By the time you read this I will be somewhere between Dubaï and Auckland on my way to New Zealand. Ironically the very week of the Australian elections, the week which will decide – amongst other things – the fate of the Australian National Broadband Network I will be as close to Australia as I’ve been in years looking at another NBN and its impact.
It’s even more ironic that the New Zealand fiber NBN, a direct consequence of Australia’s plans for fiber to the premise will likely (if the Australian polls are to be trusted) outlive it’s initiator as the Coalition shifts the ambitious fiber NBN to a run-of-the-mill copper NBN.
As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s a good thing that the Coalition had the foresight not to scrap the heart of the NBN project, ie. the structural separation. I’m not sure they could have done so, but at least they seem not to want to try. If Kevin Rudd gets ousted this week, Australia will get (according to plan) the same broadband every run-of-the-mill developed market is hoping to get by 2020. TNW has an interesting though provocative editorial on that entitled 25Mbps broadband speed by 2019: the stupidest policy ever?
In a sense, I’m not that concerned about where this goes. I have been warning people for a couple of years now that Australia should not be used as a poster child for NBNs or broadband policy. The lack of deployment performance of NBNCo – whatever the reasons – made it painfully obvious to me as an observer of all things broadband internationally that its survival was uncertain, at least in its current state. Australians, like citizens in any other democracy in the world will be voting in their next government for a whole lot of reasons other than the broadband policy each party espouses, and if the NBN in its current state is thrown out with the bathwater at least they will have made that choice knowingly.
However, this will have international consequences in the broadband market and I think it’s would be interesting to think about that for a minute. People who are trying to convince governments and regulators that National Broadband Networks are not the way to go will find fodder there. Similarly, people – and especially incumbent operators – who are trying to convince themselves that it’s better to aim for short-term decent coverage than for long-term secure coverage will also gain weight. There is a non-negligeable chance that the Australian NBN will become a sort of horror story bandied at conferences to justify lack of ambition or status quo policies.
People who like me believe that it makes sense both financially for the private players concerned and economically for the nations concerned to think about a framework that brings fiber at least within a few meters of every home in the country in a relatively short timeframe should prepare for that backlash should the Coalition win in Australia. And perhaps even if it doesn’t: the poor performance of NBNCo will have to be understood and analysed so that the impacts of bad policy decisions if they exist can be separated from the impact of bad implementation.
A couple of years back Diffraction Analysis published a report entitled The Rise and Fall of Dong Energy’s Fibernett. The market loves success stories and tends to focus on those to extremes. I believe it is just as important if not more important to be aware and understand failures in FTTx. There’s so much more to learn from them. So here’s one consequence for me personally: in the next few months, no matter in which direction Australia goes with its NBN, I need to document and analyse the reasons for the failure so far. These mistakes are the ones that other players need to ensure they avoid!
Photo: Australia 2009 (CC) Stoofstraat