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back to article Fibre fanaticism overrode proper NBN planning says report

Early planning for Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) focussed on “how best to implement the government’s policy objectives, rather than considering the merits of different options.” So says Australia's Productivity Commission in a draft report (PDF) on the state of the nation's public infrastructure. The report's …

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How do you predict the benefits?

The problem with doing a cost-benefit analysis of major infrastructure projects is that their very existence transforms the environment around them. We have all seen entire towns spring up when a new freeway is built - which usually results in even more crowded roads that the freeway was designed to fix.

A project like the NBN has the potential to completely transform almost every aspect of daily life with enormous benefits for transport, housing, energy use, education, health etc, etc. Unfortunately for anyone attempting this analysis it would be impossible to put a value on those benefits, even if we could predict which ones will eventuate and what form they will take.

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Re: How do you predict the benefits?

I'll grant you that the cost-benefit ratio would be easy to guage but that isn't a good reason for not trying. The NBN is going to cost money, and lots of it. And it doesn't seem like anyone, previous or current government, has even considered whether "faster communications" the best way to spend it, or even if we wouldn't be better off not spending it at all.

"Faster communications" would be beneficial but so, for example, would the same amount spent on better training for our teachers and better schools for our children.

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Re: How do you predict the benefits?

> The problem with doing a cost-benefit analysis of major infrastructure projects is that their very existence transforms the environment around them.

Except that Labor's NBN Plan wouldn't have delivered that in the way that you imagine. The fact remains that Labor predicted that 50% of fibre connections would be 12Mbps and in April 2013 the NBNCo Corporate Plan confirmed that 47% of installed connections were 12Mbps.

> A project like the NBN has the potential to completely transform almost every aspect of daily life with enormous benefits for transport, housing, energy use, education, health etc, etc.

A cost benefit analysis should show that as speed increases, what benefits are available. The 2010 edition of the NBNCo Corporate Plan even provided a nice chart of application throughput requirements showing that the real benefits only come when speeds are 100Mbps or higher.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How do you predict the benefits?

The major beneficiaries of the NBN are the large American film studios who want everyone to stream HD films, and pay for the privilege each time.

What other use case is there for a 100 Mb/s link to the premises? Granted such speeds will allow certain people the ability to hide their asocial tendencies better...

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Re: How do you predict the benefits?

> What other use case is there for a 100 Mb/s link to the premises?

"I can't think of any way that I could use that much bandwidth, so it must be that nobody can use that much bandwidth." Bah.

To start with, assume it's full duplex. This is something sadly neglected in the "technology review" but is actually pretty important if you're going to get full use out of the network. In that case:

- Backups to "the cloud" / external sites become realistically possible.

- Video chat (and video conferencing) becomes useful rather than an idle curiousity.

- Creative professionals can seriously think about developing content at home then shipping it across the network rather than using Sneakernet v2.

- Remote monitoring of your home becomes a fair bit easier.

- Downloading software becomes much more practical and the need to make a backup of everything over 100MB in size because you don't want o be stuck waiting for a re-download later to be complete is reduced.

There are other possibilities I haven't covered. What about contributing your PC to a cluster of systems that dynamically work to solve "big" problems in biology or climate science? That's much harder right now as all the data goes via these minute straws. What about migrating your work environment between home and your office?

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William Thomson

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be."

- William Thomson, Lecture on "Electrical Units of Measurement" 3 May 1883.

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Sir Humphrey pointed out that the person selected to head an inquiry is always 'sound'.

That is his preferences and personal biases will be known in advance so that the expectation of getting the 'right' result is high.

Standard politics around the world not just in UK or one side of politics.

Doing a cost benefit analysis of the unknown produces a rather variable result.

It is like a manager asking how long it will take to develop software to perform an ill defined task.

An answer may be demanded and may be given but it has little worth.

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"Faster communications would be beneficial, but so, for example, would the same amount spent on better training for our teachers and better schools for our children."

Just to be a bit silly. Those faster communications, for example, could enable virtual classrooms which mean we could telepresence highly qualified teachers into multiple classrooms.

I worked for a charity who asked if we could do that and I adv that on current infrastructure, not well and with significant technical challenges.

When communications and transportation are developed every sector is enhanced.

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virtual classrooms

>Those faster communications, for example, could enable

>virtual classrooms which mean we could telepresence

>highly qualified teachers into multiple classrooms.

Exactly the same argument was made for Telephones, Cinema, Radio, and TV.

Obviously, clients and suppliers ASKED for the telepresence of highly qualified teachers in multiple classrooms with each new technology, and in a few specialised cases it was actually usefull. But overall, it's an idea that has been tried and rejected many times.

Fibre is set to combine the benefits of both Telephone and Television, but that means entertainment, and (mostly) entertainment.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if it puts some pressure on existing entertainment channels --- oh wait, that's what I told you 10 years ago, and .... told you so.

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Pint

I'll believe it when I see it

" we could telepresence highly qualified teachers into multiple classrooms."

Cloning those teachers would work a lot better than giving them a camera and telling them to "just work smarter".

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Who wears duty of care ?

You would still need a teacher IN the classroom to supervise. Legally we are not supposed to teachers aides unsupervised , or even duck out of the classroom for a minute without another teacher in the room - you see if one of the little darlings hurts themselves then YOU as the classroom teacher are liable. That classroom teacher would also need to ensure the kids are actually working, rather than playing on their phones (as some of kids were doing during an video incursion with the scientists at Mawson in the Antartic), or playing coolmathsgames etc etc etc

After 3 years as a teacher I am going to back to paper based activity books & textbooks for theory part of my IT classes . The kids I have really hate video tutorials - especially if they have yank or pommie narrators, and I don't have enough time to build a full set to replace them, and the elearning type activities I do for them are not treated as being "real" like the paper ones (even where I have taken the easy route & made a paper sheet a word or adobe "form".

