NBN: Do Australians even care about the FTTP v FTTN debate?

Faster internet, fostering a vibrant digital economy and future-proofing a vital communications resource seem to only resonate with the tech savvy. Photo: ShutterstockSince the National Broadband Network (NBN) was first announced, it has stirred up debate among politicians, technology experts and the specialist press about which technologies will best serve the nation.
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Should we (allegedly) spend more tax payers’ dollars for a superior fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) model that will pay off in the future? Should we stick to the fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) approach doggedly pushed by our current government? Or is something in-between required?

It seems illogical to be opposed to the “best” technology, but most Australians — the very people the NBN is being built for — simply don’t care.

There is no doubt in my mind that FTTN is an outdated model for the NBN and that we’re better off going full fibre with FTTP or FTTdp. Many of my peers who are in the IT industry or have an interest in technology tend to agree and they are active in sharing content on social media that supports FTTP.

Recently, a friend of mine shared a pro-FTTP Facebook post and one of his acquaintances came out of the woodwork to shoot it down, saying that the NBN is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Naturally, other people jumped into the debate trying to convince this individual that FTTP NBN will do wonders for the Australian economy and all that jazz but that person would not budge on her beliefs.

It was a frustrating sight, especially when you know the technology is sound and it will genuinely be better than FTTN in the long run. But when it comes to convincing NBN detractors, talking about how great fibre technology is feels like beating a dead horse that’s already covered in maggots.

People tend to gravitate towards those who share the same ideology as themselves. That’s how cliques form in high school and why our Facebook feed are full of content from our friends that reverberate our own thoughts about certain topics.

Faster internet, fostering a vibrant digital economy and future-proofing a vital communications resource seem to only resonate with the technology savvy individuals, experts and forward-thinking business people.

It sounds absurd to hear Australia’s Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne say that “[people] simply didn’t need the speeds that Labor was promising” with its original FTTP NBN plan. Yet, it is something that many Australians agree with.

You have publications like the Herald Sun claiming that “[it] is all very well to promise geeks download speeds of 1 gigabyte, not much use if they have to wait until 2030 to get them … The evidence from the MTM-NBN to date is that most people don’t particularly want speeds much above 25Mbps — which they will get totally from the MTM-NBN; and they certainly don’t want to pay for them”.

Again, this all sounds ridiculous and short-sighted but there are people who read these articles and nod in agreement. Those people probably don’t care that Australia’s internet speed rankings have slipped compared to the rest of the world.

Us “geeks” can beat the drum about the benefits of an FTTP NBN but it seems the noise is only heard by those who already support it. Focusing on what technology is better and comparing FTTP and FTTN won’t change people’s minds or votes. Many people don’t understand and, to some degree, don’t want to understand how broadband technology works. Why should they have to care about the intricacies of the invisible wires that serve them this intangible thing called the internet, regardless of what technology experts say?

That is why the political rhetoric on the NBN has shifted from what is better for the future to how much it would ultimately cost. Labor’s message has changed from “let us invest a lot of money to build a brighter future with FTTP” to “we’ll build a better NBN and it will only be a fraction more expensive than the one the Coalition is currently rolling out”. The party talks about FTTP but makes it clear that it won’t be at the same scale as Labor’s first iteration of the NBN which was much more ambitious.

Both of the major political parties are now trying to claim that their NBN will be more cost effective.

On a recent episode of Q&A, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed the Coalition is “rolling [the NBN] out literally six to eight years sooner and $30 billion cheaper than would have been the case under Labor’s plan” (a questionable figure). Meanwhile, former NBN chief executive Mike Quigley launched a scathing attack on the Coalition’s FTTN and mixed technology strategy claiming it will cost taxpayers more in the long run due to complexities in managing this model.

I’ll continue to personally support a full-fibre solution for the NBN. As Quigley aptly puts it: “A NBN based on FTTP was, and still is, the right answer for Australia’s broadband needs”. But sometimes it feels like I’m screaming into the void.

I dare say most of the people who read these pages do have an understanding of NBN technologies and see the value of FTTP. Is there a better way for us “geeks” to get the message across to the wider public? Let us know in the comments. is your expert guide on how to get things done and do everything better.