with such nasty people (they only do business with nice people – such as training the Indonesian military for their work in East Timor etc). :-#

  • John Hughes

    Oh, by the way, from the French experience – the government is investing nothing (1) in “IP a grande Vitesse”, it’s all being done privately (2). This may work for the big cities, but it’ll be interesting to see how it plays in the suburbs and countryside.

    1) a certain number of rules changes to let ISPs have access to then sewers. Rules to make sure each ISP allows the others to use there fibre at a fair rate. No big money.

    2) one of the “private” companies happens to be Orange (France Telecom), majority state owned, but they are investing no more that than SFR, Free or Numericable.

  • I completely agree with you view on the NBN, but how can we make a difference?

    I can’t remember if the FTTH was state/federal owned. But if it was mandated to plunge everybody onto an Australia only network via the FTTH (ie, your idea with gov sites etc), then provide agnostic support for ISP’s / CDN’s to provide services over that network we could remove a lot of limitations (+ make great use of IPv6).

    You could buy just movies on demand if that was all you wanted. You could go for the best deal for international internet access, streaming tv on demand and voice access if that was what you wanted.

    How do we get the gov to take notice though? Especially with conroy having his head so far *&%$#@.

    Ok, calm down Karl.

  • Ben

    Just wanted to add 2 things

    — “I’m sure that there will be some Australian-hosted services that have no quotas. ”

    Your dream came true with AAPT’s no download limits and no throttling

    http://www.aapt-broadband.com.au/unlimited-broadband-music-downloads/24-7-unlimited-bundle

    — Google 1Gb fiber to the home – The question is now, what can we do with 1Gb/s that we can’t do with 8Mb/s?

    http://broadbandguide.com.au/blogs/2010/02/google-isp-1-gigabit-fiber-to-the-home/

  • etbe

    http://brianna.laugher.id.au/blog/49/bureau-of-meteorology-senator-kate-lundy-in-senate-estimates

    Interesting post by Brianna about the Beureau of Meteorology and their Internet services. Apparently 3G use is climbing…

    John: Very insightful, I never considered the TV possibility, I’ve updated the post and I will write another post on this topic.

    As for comparing Australia to France, here it’s all government money paid up front which will supposedly be recouped after the NBN makes a profit. A $5000 loan has been essentially taken out on the projected profit from each household. At current interest rates that requires that the average household spends $350 on the basic service (excluding things you do with it) to break even.

    http://jamespurser.com.au/blog/Two_Ministers_and_a_Shadow

    It appears that Conroy is owned and paid for by the TV industry.

  • Josh

    100 meg? Hmm.. you seem to have not factored in that he who controls the link controls the content. Why force every ISP to install filters when you can just install your own on your own fibre lines?

    That brings us down to a much more managable 30 or 40meg I spose, just enough to almost be useful for HD porn. ;)

  • etbe

    http://etbe.coker.com.au/2010/02/17/can-the-nbn-ever-break-even/

    Josh: Nice theory, but I don’t think that’s viable. In the above blog post I explain why I think that the NBN will have difficulty attracting enough users to repay the expense of creating it – which means that it would be regarded in many ways as a failure. So adding filtering would just decrease the number of users thus making it even more of a failure.

    One thing I didn’t mention in my post about whether the NBN can break even is the fact that there are certain fixed ongoing expenses in operating fibers etc (things like replacing them when back-hoes break them). So the fewer users there are the larger the share of the fixed costs each user will have. If there are few enough users then it may become impossible for the user subscription fees to cover the running expenses – which means bankruptcy.

  • Gabby

    so who is going to do the design for this NBN project?
    will telstra design for any of it or will it all be designed outside of telstra?