Digital natives my a**e !

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Re: Who wears duty of care ?

It opens the possibility of not needing a classroom - for kids in semi-regional areas who might not have access to high quality education, or kids with learning disabilities who struggle in a traditional school environment, high quality broadband opens up avenues for education where the kids don't even need to leave the house - and therefore are under their parent's legal supervision.

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Re: Who wears duty of care ?

All that is already there. All states have the equivalent of a "school of the air" and have done so for many years. I had a chance to look at the one based at Dubbo when I was on a prac in the Central West. I am now in a metro area and envious of the technology - to cost to roll that out to every student in every home would be insane.

Kids don't need to leave the house hahahahahahahahaha.

That might have worked 50 years ago when mum was home to supervise the kids, and there usually was a mum AND a dad, and kids actually had some respect for their parents, and parents were parents - not 'besties'. At my school the bulk of kids are in single parent families and mum is forced to work (even if that "work" is attending a job network provider 12 hours a week). We have parents dumping their parental responsibilities onto us all the time and beg us not suspend little Johnny because they don't want him at home. We had a ministerial because we had one extremely violent special needs kids kept at home for a term because the public works had fallen badly behind in the works required for us to be be able to safely handle him - mum certainly did not want him at home all day.

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Cost Benefit Analyses don't add up

IMHO cost benefit analysis for long term infrastructure projects such as the NBN are not able to reflect true benefits, usually because the benefits are unknown at the time of the CBA, and therefore cause such projects to be shelved.

New Zealand is a classic example where during the late 90's through mid 2000's every Government project required a CBA and nothing really got done. What has resulted is that various forms of infrastructure are now over utilised and catchup is required at significantly greater expense.

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Pint

Re: Cost Benefit Analyses don't add up

What this really means is that a lot of poor value projects weren't started. Every minister has a few pet projects they want for political reasons and a government needs to filter them out of the mix.

If your infrastructure is overutilised now, that's because major rail and road links need a motza, which NZ obviously couldn't afford at the time, not because they didn't do a CBA.

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Re: Cost Benefit Analyses don't add up

""IMHO cost benefit analysis for long term infrastructure projects such as the NBN are not able to reflect true benefits""

This is true. When the country was wired for electricity it was primarily for lighting. I would estimate that lighting is a small percentage of current electrical use.

If these people were in charge then, Dubbo and other regional towns would still be on kero lamps.

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WTF?

which report is this?

Apparently if you do enough inquiries and Audits, you eventually get the answer you want....

What are they up to now?

oh yes 5 Audits on the NBN, I guess they have nothing better to do I am surprised we haven't had a royal commission into it yet.

http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/government-it/malcolm-turnbull-starts-fifth-nbn-audit-20140307-hvgmh.html?rand=1394401563433

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Re: which report is this?

"The audit will also investigate the choice of Labor-mandated fibre-to-the-premise technology."

"The other reviews included a strategy review already completed, a 90-day study of broadband availability and quality in Australia by the Department of Communications released last month, and a cost-benefit analysis by independent consultants also due in July."

I count four. I guess they skipped one.

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>lessening its focus on addressing black spots.

I think it's also fair to point out that fibre-fanaticism also lessened focus on addressing black spots.

The entire black-spot rectification program was put on indefinite hold to await the implementation of FTTP. Which then, because of the lack of proper basis for the political promises, has never come near to reaching the politically-promised timetable of black-spot rectification.

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Re: >lessening its focus on addressing black spots.

A problem with black spots for both sides of government is that they usually cover a small population in rural Australia - which means any cost/benefit analysis is going to come up "not worth it", and their political advisors will tell them the same thing.

It's too easy for any opposition to spin black spot spending into a white elephant/ poor decision making and so neither side will want anything to do with it.

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Re: >lessening its focus on addressing black spots.

> A problem with black spots for both sides of government is that they usually cover a small population in rural Australia

Depending on what you define as a blackspot, there are plenty of metro areas (suburbs developed post 1970) where speeds are very poor.

The biggest issue with broadband in rural areas is the cost of backhaul where Telstra is the only supplier. OPEL would have fixed this, but Labor cancelled it and then ended up building similar backhaul. Between Adelaide & Darwin many DSLAMs were installed in rural communities once backhaul was available.

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Pint

Market failure?

"Some pundits have argued that the original fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) plan was justifiable because of market failure".

What market failure? Before the NBN came about, it was possible to go to a network company such as Telstra, Optus, etc and ask for a high speed network connection. They would ask money for this and the customer and service provider would come to a mutually agreeable arangement. I spell this out in baby talk because a lot of commentards seem to have a problem understanding the fundamentals of simple commercial arrangements. If the Government doesn't provide it, it doesn't exist?

This worked in cities and large towns. There were a (large) number of places, back of Woop-Woop for instance, for which this wasn't commercially feasible. The Howard Government introduced a program to deal with this by contracting for connections to be made at subsidised rates. This was frequently done with satelite connections in the more remote parts of Australia.

When the Krudd Government came in, it bought out of the contract and insisted of fibre to the home as it's architecture. As a result, people all over Australia are still waiting for good quality connections, let alone superfast. Anyhow, this is why NBN couldn't do a feasability or cost-benefit analysis, because they knew it wouldn't be cost-beneficial.

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Re: Market failure?

I also remember in a small town in Queensland's Granite Belt (Stanthorpe) the local ISP was laying fibre to the premises 8 years ago. At the time they would only be offering ADSL2 speeds, but with more reliability - every time we got a good electrical storm much of the phone network would go out

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Quelle surprise!

Politically motivated investigation returns politically motivated results.

System 'working' as normal.

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