Opinion: Two and a half things that annoyed me about this morning’s NBN gab-fest

NBNDebate
This morning’s mini-communications debate between the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull was in many ways quite predictable. That still didn’t stop it being intensely annoying.

Rather predictably, the two sides battled in a war of worlds that was rich in “The government has failed” and “What the opposition won’t tell you is…” style rhetoric. You can watch the whole thing yourself, if you like; it’s on YouTube, and ZDNet still has it embedded (and can have the traffic, being a partner of the whole thing and having Josh moderate it and all).

It’s over here.

Now, I sat and watched, and, as I predicted, not a whole lot was revealed on either side. There are still horrible delays in rolling out the FTTP NBN model we’ve got right now, and there were no answers to that. The Coalition plan still resides on the idea that there’ll be much better tech in 10 years, but Turnbull won’t be pushed on how long he thinks FTTN will last.

So what specifically got up my nose so badly?


Well, firstly, it’s the issue that, as I thought, this ended up being just a party political platform, and one with a surprising amount of mudslinging at the tail end of it. I felt rather sorry for ZDNet’s Josh Taylor in the middle of it, although for what it’s worth I thought Conroy’s point that he was quiet while Turnbull was talking but didn’t get the same respect back was spot on. Still, mudslinging is all fun and games to watch, but you still get covered in mud at the end; it’s not terribly practical. Hmm… where have I heard that recently?

But secondly, there were only three questions that the two sides had to face… but one of them, and arguably the most critical, was dodged in its entirety.

It was interesting to hear Malcolm Turnbull talk at length about how the 25Mbps figure for the Coalition plan was “not a cap; it’s a floor”. That’s encouraging if you want high speed broadband, but Turnbull is only talking in ONE direction there, and that’s downstream. Indeed, one of the question askers was specifically in Google HQ because his own connection simply wasn’t good enough to handle the other aspect — and that’s upstream. Malcolm Turnbull refused to be drawn on the upstream issue, simply stating that he wouldn’t set a minimum but that there was “no technical barrier to having very high upload speeds.”

Actually there is — and it’s called the state of the copper that a FTTN network rests on — but even beyond that, not stating some kind of upstream guarantee is the simplest way to make a network functionally useless. I should know. To give a practical example, last week’s more-than-30s interview with Ewan McGregor took around 22 minutes to film, and (as if you couldn’t tell) it wasn’t edited in any great extent except to add start and end credits. All up, production time was no more than thirty minutes in total.

It took over EIGHT HOURS to upload from my office connection.

I’m not alone in having a crappy upload connection (often my downloads aren’t anything to sing about either), and it’s a strong business inhibitor. Now, I know — because Malcolm Turnbull said so — that the Coalition plan includes FTTP to business parks and anywhere that it’s “cost effective” — but not to residential areas. That — if there’s no “floor” on upload speeds — means that people who telework, or work out of a home office in residential areas (yup, that includes me) will be left in the Internet dark ages. I’m sure the solution to that would be for me to move to a business park… which means I’m losing time each day, adding to pollution, crowding… all those things that an actual fast, up AND down connection would enable and help grow.

I did mention a half thing in the title, though, so I’ll finish on that. The very first question wasn’t NBN-centric — and that’s fair enough, it got the votes and was a communications question — but related to media ownership, shifting over to public broadcaster funding. Malcolm Turnbull’s position was that there’s more diversity thanks to the Internet — and I agree with him, there is, although the question of mass influence is different to diversity — but wouldn’t rule out ABC or SBS funding cuts, simply stating that it may happen but that “there is no more committed defender of public broadcasting in Parliament than me”.

No, Malcolm. Defenders actually try to stop having Auntie’s arms and legs chopped off. That’s what they do.

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