Coalition HFC plan leaves have-nots in the lurch
Photo: Andrew Meares
Stuck on slow copper in a suburb with cable? Malcolm Turnbull is happy to leave you in the lurch under his NBN vision.
Australia's Hybrid Fibre Cable rollouts of the 1990s were a hotch potch mess, with Telstra and Optus chasing each other down one street and then skipping the next street completely. Many homes in the so-called HFC areas are still struggling to get a reliable 5 Mbps over copper DSL and must rely on satellite for limited pay TV. Meanwhile their neighbours are enjoying 100 Mbps thanks to the latest cable upgrades.
There seems to be this myth that everyone on ADSL2+ in the 'burbs is now happily pulling down 20 Mbps.
The HFC rollouts created a digital divide within suburbs and even within streets. It's not just multi-dwelling units that were overlooked. In suburban Melbourne, my next door neighbour has access to 100 Mbps Telstra cable, but I struggle to get 4 Mbps over a dodgy copper connection. It's a common story.
There seems to be this myth that everyone on ADSL2+ in the 'burbs is now happily pulling down 20 Mbps, but the reality is very different. Many DSL fringe dwellers are struggling to get a reliable 5 Mbps even though a HFC cable is hanging in the next street. It's as much to do with the deterioration of the copper as the distance to the exchange. But no amount of pleading with Telstra and Optus will get them to roll out another inch of cable. Even getting them to fix a dodgy copper line is a painful experience.
While it's a frustrating scenario, at least I know the NBN fibre will roll down my street in the next few years and I'll be on equal footing with my neighbour. Yet it could be a much longer wait if the Coalition has its way.
This morning Opposition Communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull discussed the Coalition's HFC plans as part of his address to the Kickstart technology conference on the Sunshine Coast. He reiterated the Coalition plan to put the NBN on the backburner for areas covered by HFC cable.
"As far as policy is concerned, what I've said about HFC is that we are going to prioritise the areas that are poorly served," Turnbull said.
"So areas that do have very good broadband, or very good broadband relative to the rest of Australia and that would include most of the HFC areas, would not be the highest priority. I've have not said that we won't overbuild, in fact our intention is to continue as planned to overbuild it. In the HFC areas ADSL is a very active competitor on price generally."
DSL might be a competitor on price, but it's certainly not a competitor on performance. When this was pointed out to him, Turnbull added;
"This is the point you've got to remember. A lot of people are prepared to accept lower performance at a lower price. One of the challenges that telecom companies have is that they invest a lot of capital to upgrade services to have the capacity of 1 Gbps or 100Mbps. Then they struggle to get people to pay for it or pay any sort of meaningful premium for. Many people they can do everything they want to do at a lower tier -- that might be 50 or it might be 25 Mbps."
Turnbull's idea "a lower tier" such as 25 Mbps is still a pipe dream for every ADSL2+ customer, even if they live next door to the exchange. I don't begrudge regional users getting priority, as even my 4 Mbps is an unattainable dream for many people. But to class those of us stuck on deteriorating suburban copper as the lucky ones because we can see the cable in the distance could leave us in the lurch for many years to come.
Are you stuck on copper in a cable area? Is it a "very active competitor"?