Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Open Access Will Make the NBN Work, not Price

Ok this is getting ridiculous. There is lots of commentary going on in the Australian press and from the politicians about the NBN. Most of it inane and demonstrating the commenter's complete lack of understanding about the technology and the issue.

The NBN will provide economic, social and environmental benefits. This fascination and indeed obsession with cost of access is self-defeating. Here is a quick overview of the benefits

  • Economic: NBN improves access to SaaS solutions and increases effective collaboration both improving producing and reducing costs. NBN opens up new possibilities for new companies and industries that hadn't existing before. Could anyone have predicted YouTube or Twitter when we were using 56k modems? NBN brings very high speed access to businesses of all sizes rather than just the largest.
  • Social: NBN, as others pointed out, provides the ability to role out education and health applications right to where people are. Some are already talking about providing free basic access to the poor.
  • Environmental: NBN will create a boom in video calling and telepresence cutting down on travel and reducing pollution. The NBN goes a long way to reducing energy intensity of the economy.
The NBN is the convergence of communication and data. It will be used for applications ranging from video calling to web access to television and radio to smart metering to health monitoring. To see it only in the light of access misses the larger value of the NBN. Nor is the speed a big issue either. Speed through the fibre is determined by the equipment at either end and not by the cable itself. Should users and the access providers decide they can put in the equipment that supports 1Gbps without much problem. Far more than copper, fibre is future proof.

Have a look at these videos that Microsoft produced as a look into the future of computers. The NBN is the key to enabling this world.

The key to the NBN living up to its promise is how the Government structures it and it is quite possible they will get it wrong. That shouldn't stop us from trying though. Life is a risk and we cannot be afraid of making a mistake.

For the NBN to fulfil its promise the following items have to be done:
  • The conduit/real estate and fibre should be help in separate companies
  • The company sold at the end of the 5 years should only be the fibre layer and assets. The conduit/real estate company needs to remain majority Government owned.
  • The legislation has to guarantee Open Access to both the conduits (so other companies can label cabling) and the fibre.
  • Fibre should be laid direct to the house. The NBN shouldn't use shared access.
  • Access must be symmetric the same upload speed as download speed.
By embedding Open Access to the conduits and the fibre you create an environment where organisations can compete on the fibre but also at the physical layer. The largest barrier to entry remains digging up the ground and laying conduit followed by the fibre.

The Opposition needs to hold the Government to implementing the about principals. They have to work with the Government to split the construction of the NBN into two parts:
  • Building the Conduits. This is the stimulus part of the NBN and can begin quickly and should start in the large regional towns before moving to the city
  • Laying the fibre and installing the Equipment. This is the key planning stage and in order to avoid prolong delays, can be done will the conduits are being built.
The conduit building can be done by any construction company that can dig a trench, lay piping and install access points. The contracts should be standard and let out to as many of the construction companies as possible. There is no need at all for one company or small group of companies to win the contract to build all the conduits. In terms of speed by letting out contracts to various companies around Australia the construction can go on in parallel in many different locations.

The core issue here is not the price of access. It is Open Access. The Opposition must be holding the Government to providing Open Access not only to the fibre but also to the conduits. Open Access is the key to the NBN working.

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