Fact Checking Politifact

July 2, 2013
Blog

Tonight, Channel 7 ran a story that Politifact has rated as ‘half true’ Coalition claims that we will deliver minimum speeds of 25mbps under our policy.  Here’s my response to Politifact;s various claims:

CLAIM ONE: The Coalition should have used average peak connection speeds instead of average speeds as their reference point.

If we had been comparing average peak connection speeds under our NBN plan with the status quo, that point may have been valid.

But the 25 mbps speed is not either an average speed or an average peak connection speed. It is the MINIMUM line speed that the network will be designed to deliver. In other words nobody will be in a position where they cannot access at least 25 mbps.

The whole point about the Coalition’s policy is that we should be addressing the ‘Digital Divide’ in Australia as a matter of national priority. This means upgrading those 2 million households in Australia whose Internet connection is so poor, they can’t even access a YouTube video in Australia.

Or put another way, what would the public policy benefit be to the country if Telstra decided to upgrade its existing HFC network to offer speeds well in excess of 100 mbps – say to 300 mbps? In the absence of anything being done to improve the line speeds of those without broadband, Australia’s average peak connection speeds would nonetheless increase but the digital divide would be wider and that investment would have a much lower overall productivity impact than if it were invested in ensuring that everybody had access to very fast broadband.

It also ignores how people actually use the Internet. Is capacity really more important, or valuable, to users than actual line speeds? Netflix’s regular speed surveys of users show that despite networks such as Google Fiber and Verizon’s FiOS having greater capacity than AT&T’s u-Verse [a fibre to the node network], the differences in actual level of service are quite minimal. The average speed on Google is 3.53mbps, the average speed on FiOS is 2.17mbps and the average speed on u-Verse is 1.99mbps.

CLAIM TWO: The Coalition cannot guarantee 25 mbps.

This claim is simply false. It would help if Politifact had actually read the Coalition policy.

If the general point is that the Coalition cannot guarantee every house will get 25mbps on each existing copper pair without any remediation, then they might have a point. But that is not our policy. We will not direct the NBN Co they must use one single technology nor have we said that there shall be no remediation or even replacement of some copper in the last few hundred metres to the home.

The single most important point about our policy is that we have set a speed mandate rather than a technology mandate. As we state in our policy (p.6):

“Broadband policy should be about efficiently meeting community needs, not advocating for a particular technology. Networks should be upgraded in the most cost-effective way using the best-matched technology.”

But for Politifact to claim that FTTN is incapable of 25 mbps is to ignore what’s happening elsewhere in the world. BT is offering 80/20mbps services today and will improve those speeds when it deploys vectoring. Deutsche Telekom is deploying FTTN and will offer 100/40mbps services – currently the top speed tier offered over the fibre to the premise NBN.

In short – FTTN is technically capable of delivery 25 mbps (and much higher speeds) depending on the length and the quality of the copper between the node and the home. The NBN will be required to ensure that every premise has access to at least that line speed and if this requires shortening the copper loop, remediating it or indeed replacing it with fibre that will be done.

CLAIM THREE: The Coalition has not guaranteed upload speeds.

It is a strange world when we have Politifact not just fact-checking things the Opposition Leader has said, but what it feels the Coalition policy should have stated.

If the point Politifact is making is that FTTN is incapable of high upload speeds, they are wrong – as the real world examples of BT and Deutsche Telekom show.

If the point is that we should have mandated upload speeds or have secret plans to throttle download speeds, they are wrong again. As Alcatel recently noted, the GPON network the NBN is building is not symmetrical. While it is technically capable of delivering more symmetrical services than vectored VDSL, the differences are not that great – and besides, “overall traffic patterns are asymmetrical and are becoming more so over time”.

The point is that we will empower the NBN Co management to allocate upload capacity that is commensurate to market demand.

The standard in commercial FTTN deployments is a ratio of around 4:1 of download:upload and we would expect that to be the case here which would mean that most customers on the FTTN portion of the network would have access to 10 mbps upload or more and none would have access to less than 5 or 6 mbps. Remember videoconferencing requires 2 mbps.

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