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The NBN questions Malcolm Turnbull won't answer

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In the nearly three weeks since Australia's opposition parties released their policy for a faster-and-cheaper-to-implement national broadband network (NBN) reliant on VDSL to bring 50Mbps connections to most homes and businesses, oceans of digital ink have been spilled analysing the plan.

We've been trying to add to them in order to honour the many questions we received when we asked readers to let us know what you'd like to know. Sadly Malcolm Turnbull's office hasn't responded to our emails, which leaves us in the dark about a few aspects of the plan.

The topic we feel currently demands most explanation is telephony. The NBN as currently constituted envisions telephony as reverting to voice-over-internet protocol.

The coalition's not yet said much about telephony on its NBN, which is important because it is nonsensical to assume fixed line telephony will disappear once the NBN appears. Businesses and individuals therefore need to know what the coalition's plan means for their fixed line phones.

Businesses need to know what telephony kit they should invest in, lest it be superseded. Homeowners may well be interested to know what's in store when they decide to connect to the NBN, especially as Coalition Comms Spokesperson Malcolm Turnbull has said his plan will mean a less disruptive installation than having NBN Co turn up at your home and drill holes or install boxes, as the current plan assumes.

In our reading of the coalition's plans, the topic simply isn't discussed. Turnbull keeps asking Australia's tech media to consider overseas developments, so we have and found this page on which BT says “We'll need to plug in your fibre modem into the master phone socket so please make sure you have two power sockets available next to it.” A video on that page shows a BT engineer installing a new wall socket.

This BT page says “there's no self-install option. We'll send an engineer round at the earliest available date from when you order. The visit will normally last about three hours, and you'll need to be in while the engineer's there.”

This page about AT&T's U-Verse VDSL offering, a Turnbull favorite, says it takes four hours to install, but unlike BT's Infinity self-install is an option. U-verse also mentions its voice service is VoIP. BT charges line rental, an item that's moot given it's often buried in the cost of a plan, but it is interesting to note BT still does so.

We'd therefore like to know the following:

  • Will the coalition's plan require access to a “master” phone socket? If so, what happens to phones connected to other phone sockets around a home or business?
  • Will telephony under the coalition's NBN plan be VoIP or analog?
  • Will a voice service be compulsory or will “naked NBN” plans be allowed?
  • Will customers acquire their premises equipment from NBN Co or from the telco they select to provide a service?
  • Who will install customer premises equipment? NBN Co or the telco?
  • Who will bear the cost of the new customer premises equipment, if needed?
  • Who will be responsible for fixing copper connections between a home/business and the node? Given this is currently an area in which ISPs and Telstra point fingers at each other and blame one another for delays, or try to evade responsibility, how will the coalition's plan ensure swift resolution of copper-related issues?

We're not asking these questions out of any desire to promote the Government's NBN policy. We at Vulture South feel instead feel answers to the above would go a long way to explaining the NBN installation experience the coalition imagines. With answers to these questions in hand, Australians will be able to make a more informed choice about which NBN policy they prefer.

Which is not to say we've ignored big, issues-driven, questions about the coalition's plan. We've also asked the following, again with no reply:

  • Have you set criteria for the conditions under which degraded copper will be replaced with optic fibre?
  • What fault amelioration strategies do you envisage being in place to reduce the risk of damage of fibre to a node taking down all subscribers?
  • Has the coalition modelled the electricity costs of operating nodes and compared that to operational cost of a FTTP model?
  • Does the coalition have a plan to train, and retain, the workers needed to deploy an FTTN network?
  • Has the Coalition considered the limits on innovation that a lower-speed NBN suggests? Or the extra costs imposed on business looking to create online services that will need to consider two services – one for fibre users with uncontested bandwidth and another for the slower xDSL environment?
  • Does the Coalition have a view on how its NBN plan will affect wireless broadband investment by carriers?

With a little luck, we'll get some responses. Seeing as our last two emails to Turnbull's office - both of which offered days to respond to our questions - went unanswered, we're not holding our breath. If we don't receive a response, feel free to keep sending us your own questions about the competing NBN plans. ®

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