Simon HackettSimon Hackett offers is a short, high level, view of the issues in Australia at this time, the ones that he feels actually matter, in the ongoing ‘debate’ (more like ‘media shouting match about the wrong issues’) being engaged in by Telstra about their current re-heating of the need to urgently construct a re-monopolising FTTN network in Australia. This article is republished, with permission, from Simon's personal blog www.simonhackett.com.

Here is a short, high level, view of the issues in Australia at this time, the ones that I feel actually matter, in the ongoing ‘debate’ (more like ‘media shouting match about the wrong issues’) being engaged in by Telstra about their current re-heating of the need to urgently construct a re-monopolising FTTN network in Australia.

My view of the key issues at the highest level here are:

  • Competition is of benefit to consumers and must be maintained - whatever changes otherwise occur
  • The people to ask about how to make sure competition remains viable is.. competitors (not the incumbent) hence they must have a seat at any table at which that is being determined or changed - not be excluded from that conversation
  • The best competitive results occur when infrastructure can be accessed on an open, transparent, level-playing-field basis - where the access rules for all users of any shared infrastructure are the same, regardless of whether you own the infrastructure concerned or not;

In this regard, access bottleneck infrastructure is special, in a manner that the Australian competition regime specifically understands, and regulates, for the benefit of end users. That is why the competition regime treats it specially - and correctly so. -

The regulator exists to enforce the Trade Practices Act, it is the umpire, not the setter of the rules. When it adjudicates, it is not a ‘rogue regulator’ simply because its decisions do not uniformly suit the incumbent. It is merely doing its job.

And one level below that, into the specifics of FTTN/broadband etc and whether and how we all 'need it' in Australia on an urgent basis right now... There are three key issues in this realm for consumers to ask of Telstra, regarding broadband and their FTTN plans:

  1. Availability
    Can I get it at all, or am I stuck on a RIM cabinet which has run out of DSLAM ports with Telstra not caring to add any more? Why is Telstra not more interested in actually connecting people in metro areas that it could connect but currently refuses to, instead prioritising a re-build of parts of the network where broadband is already widely available?
  2. Retail Cost
    Will it cost me more, or less, to access broadband on reasonable terms if Telstra build whatever it is they say is vital to build, on whatever (as yet undisclosed) terms they plan to build and operate it? Will I pay more, or less, for what I have today, for what I have now? This simple, key, question is one in which Telstra absolutely refuse to comment. The reasons for that are pretty obvious.
  3. Speed
    Faster is nicer, but its irrelevant in the absence of acceptable answers to #1 and #2 Telstra are hyping #3 in media terms and lobbying terms. This is ironic as they spent seven years claiming it didn't matter, and a year trying to catch up with those who understood that it did (and it does).

But - Telstra are intentionally hyping #3 to the deliberate exclusion of the debate about #2 and #1, trying to drown any conversation about availability and cost in the manufactured urgency to fix the ‘speed’. Hence, and critically: Any 'resolution' to the claimed 'urgent' need to 'fix' the network requires public clarity on how any such fix will address #1 and #2, not just #3.

Anyone - including Telstra, the G9, or anyone else - planning to be allowed to do this at all needs to clearly and publically explain their approach to items 1, 2 *and* 3 above. Not just to item 3 alone.

The G9 approach vs the Telstra FTTN approach:

Regarding #1, The G9 proposes to build the network from the edges first, where the need is greatest; Telstra, we believe, proposes to build from the inner network core outward, where the existing competition regime has already largely solved the access problem for consumers and where the only substantial change will be to remove competitors and hence raise consumer retail price by forcing access to be possible only via higher cost Telstra wholesale services.

Regarding #2: The G9 has already disclosed its intentions in terms of wholesale network access cost already, via an ACCC Special Access Undertaking which is a public document.

Regarding #3: In terms of speed, the reality is that a Telstra or a G9 FTTN would yield exactly the same speeds - VDSL2 and any future technical advances in line speed over copper networks are equally available to all network infrastructure constructors.

Achievable Speed is exactly the same whoever builds the network. And so, it comes down to Availability and Cost - those items on which Telstra remains pointedly silent. And ultimately it comes down to whether any future FTTN network operates with an open access, level playing field access model - designed to drive high availability and low cost for consumers.

Full disclosure in public before, not after, anyone 'wins' any process to be able to build an FTTN network is not just desirable - it is utterly critical to the long term future of broadband (and consumer access to broadband that is available, equitably priced, and, oh, also speedy) - in the future.

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