Turnbull's GST on a Birthday Cake Moment

In a response to an article about the MyBroadband failure, the Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull provided a GST on a Birthday Cake moment. Turnbull's faux pas is discussed in the weeks article on Technology Spectator. Malcolm Turnbull provides a weak defence of a report and website that fail to provide a clear statement of the availability and quality of Australia's broadband. Why is the report so skewed towards providing a glowing representation of HFC and Australia's broadband? Well it could be an attempt to say that Australia's broadband is not too bad and therefore we don't need FTTP and well we have HFC and it is great so that is all we'll provide. What do you think?

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Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull’s response to our criticism of the MyBroadband website was an eye opener of sorts, given that it highlighted the lengths to which the Coalition government is willing to push the envelope when it comes to the National Broadband Network.  

The minister’s insistence that we accept the approach used to portray the state of broadband services by MyBroadband isn’t surprising. But that doesn’t mean he is right.

Turnbull’s birthday cake moment

Shortly before the 1993 election Mike Willessee interviewed the Liberal party leader John Hewson and asked the now infamous birthday cake question "If I buy a birthday cake from a cake shop and GST is in place do I pay more or less for that birthday cake?"

The response from Hewson contributed to the Liberal party losing the “Unloseable Election.”

Turnbull’s birthday cake moment occurred when he remarked “the broadband quality rating is dependent on the availability of each technology within a local area.”

It’s a necessary requirement for a telecommunications link to be accessible for the quality of that telecommunications link to be measured.

Is access to a telecommunications link included in the quality measure? No.

Is it common practice for the quality of an access network telecommunications link to be affected by other unrelated telecommunication links that are part of a different telecommunications access network? No.

So in a birthday cake moment, Turnbull has demanded that Australians forget reality and imagine a world in which access means quality.

If you have HFC somewhere in the general area then you have all that you’re going to need because HFC means ‘A’. And if you don’t have HFC somewhere near you then the Coalition government is going to spend $43 billion to bring another obsolete technology to you and don’t worry we’re not going to test its quality because access somehow equates to quality.

The rating system needs a remedy

Turnbull states “I understand this rating system is complex. But that is not a reason why it should be dropped altogether.”

The minister is right the ratings system shouldn’t be dropped but it’s in desperate need of a fix. Let me explain.

From a customer perspective quality of an access network is determined utilising several factors.

The first factor is the transmission speed from point A to point B and vice versa.

For a fixed infrastructure access network, point A is the Network Termination Device (NTD) found in your home. If you have ADSL then this is the modem/firewall that you plug your telephone line into. If you have fibre to the premises (FTTP) over the NBN then this is theNBN connection box that you plug the fibre optical cable into.

Point B is the gateway at the NBN Point of Interconnect (PoI) (slide 5 and slide 14) where your traffic leaves the access network and moves into the backhaul transit network (slide 13 and Chapter 6) as the traffic travels to the Retail Service Provider (RSP) networks.

The second factor is the grade of service, which in a modern context describes whether a group of access network connections measured at the busiest time of day when the traffic intensity is the greatest can utilise network services without noticeable loss of performance.

The third factor is the quality of service, which in a modern context describes whether an individual access network connection can utilise network services without noticeable loss of performance.

An important contributor to quality is the transmission capacity that is available for traffic. When utilisation of available capacity rises there is a point where contention becomes an issue.

To ensure there was sufficient capacity the original NBN design included the requirement that there be a maximum 70 per cent capacity utilisation before additional capacity was to be made available and for no more than 32 residences to be connected to a single fibre run.

Telecommunication access network quality is therefore affected by traffic class and capacity management and quality of service.

Reality check

While it’s still early days, one of the most important, and as yet unknown, aspects of the Coalition government’s multi-technology mix NBN is the overall network design rules and how quality that meets customer expectations will be achieved.

Or has Turnbull already provided clear guidance on the quality of the Coalition governments NBN? If you can access copper or HFC you have ‘A’ grade quality.

In Akamai’s latest State of the Internet report Australia comes in 30th in the world, with regards to peak connection speeds and 43th in terms of average connection speeds, up two positions from the previous quarter (Q2 2013). Australia is also ranked in 37th position globally in terms of high broadband (above 10 Mbps) connectivity.

Australia’s Asian competitors are miles ahead on these rankings. Yet if the Department of Communications Broadband Availability and Quality Report 2013 and MyBroadband website are to be believed Australia’s telecommunication access networks are wonderful; and not only is the overall availability excellent but the quality is great.

The greatest failure of the Broadband Availability and Quality Report 2013 and MyBroadband website is the lack of reality. The measures used should have been linked to access network standards, availability of the world’s best access network technologies and access network quality which is dependent on the access network design rules and implementation.

MyBroadband is another plank in a NBN process that has been hamstrung by Canberra’s insistence to put political expediency before practicality.

Minister Turnbull will have to work a lot harder to convince us otherwise. MyBroadband still gets an ‘F’ for fail.

Mark Gregory is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University