Why I moved from Anti-NBN to Pro-NBN

NBN Co National Broadband Network logoI am now a supporter of the NBN despite the price tag, politically motivated slow rollout, poor ROI and political lies.

The National Broadband Network is a hugely expensive ($40B), fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), wholesale network that will reach 93% of the Australian population over 10 years. Oh! And paid for by the taxpayers.

The Gillard Government has some numbers claiming that it will pay for itself in the long run. I don’t believe it will ever reach its return on investment of 7% if those numbers are ever audited in the same way private enterprise auditors operate.

I used to see it as a massive waste of money, that Fibre-To-The-Node (FTTN) was a more affordable but almost as good solution for one-third to one-quarter of the cost. I thought that Rob Oakshot and Tony Windsor held the nation hostage in order to get good internet in the bush first – a lower order national policy outcome.

I wasn’t wrong on any of those points. But I have a new perspective that makes them irrelevant.

  1. $40 Billion over 10 years is a drop in the bucket when it comes to the Gillard (and Labor) Government’s waste. In comparison, the Greens in 2011 stated that Australia’s offshore detention and border protection would cost over $2B in the next year alone. Those are the best numbers I’ve found on a quick search, but other media outlets published similar numbers.
  2. The copper network is obsolete. Patchwork repairs (like those over the last 30 years) will never see copper achieving anything close to the theoretical and technical optimums. There is no incentive nor financial return to Telstra to refresh the copper network.
  3. If you live in a multi-unit-dwelling or more than 500 metres from an exchange in a major city, and you want the fastest currently available broadband you already know the difference between the broadband speed you are sold and what you can consistently achieve. For those that haven’t tried it yet, it’s an intermittent and variable painful game of random chance.

Therefore if what we have is currently unusable, it doesn’t matter if we can save even $30billion by going FTTN, because the last mile of internet connectivity relies on the copper network which will never be fixed.

Worse for multi-unit-dwellings there is currently the endless game of pass-the-buck where the ISP blames the Telstra copper or your building wiring and nobody is responsible for providing your service. The NBN removes this debate for a significant and growing proportion of the population.

If you don’t believe governments are wasteful then the cost debate doesn’t matter. If you do believe governments are wasteful then the waste on the NBN is justifiable given the national productivity and long term infrastructure arguments.

What do you think?

Optus Fail on Customer Service

Always be coolWhen my mobile phone service came off contract I wanted to go month to month while I waited for the new iPhone’s to come out this year. Optus at the time were running some compelling prepaid deals. So I signed up.

I converted to a post paid accout and accepted a dealer’s offer for a shiny new iPhone 4S. That’s when the nightmare started.

The dealer ordered a white iPhone 4S when I asked for a black one. The dealer cancelled the order for the white and raised a new order for the black. Optus meanwhile cancelled my pre-paid service and with the cancellation of the white iPhone, my number suddenly became unlinked to any services and went into limbo.

Suddenly Optus claimed I could no longer keep my number. The number that I’d had since the mid 1990’s when GSM phones were introduced. This is a number everyone had. As I’m not famous enough to be overly harassed by people trying to do deals with me, I therefore want to be found. Changing phone numbers is a bad thing.

Aside: should I ever be successful or famous enough that I need a gatekeeper, I will keep that number, but give it to a PA to filter calls. People who I’ve worked with or known in the past will be able to reach me.

Optus prepaid and post-paid customer support escalated my problem but post-paid CS claimed I didn’t have an account (yet) and the prepaid CS had zero influence. After all prepaid mobile services weren’t worth keeping were they? Despite the fact that the call rates on pre-paid are highest and there is no bad debt or accounts receivable problems. Sounds like a great business to be in.

It finally took a call to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman to get the issue to someone powerful enough in Optus to fix my problem. In the meanwhile I’d lost a client worth $12,000 p.a. as they had an urgent problem and couldn’t get through to me. Lesson: Always have two phone numbers a client can reach you on especially if your primary number is a mobile.

Optus’s TIO contact asked me to quantify the client loss and raise a claim. I was angry enough to do it at first. But after I’d calmed down I realised I’d contributed to the loss at least a bit. Better to spend my energy building my business than raising claims against well protected telco’s. Chalk it up to experience and move on.