Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Sunday meditation on the NBN follies about to erupt again on Monday ...

The pond gave up on getting a decent broadband service many years ago, first under the sublimely stupid Stephen "great big filter for everything" Conroy, and then under the cynical, lying, devious, aggrandising, self-promoting, self-deceiving and deceptive Malcolm "Godwin" Turnbull.

But Malcolm Maiden's story yesterday, Cost blowout will put the NBN project back on the radar, reminded the pond of an itch it usually refuses to scratch these days:

The National Broadband Network has flying under the political radar this year. That's unusual for a project that has been a political football since planning and argument about it began about eight years ago – but normal service is about to be resumed. 

On Monday, the network's builder and operator, NBN Co, will report on its results for the year to June. They will be interesting, but the politically potent news will be the separate release of NBN Co's new corporate plan, and that plan's estimate of how much the network is going to cost. 
The current estimate is $41 billion, about twice as much as the Coalition calculated in opposition when it announced its alternative Broadband rollout proposal. The new corporate plan will confirm that the cost estimate has blown out again. 
NBN Co's corporate plans are filed first with its sole shareholder, and the new plan has been with the Abbott government for more than a month.Details are being held tightly. 
Cost blowouts associated with the complexity of the project and delays as NBN Co renegotiated Telstra's role last year are expected, however, and they will rekindle political debate about the government's decision to replace Labor's fibre to the home network with a hybrid network that includes fibre to the home, fibre to the neighbourhood node, and hybrid fibre that was laid two decades ago by Telstra and Optus.

The pond has the worst of it. Hopelessly corrupted copper that will now never be repaired, so not a chance of barely acceptable ADSL, and HFC cable of the worst Optus kind.

And now it's confirmed, as if anyone didn't know it, that we'll be getting a second rate broadband scheme at greater expense. Yes, Virginia whatever big Mal tells you the engineers told him, the multi-node solution is half-baked and second rate, and will be expensive to upgrade, yet upgraded it will be ...

And so to Maiden's conclusion:

NBN made what it called "assumptions on possible outcomes" for the two years in the plan. It also cut and pasted the 2013 Strategic Review's estimate that the entire project would cost $41 billion, with $29.5 billion of it coming from the government. 
It's a fair bet that everyone involved had a good idea last November that the cost estimates were already too low, in part because the negotiations with Telstra had taken about six months longer than expected. The deal with Telstra was finally inked in December, lighting the fuse on new cost estimates that will surface on Monday.

There are any number of truly stupid people in the country, and many of them, thanks to News Corp, have drunk deep of the kool aid and then fly out to infest assorted news sites.

They usually have a couple of talking points, but their references to figures are usually scanty and askew, in the dear old Ellis way:

Yes, let's all forget that fibre to the home/premises will cost an extra $3k per connection. You want it? You can pay for the last bit of fibre yourself.

Uh huh.

Thank God the coalition won the election. If the added cost of fibre is weighed into these projections it's likely the final price tag would be hitting the $120Bn - $150Bn mark.

Uh huh.

If people wish to view Netflix in 4K let them pay the four thousand dollars to run the fibre cable to their home. 

Uh huh cubed.

These are deeply stupid people, showing off how well they drank the kool aid, and that idle banter about Netflix is another standard part of the chatter:

what does nbn deliver anyway - stan and Netflix and YouTube and porn

Oh go sing that puppet song about the internet being made for porn.

Actually Bill what it delivers is really stupid comments at the bottom of a Fairfax story.

But if all you use the intertubes for is to look at Lolcats on YouTube, feel free. You could of course use it to gain the first clue, but clearly you have little use or need for a first clue.

That same deeply stupid correspondent also offered this:

I have just driven from Brisbane to Melbourne - just a fraction of this country and it took 3 days -connecting everything up to fibre is impossible - mobile is the way to go and technology is improving the Nbn will be obsolete in 10 years - every project labour does always goes way over budget - late and doesn't work properly- surely you don't need examples 

Yes connecting the county with copper was impossible, and so we had no phones until mobiles came along, and don't expect me to spell Labor correctly, but to expect me to predict, against every sensible person in the land, that the limited bandwidth of mobile technology will render obsolete the fibre backbone at work in the nation.

There was also the "I'm alright Jack, so fuck you" approach familiar to any decent Liberal:

Now for all the people who are going to say the Liberals version of the NBN is not good enough, I live 600 metres from a phone exchange and receive 17 MBPS on ADSL2+ which allows Netflix to be viewed in HD on two devices and Xbox Live to be played as well. So with the Liberals NBN giving you 25 MBPS that is more than enough broadband width. Now if you need more MBPS, put your hand in your own pocket not the taxpayers pocket.

If only it was so simple, stupid gherkin Mark. The pond would have dipped into its own pocket, but it's not that simple, stupid gherkin Mark.

And this is why big Mal has had such an easy path as he downgrades and dumbs down the fibre network.

Of course not all the correspondents were inane.

The issue is not so much build cost as long term costs arising from mixed technology. This is an example of short term political expediency overcoming long term public benefit. If you can't afford to build something right, then better not to build it at all. From an engineering perspective, an all fibre network leaves mixed technologies for dead, both in performance and long term cost benefit ratio. For example, imagine if our electricity network was mixed technology, some AC, some DC, some 50 Hz some 60 Hz. The initial build cost might have been cheaper but the long term ongoing cost to the nation would have been disastrous. 

