Never say 'that's enough' for any (NBN) application

If those who do not study history are destined to repeat it, Malcolm Turbull’s 12Mbps broadband speed comment should have been more carefully phrased to prevent him from sounding like the Bill Gates of broadband in 20 years time.

Back in the 80s it was said that Microsoft co-founder was quoted “640K ought to be enough for anybody”.

I say “it was said” because Gates has denied he ever said that and the “source” has never been properly referenced.

A couple of years ago Computerworld US wrote a about the famous quote.

The key point isn’t about the quote itself, it’s about how people shouldn’t speculate on the limits of technology and how it is applied.

This is why I read with bemusement Malcolm Turnbull’s comments on Computerworld Australia that 12Mbps is enough for anybody, with no applications existing today that require additional bandwidth.

Turnbull has now exposed himself to being perpetually in the wrong when applications arrive than do need more than 12Mbps bandwidth.

He says no such applications exist today, but, as others have said, if you take into account four people in a house sharing one Internet connection combined with low upload speeds 12Mbps begins to show its limits. This doesn’t begin to take into account the plethora of rich media content and services that will become mainstream in the future.

On this topic I would also add DSL speeds are theoretical and are rarely experienced in practice.

Recurring technology limitation jokes aside, Turnbull’s argument could have been constructed better to give it more merit.

I think what he wants to say is because Australia doesn’t have a good level of high-speed DSL services to use as a benchmark, jumping straight into an NBN is too big a step.

If, for example, Australia had a broadband saturation level of 95 per cent of premises that could receive 12Mbps or better connections (be they copper, cable or fibre) then we would have a better idea of what people’s requirements are.

If people with 12Mbps DSL continued to complain about inadequate broadband (particularly the business sector) then the case for a FTTP NBN becomes more profound.

But in reality we have a polarised broadband infrastructure – some people can get 100Mbps to their door, while others can’t even get DSL over copper.

And the government’s answer to that is a sledgehammer in the form of NBN Co.

I don’t think Turnbull is “anti-NBN”. I think he, like most conservatives, doubts whether any government is even capable of successfully delivering the project in the first place.

He also doubts whether we need a whole new government bureaucracy to deliver the NBN and believes the structural separation of Telstra should have at least been seriously attempted before an NBN was pursued so fervently.

Those are all pertinent issues – whether the NBN succeeds or not.

Spending billions to essentially recreate what a Telstra wholesale should have been is an exercise in government bureaucracy at its finest.

Given it’s unlikely we’ll end up with a situation of ADSL saturation, we’re now left hoping the NBN gets delivered as promised.

Sure the price tag is high, but as I’ve argued before, it’s not grossly out of proportion with the level of government expenditure (and the invariable waste!) Australia endures today. And this expenditure is perpetuated by both sides of parliament, not just spend happy Labor.

Data transfer speeds, future applications and government expenditure – the never ending quest for better Internet services continues to be torn between all three.

Rodney Gedda is Editor of TechWorld Australia. Follow Rodney on Twitter at @rodneygedda. Rodney's e-mail address is Follow TechWorld Australia on Twitter at @Techworld_AU.


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