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You Can't Blame The NBN For Cordless Phones Requiring Power

National broadsheet The Australian has plenty of form when it comes to uninformed and often downright wrong criticism of the National Broadband Network. Its latest questionable NBN attack centres on the installation of backup batteries for the network. If you believe The Australian today, the fact that cordless phones won’t work when there is no power is proof that the NBN has been poorly planned. Yes, that’s actually what the paper claims.

In typical attacking style, The Australian comes out swinging in its first paragraph:

THE federal government’s ability to manage the complexity of the National Broadband Network has been called into question after it insisted on installing back-up batteries that are redundant for most households.

It won’t surprise you to learn that the only actual source of “questioning” is the paper itself. But what’s the gist of its argument? NBN Co is installing backup batteries into all premises which get an NBN connection, which ensures a power source in the event of a blackout, allowing you to make emergency calls on an analog phone.

Old-fashioned analogue phones draw the tiny amount of electrical current they need from the copper network, but that won’t be an option once that network is switched off. The batteries weren’t originally part of the standard NBN rollout, but were made compulsory as an interim measure late last year. (Which in itself raises the question of why this is a leading story for the paper six months later.)

There has indeed been a lot of argument over whether it’s worth making those battery installations mandatory, given that many of us use cordless phones which need a full 240V connection, not just a basic battery backup. A reasoned and logical discussion on that would make sense. But the Australian tries to twist that argument to suggest to casual readers that the NBN is creating a problem which didn’t exist before. Here’s what it says:

As part of its national rollout, the NBN Co has already installed thousands of batteries that are designed to keep old-style analog phones working during power blackouts.

But the batteries are of no use to modern telephony equipment, such as cordless phones, which need to be plugged in to a power point.

The paper thus ignores what anyone who actually already owns a cordless phone knows: it can’t draw power from the existing copper network either. If there is a power blackout, your cordless phone won’t work right now, and you’ll have no way of using your phone line. That’s not a consequence of the NBN. It’s a consequence of wanting a more sophisticated phone.

In this case, you have two main options. You can plug in an older analog phone if you have one (I know people who keep one as a backup). Or you can use your mobile, which is what I imagine most people would do given the near-100 per cent ownership mobiles enjoy in Australia. (If you have a laptop and wireless broadband, you could also make VOIP calls using that.)

All of this was true before the NBN was mooted, and it would remain true if the NBN was cancelled after the next election. It’s a basic fact of physics. But the Australian (which sadly will be quoted uncritically on a bunch of radio stations) downplays that fact as part of its ongoing anti-NBN/anti-Labor/anti-everything agenda. Honestly, is it any wonder that people remain confused about the NBN when this kind of rhetoric is passed off as political reporting?

Questions raised as Labor orders NBN to install useless batteries [The Australian]

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