How fast is the NBN exposes how bad the policy debate is

There is a new site doing the rounds on Facebook: It comes the ALP and Coalition’s NBN plans and surprise-surprise, the ALP’s one is much faster.

So here are the activities that are compared:

  • uploading wedding photos to Facebook
  • Downloading Game of Thrones
  • Uploading a new puppy video to YouTube
  • Syncing engineering designs with Dropbox

The biggest public expenditure in Australia’s recent history is going to this. Please explain how any of these are remotely a public good. And yes I am including the engineering designs here. Go with the Coalition and your business is set back 8 minutes!

For the Game of Thrones one it isn’t even a private good. With ALP you can download the whole thing in 16 seconds (actually, I’m pretty sure you can’t) but with the Coalition, it takes 10 minutes. But here is the point, if you download from iTunes you can start watching right away. In other words you get NO BENEFIT from the ALP NBN. Is it no wonder we can’t find people to privately pay for this.

And on the uploading ones that can be cured tomorrow by not limiting upload limits over DSL; that is, removing the A. The whole limited upload deal demonstrates why the current proposals remain in the dark ages.

But the whole exercise is enough to convince ourselves that neither plan is worth it. Now, I don’t quite think that but I do think that the focus on speed is ludicrous.

22 thoughts on “How fast is the NBN exposes how bad the policy debate is”

  1. I just spent 25 minutes writing a complete tirade on how embarrassed I am by this article. However, unsurprisingly, due to our current Internet system, all 8 paragraphs disappeared after clicking submit.

    If you can’t see the value distributed amongst small business, schools and other groups who would clearly benefit from a non-corporate, ‘My iTunes works fine in a metro city, so I understand the Aussie Internet’ kind of world… We are all in trouble.

    Thanks for your opinion


    1. Here is a link to the tweet I wrote about the website over 30 hours before your article was published.

      By the time people realise they’ve fallen into the same sad trap you’re flailing in, the brain drain will already be over and Australia may as well have handed over our cards to the next cleverest country on the list.


      1. The brains I know are staying put until there’s a damn good reason not to. Being unnecessarily delayed 8 minutes PER TRANSACTION for an engineering firm or tech startup running on the smell of an oily rag is simply not feasible, even now. Another 2 years and that equation blows out faster than my belly at Christmas.

        I fail to see what else you’d like us to focus on besides speed, the clear benefit of the service.


      2. Imagine you’re a middle manager working at an american engineering firm, looking to subcontract out work to overseas firms, one in Oz, one in Korea.

        One firm can make changes to engineering drawings real time during conference calls, they can actively collaborate with your engineers, speaking the same language. Issues can be iterated on in real time.

        The other firm is Australian.

        Who would you go with?


  2. You’ve fundamentally misunderstood the premise of the website. It’s a marketing tool to get individuals to support the NBN. And a marketer’s best option is always to appeal to individuals’ private, selfish desires. For that reason it’s worked a dream.

    The website makes no comment on (or implication) whether there is a public benefit or not. But one thing is certain: you’d have to be pretty ignorant to come to the conclusion that someone would go to the effort of creating such a website just to speed up their TV downloads.

    By refuting these specific examples, you’ve completely missed the real debate – and as with any new piece of infrastructure with significant excess capacity, it’s a debate that rests on principle and not real world applications. This is where you need to engage if you want people to take you seriously.


    1. Very well put. Not one of JG’s better efforts

      Firstly. challenging an ALP social media add like it is obliged to demonstrate, on market failure grounds, why it has adopted a policy is patently absurd particularly in the current climate of deceit.

      And secondly, it is not clear on what basis these conclusions are being made anyway.

      Using the market failure justifications for the public provision of the NBN, why is JG assuming that “public good” is the only market failure present? I can think of likely examples of each for each of the following:

      -positive externalities
      -imperfect competition
      -co-ordination failures (arguably a type of public good)
      -information failures

      I do not understood what conclusive analysis took place by running through each example on the website and declaring it not to be a public good.

      As addressed in an earlier, on what basis does JG know of the actual overall impact on an high tech (i.e. with high data needs) small business of 8 minutes for such a sized file? How could he possibly know and dismiss the overall impact of all firms affected across all sectors? In 30 years?

      Are we economists not subject to information constraints as well?


  3. Can you explain why you think the focus on speed is ridiculous? What are you suggesting we focus on? (If it’s cost/benefits, then surely ‘speed’ is being used a proxy for benefits, right?)


    1. because who cares if it takes 10 minutes to download a 1 hour episode of Game of Thrones.. you can’t watch it any faster.


  4. Joshua,
    Gold plating of buildings is great for people who will live in those gold plated buildings. It is so for sultans, kings, princes and assorted economic parasites. It is NOT a public good.

    Ditto NBN.


  5. Look. The NBN is a public good in almost exactly the same way as a national highway system is. The *exact same argument* could be made about 60km/h arterial roads vs dual-carriageway 110km/h interstates. Or, for that matter, rail lines at similar speeds. Private enterprise just can’t deal with the long-term. That rapidly-degrading copper isn’t going to replace itself, and the idea that VDSL2 will magically solve the problem of inadequate copper is just silly.


    1. Actually a key difference is this: the NBN is (projected to be) user pays. If the federal govt builds a freeway between melbourne and sydney, my taxes pay for it, even if I never use it. The people who are screaming loudest for the NBN are the ones who wil pay the most for it, even though their installation may cost far less than somebody on a lower plan.

      Don’t like the NBN. Don’t use it. You can use a mobile network, and free ride on those who pay to use NBN, thus decongesting the network.

      Joshua, if you really want a sensible policy debate, you don’t have to go very far. There are a lot of valid points being made in the comment threads of your posts, but you never seem to respond to them. Confirmation bias?


  6. How can a broadband network not be a public good while road networks are.

    You are using a value judgement against uploading puppy videos. How about someboy using a public road to go to a wedding, surely as socially important as uploading the photos.


  7. You can’t just “remove the A in ADSL”. It’s there for an engineering reason: the copper loop is a medium shared between your uploads and your downloads. The available bandwidth must be divvied up between upload and downloads – increasing upload bandwidth would require a commensurate decrease in download bandwidth.


  8. Multipy 8 minute transactions * 20 transactions a day * thousands of engineering/programming/architectural firms, and you’re very quickly burning a lot of money, especially given that FTTN will end up costing more, as it inevitably gets upgraded, bit by bit rather than wholesale.


  9. What I really like about this website is the potential it demonstrates. James quite clearly states that his aim was simply to let people evaluate for themselves the claim that 25 megs “is more than enough for the average household”. So he built a website. And it turns out that lots of people want to know the answer. And that this is the question they are asking. Yet you say the debate is going badly.


  10. Just because the letter you sent to your grandmother isnt a public good, it doesnt mean that a well-functioning postal system isnt a public good.


  11. It’s actually really amazing to see how many people are willing to pitch in money (i.e. their tax dollars) to subsidise the consumption of other people’s services!


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