NBN - What it is Really About

I've been following the debate over recent months about the NBN in Australia, and to be quite frank have found people have a fair bit of misunderstanding about what it means to this country. Arguments for and against seem to blur the real benefit that the NBN will deliver.

To attempt to bring this focus back on track for me at least, I plan on taking a little tour of the average Australian house, and the services that are provided.

  • ELECTRICITY - Electricity powers almost everything in our house, the washing machine, television, air conditioning, heaters, recharges batteries, soon may even power our cars. It even powers the computer I'm creating this blog entry on. Electricity certainly makes our lives interesting.
  • WATER - Can you believe it, it is amazing - we can turn on a tap and water appears IN OUR HOUSE. Kings and Queens of old had water brought to them in buckets - yet we just turn on the tap and wash, drink or water the plants. In Australia, we have of course started to think responsibly about water use, but it is still a miracle.
  • COPPER - Nearing the end of their usefulness, our land lines have created over the last century a world so interconnected that it has shrunk the world to nothing. The copper providing these telephones has been stretched to breaking point to delivery not just phone services, but a shaky but amazing connection via data to the world.

Think about these services that you have taken for granted probably since you were born. How do we talk about these services, we talk about them (for the most part) as essential to our very existence.

I'm going to add a fifth one now, one more recently accessed - and attach to it, how it is currently seen by many people.

  • INTERNET - Download music, download movies, download websites, download pictures, download the news. Be careful not to download too much, in case you run out of Megabytes - and sometimes it is slow because of the low Megabits/second. My router needs a fair bit of fiddling to get it working sometimes, and frequently I have to change the line settings with my ISP to avoid drop outs. When it rains, the speed slows. I have to choose between ADSL, ADSL2+, ADSL Annex M, Cable, Satellite or 3G or sometimes dialup. Depending on which I use, I need different plugs, adapters and I ... <well you get the idea>

I admit, I exaggerated a bit - very few people go through all of those at the same time, but for the general populace - all of that is frequently encountered by someone on a daily basis. In essence the INTERNET is well, immature.

Well, now to share some well kept secrets. There was a time before electricity, home delivered water and copper to the house - when immature systems existed, incompatible systems - systems to choose amoungst. For example, originally you could choose between AC and DC electricity (in the US), in some places in the world you buy your appliances without a plug, and get a plug attached depending on how your electricity is wired.

The key thing here is - that at some point in time within Australia, infrastructure was laid out country wide at great expense to provide these services. These services were not as pervasive then as they are now - but because of that investment, they became pervasive and incredibly useful. Electricity was originally just for powering lights and copper wires for telegraph.

Now comes the big NBN discussion - and the FIRST key point of this blog relates to how we THINK about our services.


People are thinking of the NBN as access to lots of downloads on the Internet, FAST BIG FAT INTERNET. Well, they are wrong. NBN is about far more than that.

Saying the NBN is about fast Internet, is like saying Electricity is about powering your lights.

That's right, people who think of the NBN as being a way of getting those downloads quicker, are thinking EXACTLY as people almost a century ago were - when they thought of Electricity as being about powering your lights.

Why do we need an electricity network just to power our lights brighter - gas powered lights work just fine.



The SECOND key point of this blog relates to how we TALK about our services.


People are talking about there internet in terms of Gigabits/second and Gigabytes/month, that's like talking about your electricity in terms of ohms, volts and amps.

The NBN will have arrived when we hear people talking about the things it does, rather than how it does them.

The NBN in an important infrastructure project - far more important than giving people more downloads, or faster pings. Remote medicine, video conferencing, tele-presence, telephony, Internet. I can't even imagine what it will be used for - just like the people almost 100 years ago couldn't see electricity as more than lighting.

Don't expect to try and guess what these services will be, but be sure - they will be. The fourth service will not be INTERNET - ill will be called CONNECTIVITY.

I prefer to call it - the ACS, "AUSTRALIAN CONNECTIVITY SYSTEM" - maybe then, after we divorce ourselves from terms that remind us too much of where we have been - and suggest to us where we should go - only then will people see past the limits of the past and view the prospects of the future.