Coronavirus pandemic shows government must fix Australia’s NBN, telco experts say

Australians have put unprecedented demand on the NBN.

Australians have put unprecedented demand on the NBN. Photo: NBN Co

Telecommunications experts have called on the government to fix Australia’s national broadband network (NBN), which is facing an unprecedented surge in traffic as more people work and study from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The crisis has shown that the Coalition government’s multi-technology NBN has failed and must be transformed into a full-fibre network to meet growing demand, independent telecommunications analyst Paul Budde told The New Daily.

Originally slated to deliver super-fast fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) to 93 per cent of Australia, today’s NBN is a mixed-technology network with users connected to the service via a hotchpotch of seven methods – including those that rely on old copper telephone wires – with speeds and reliability varying wildly.

COVID-19 has highlighted the need for an NBN that is adequately equipped to facilitate telehealth, tele-education, and teleworking, Mr Budde said.

“People like myself have been saying for a decade that that’s why we need the NBN. Not for Netflix movies or entertainment … but as a national interest and a national asset,” he said.

The government chose to ignore that advice and instead “play down the national interest of the NBN” by turning it into “more of a profit-based exercise”, Mr Budde said.

However, the current crisis “clearly shows the absolute importance of a good digital network”, and that it is necessary for the government to abandon its multi-technology mix in favour of a “full blown” FTTP network, he said.

The pandemic – and the floods and bushfires that preceded it – should “stimulate the government to ensure that we now get the rest of the funding to get the NBN up to speed”, Mr Budde said.

There will be more of these issues. So we will rely more and more on that sort of infrastructure.’’

Government should hire displaced workers to fix NBN

Former Internet Australia executive director and #BetterBroadband campaigner Laurie Patton said the government should hire telco workers displaced by the pandemic to help fix the NBN.

The Morrison government should “immediately fund NBN Co to employ suitably qualified people being retrenched, train them, and deploy them to start upgrading the FTTN (copper wire) connections so that everyone has access to fast broadband”, the TelSoc vice president said.

“This would help those people while fixing an underlying flaw that limits the effectiveness of the NBN,’’ he said.

It’s an extraordinarily time and we need to make extraordinary moves.”

The coronavirus has “highlighted a digital divide” between “people with good connectivity and those who suffer from inadequate internet access”, Mr Patton said.

Essentially there are the lucky Australians, who have a 21st Century NBN connection, and unlucky Australians stuck with an inferior service using old copper telephone wires,’’ he said.

“My personal view is that the NBN needs to be better able to serve the needs of all Australians.”

Stan, Netflix asked to cut streaming quality

On Friday, it was revealed that Communications Minister Paul Fletcher had asked popular streaming services including Netflix and Stan to cut the quality of their videos so as not to overload the NBN.

Earlier in the week, Mr Fletcher told the public that the NBN’s rollout was “94 per cent complete” and was “providing Australians across the country with high-speed, reliable broadband”.

On Wednesday, NBN Co announced that it would waive charges for up to 40 per cent of extra bandwidth to help ease network congestion in coming months as more Australians work from home.

While NBN Co’s decision to waive bandwidth charges “absolutely helps” it “doesn’t alter the core of the problem”, Mr Budde said.

The problem is we don’t have more capacity in the network,’’ he said.

“So you can make data available, but if you clog up the network you clog up the network.”

Mr Budde used the analogy of a highway to illustrate the issues the NBN is facing.

“If you build a two-lane highway and you’ve got hundreds of thousands of cars on it, then suddenly it comes to a standstill,” he said.

“If you build a five- or a four- or six- or an eight-lane highway, it can cope with the hundreds of thousands of vehicles.

“So if you build a multi-technology-mix network that will be fine, if there’s no traffic. But when everybody starts using it … then you get congestion.”

NBN Co has promised to have 8.1 million homes and businesses using the NBN by the June 30 completion deadline, with 11.7 million ready to connect.

Topics: NBN
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