I’m a frustrated individual when it comes to discussing the NBN. I waited years to have it connected, and since connecting have had an amazing experience – great speeds, great customer service and the superior network (faster uploads) has been great for my business.

So why all the drama? Everything you read today is negative.

Why? Easy – there are thousands and thousands of people who have experienced issues connecting to the NBN. Never in our recent memories has the entire nation, 11 million households had to undergo such a fundamental change, as a result it requires a massive education for end users and on something so complex that’s not easy.

Look at the Digital TV revolution, it affected every single household – for two reasons it was relatively smooth. Firstly, Digital TV broadcast in parallel with Analogue TV for a decade or more. Meaning everyone had a lot of time to get it sorted. Secondly, the process of “watching TV” hasn’t changed, nor has the process of setting up a TV.

For the first time ever, we’re discussing “The Internet” not as just something you either have or you don’t, but as something you have choices about. When you buy a car there might be a model with a 2.5 litre petrol engine, one with a 2.5 litre petrol engine with Turbo and maybe a 2.0 litre diesel engine. It’s always been that way, not too many cars have ever been sold as just one model, take it or leave it.

Until 2010 or so, we connected to the Internet and got what we were given. Rarely did anyone other than the nerdiest among us ever do a “speed test”, yet today we’re being offered a product with a fundamental choice in the first stages of connection: What Speed Tier do you want?

Today, more than 80% of people who connect to the NBN choose the slowest two speed plans. There’s two reasons for that – one, they have no idea what the difference is or will be, or two, they can’t afford to pay more. More on that later.

I’m in the fortunate position of getting to talk about technology every single day, it’s my job to help people understand new and emerging technology, and live on the radio take calls from people who need help. The NBN has been a hit topic in the last 12 months, and rarely, if ever has it been a technology fault – more often it’s an issue with speeds, the telco, the connection process or the time it’s taking to get it into a person’s street.

Yet the debate in the industry is still taking the shape of “The NBN in its current form is not fit for purpose” or the NBN is “an inferior network”.

The fact is Fibre to the Home is a superior network technology, it would have created a future proof super-fast network. I supported that technology and that plan.

Perhaps more importantly, the NBN is a political football, and when one government lost power and another took office, there was a commitment to get it done faster and cheaper.
They’ve missed their deadline, and many people say it’s costing the same as the original plan – but let’s all be brutally honest, if rolling out a network that doesn’t require any additional work to be done within 1km of over 7million homes (4 million Fibre to the Node and 3 million HFC) is costing $50 billion (roughly), then how on earth does anyone think it would have still cost the same amount to roll fibre down all those streets let alone into all those homes.

Let’s be realistic, the number would have been a shocker. And importantly there is nowhere near the overwhelming support for that kind of expenditure in the public.

I’ve said before we need to take the politics out of the NBN – what a joke – Senate Estimates is like popcorn required viewing with the disgraceful performance of senators probing and questioning for the benefit of political gain not in the interests of their constituents.

That said, I firmly believe we need to shift the debate. Shift it onto an end user focussed approach with stakeholders, industry experts, the NBN and Government all understanding there’s actually a need – a genuine requirement – to just get this thing finished. We’re within 2 years of the finish line folks, now’s not the time to turn around the ship.

Consumers are suffering serious lack of understanding – that can be solved if we stop talking about the project as a dud.

To do this, there’s a lot required from stakeholders – particularly those opponents of the Multi-technology mix. They need to get on board, or shut their mouths, not a single end user is helped by those arguments continuing.

  • Accept the current NBN technology mix is what we’re getting, and let the NBN get on with the roll-out.
  • Work to help consumers understand the status of the NBN roll-out
  • Help consumers understand the opportunity to choose different telcos
  • Help consumers understand the impact home wiring can have on internet speeds
  • Help consumers understand the difference between WiFi speeds and Actual line speeds
  • Work with the NBN and Government to update the NBN address database with line speed estimates and actuals as available to better inform consumers of speed choices
  • Work with NBN on CVC pricing issues, to drive better value for retail telcos in the higher speed plans.
  • Work with Government on discussions around NBN funding model – writing off the cost could lead to immediate increase in affordability, higher speed tier choices and take-up rates

As you can see there, there’s a lot to be done – and that may not be all, but it will help. There’s a lot of issues that must be discussed, issues entirely unrelated to Fibre to the Node or HFC roll-out delays.

What the Australian public needs is an advocate, a group willing to step up and put politics aside and work with all sides of parliament and with the NBN to get these things sorted out.

Internet Australia (IA) calls itself the “peak body” for Australian Internet users, yet it’s been caught up for years debating the technology used instead of advocating for users. Laurie Patton has stepped down as the head of Internet Australia, yet continues to push the conversation within IA toward technology choices, and the negative headlines around the NBN.

Under its new leadership, IA must stand up for Australian consumers, or someone else will – and Internet Australia will finally be accepted in Canberra and within the Media as completely irrelevant.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) looks like the ideal organisation to take that role if Internet Australia doesn’t, but it would require ACCAN to shift focus from the government lobbying style approach to consumer information and advocacy.

Who’s willing to work to give some value to consumers, advocate for consumers, get results for consumers?