There is an irony at work here. For all the braying of the Murdochians at the time, as they fought to protect their perceived commercial interests, one way or another, broadband is gradually filtering in to the community, and Netflix and other streaming services are now poised to become a threat to Foxtel and the FTA networks.

But to imagine that broadband is only about the supply of video, when in fact it is a major disrupter of dozens of business models - from newspapers to taxis and hotel rooms, and many more to come - is to share the myopia of the luddite Abbott.

It reminded the pond of the luddites of yore, also busy protecting their commercial interests.

Big Mal has recently been busy, not just killing off community television, but also bringing forward an act in parliament, Second Reading: Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill 2015.  That's to allow the FTA mobs to broadcast the football in high def should they desire to do so, a matter, it has to be said, of supreme indifference to the pond. (You can mUmBRELLA the story here).

But it reminded the pond of Alex Encel - yes, despite the pond repeatedly explaining to well off Melbourne friends that the last place they should shop for equipment was Encels, they did it anyway, and were frequently sold useless bits of European gear at highly inflated prices designed to reinforce their ponce sense of self-esteem.

Here's the futurist visionary, the prophet, the seer, Encel at work, busy protecting his commercial interests and a gullible Four Corners peddling his kool aid:

ANDREW FOWLER: While Packer and Murdoch were slogging it out, the people who probably know the market best of all, those who sell TV sets, were shaking their heads in disbelief. 
ALEX ENCEL: This is a 16x9 format which you'll be getting with analogue, standard definition digital or high definition and this is what people are buying in Europe right now. 
ANDREW FOWLER: The problem for Australia is that no-one in the world is making HDTVs to the standards set by the Government. And even if they were, who could afford them?
ANDREW FOWLER: If I was buying this in Australia, how much would that cost me? 
ALEX ENCEL: About $20,000. 
ANDREW FOWLER: So I'd need to be rather rich, you're saying? 
ALEX ENCEL: Well, you could put it -- A little bit more than the average car. It's flopped in the USA. It's not used in Europe. The Europeans think we're crazy for adopting that particular idea. The average Australian TV is worth $500 -- or probably less. And the idea that people are going to run out and buy sets of up to $20,000 is just a high-tech fantasy. If HDTV was a horse, they'd shoot it. CHARLES BRITTON: I mean, it was something dreamed up on planet North Shore or planet Canberra or some other place where normal people don't live. And they completely forget the people that live in Emu Plains and Rooty Hill and places like that who, you know, have got a black and white television set in a one-bedroom flat. It's just completely anathema to them. They're not going to buy those things. 
SENATOR RICHARD ALSTON: We're not prepared to make policy judgments based on what some people with vested interests might like to say by way of criticism about how much these things will cost. Let's put all the building blocks in place. Let's see it play out. Let's see what the consumers really want. 
ALEX ENCEL: A decreasing number of people -- er, manufacturers are building HDTVs. Sony just announced it's stopping building new model HDTVs which is a sign of what they think of the market. ANDREW FOWLER: Even though HDTV was increasingly seen as an overpriced loser and standard definition was fast being adopted around the rest of the world, the Government still clung to HDTV. ALEX ENCEL: SDTV is the world standard, not HDTV. So once you go out of the world standard, you run up your costs very quickly. 
CHARLES BRITTON: I think, basically, people were prisoners of their investment timetables -- and the Government of its political commitment to introduce this thing. And so people were bound up in an artefact, if you like. It's like World War I with all trains that started running and there was no calling them back, you know? So they had to proceed. (more here).

That was on 21st August 2000, though you could also find the choice doofus Britton blathering on in the Media Report here,  and on PM here,  and on the 7.30 Report here.

And you could find the doofus Encel blathering on the 7.30 Report on 2001 about a tiny niche market and a call from an old ladies home in Hamilton because a lady was crying because he didn't know what was going to happen to her VCR: She thought she was never going to be able to use them again. That's not untypical. (here).

How bizarre did Encel's campaign get? Why he headed off to the ABA, as you can read in its investigation into a 60 Minutes' segment, which found in favour of Encel! Pdf it here.

So the ABA endorsed a man who famously said If HDTV was a horse, they'd shoot it. 

Whither that old lady and her VCR now? Probably where Encel has gone:

Now there's not much reason for the pond to trudge down this arcane byway of history, except to note one truth the pond probably won't be around to see in 15 years time.

The pond predicts that in that dismal future, someone else, in some alternate post-Twitter universe, will be drawing attention to the infinite stupidity of the current government's current broadband roll out, second rate at a blow out price, and their mourning at the price that Australia has had to pay to upgrade from that second-rate VCR vision ...

Well at least it's a change, for a Sunday meditation, from the pious yearnings of the camel and goat herders and the angry Sydney Anglicans ...

Now please allow the pond to shed a nostalgic tear at the memories. Ahh, the memories ...

Now please join the pond in a singalong around the old pianola, a technology that will never be made redundant:


  1. Dorothy Parker gets a mention in one of Joe Bageant's essays. JB has a pugnacious style that's probably similar to that of P.J. O'Rourke or Hunter S. Thompson. JB puts much in his origins in the Scot-Irish, or Borderers, as in Drink, Pray, Fight, Fuck - The Borderer Legacy Haunts America.
    Now I'm wondering if the Latham style (Jon Green played it on RN this morning), as Westies' champion, is our equivalent.


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