Does Armidale Really Hate The NBN?

Business Insider ran a piece yesterday that suggests that the ordinary folk of Armidale, the first mainland city to get NBN connectivity don't really care for it much. I don't think that's the entire picture.

Photo: GSV

To be fair, the Business Insider piece is casting against general election issues, and the NBN is just one of those. Armidale's a fairly typical regional city, which is to say that there's a strong conservative streak — the last time there was a Labor MP representing the New England seat was 1913 — and I've no doubt that the views of those canvassed are indeed their own opinions.

I've got my own ties to Armidale — I was born there, and up until very recently it was the city in which I'd lived the longest anywhere — and it's quite a mixed place, which means any vox pops like this are going to give you wildly different results. Ask around the University, and you'll get one point of view; ask around the industrial estate and you'll get a different view.

However, it's not the whole story. I've written about Armidale and the NBN recently, and there's some strong work being done there to take advantage of the city's position as an NBN stronghold, coming directly from the city council. There are Facebook groups for those in Armidale keen on the NBN, or with questions. I could (and I admit, I know people locally) find a dozen or so people who'd happily extoll NBN benefits rather than dismissing it as a non-factor in their voting choices.

In many ways that does make it a good microcosm for the NBN debate across Australia. On a broader front, it highlights how under an FTTN system, there will be those who are haves, and those who are have-nots. At a personal level, you've got those who will be passionate about it, and those for whom (as with those in the BI story) the NBN is a non-factor.

Asking a shopkeeper who won't even take EFTPOS about technology issues is only going to end one way, after all.

[Business Insider]



    i'm passionate about 'micro' business & feel it is the small players which are the true innovators in society.. Big companies tend not to take risks whereas a small startup takes many risks.. Having FTTH would be of huge benefit to microbusiness; exp in the tech sector.. (honestly a $5k connection fee to someone who is renting (most often for younger biz startups). is beyond the reach of most ppl.. & it's a shame that we'll be left with a network which heavily favors those who can afford it.

    I also grew up in Armidale, and I think you're dead on the money, Alex.

    My old man taught at one of the schools in Armidale, and used to tell me about a student who was flown in by private plane each day, such is the level of regionalism of the area. I very much doubt families like that care about high-speed internet.

    On the other side of the coin, Armidale has a great university, and it's own hospitals, all of which would stand to benefit from the commercial benefits of the NBN. As you say, it really does represent the opposing views for NBN quite nicely.

      But with high speed internet, and new classroom practices that take advantage of it, that student wouldn't need to be flown in every day.

        In theory, but someone who lives far enough away from a school that they need to be flown in probably lives outside any area getting FTTP (or FTTN under the Coalition), and so they'd be stuck with wireless or satellite. Neither of those are going to be as effective for distance education (lacking the bandwidth for a high quality video stream for one)

    I don't see why every single household in this country needs Fibre to their house? Businesses, Schools, Hospitals, etc.. YES. Brand new housing estates, YES... but EVERY single house in the country? Wont FTTN be fast enough for the vast majority of houses for years to come? Why exactly does everyone want FTTP, so they can download and pirate their movies faster?

      I don't even.....

      It's a Chicken/Egg scenario...
      If you build it, there will be uses for it, if you don't, there will still be uses for it, but we'll be looking at other countries doing it instead and subsequently miss those opportunities.
      This network isn't being built for today's usage, it's being built for the next 50+ years usage!

      That's why FTTN is a massive waste (If they're not doing FTTP, I'd actually prefer they left it to market forces rather than pour Government money in)..
      Even using Liberals worst case scenario figures, it costs a third to build (plus unknown but large annual maintenance cost), but is only built to last for a quarter of the time and wont enable nearly as many new opportunities for Australia to lead the world (and therefore sell to the world when they catch up to us)...

      Last edited 30/08/13 11:40 am

      Quote "Wont FTTN be fast enough for the vast majority of houses for years to come?"

      No, that is very short sighted to spent $40 billion on a network that just meets todays needs. Look at what internet speeds were like in the 90s compared to now. It's just plain ridiculous to use current data consumption as indicative of future requirements.

      Quote "Why exactly does everyone want FTTP, so they can download and pirate their movies faster?"

      So by your logic we should only have telephones for business use? If someone uses it to chat to friends and family that is somehow not a worthy use? Should we rip up the copper network because criminals use it to phone each other?

      My point about FTTH is that when the copper telephone network was deployed across Australia, just as many people argued that it was a ridiculous waste of money and that *nobody* would ever need telephones in every house. How short sighted would that have been if those people succeeded?

      Any the money spent is not just an expense. For the cost of the NBN you get a major infrastructure asset that will facilitate business for years to come and pay for its cost many, many times over.

      I find it so frustrating when people say things like "so they can download and pirate their movies faster?" as if that's the only thing the internet gets used for. It's just plain ignorant.

        Exactly. That question puts them out of the debate immediately. "Go eat at the kiddy table, you don't belong with the grown-ups yet." is the only real response.

        People that say this are probably the biggest piraters

      NBN isn't doing 100% FTTP of this country's households, it's doing 93%. The other 7% are to be serviced by a combination of Satelite and Mobile Broadband IIRC.
      FTTN sufficiency of speed depends entirely on how many Nodes there are, and based on Turnbul's costings, I doubt there will be many, and there is no indication of how the nodes will be distributed. FTTN divides the Node speed evenly amoung all the connections to it. Imagine a high-rise residential street with one node - the speed would be pitiful. Say a country town of 10,000 gets one node - therefore each resident essentially gets a 10,000th of what is delivered to the node.
      I don't download movies - I do watch some steaming TV, but it's not a big part of my day. What is a big part of my day is collaborating on documents, graphics, audio and movies with others - most of this in high quality so the end product can be mixed down without artefacts. A recent work that I was working on with 5 other people accros the nation required audio files of sometime up to 6 gigabytes in size being transmitted swiftly to meet deadlines. I could have worked on this from my laptop, but the wireless transmission was slow enough that I used my PC in Armidale, connected to the NBN. I could not have gotten the work to the Brisbane and Canberra collaborators, not gotten their contributions to me before the deadline without FTTP NBN.

      Wont FTTN be fast enough for the vast majority of houses for years to come?

      Yes it will - but $30B on a network that'll be obsolete in "years" is a colossal waste of cash. It won't even be done until 2019. We need a network that will be fast enough for decades

      For the last 30 years, our average network requirements have doubled every three years, or less. In 10 years we'll need over 25 times the speeds we have now. The FTTN as proposed will be too slow for everyone but the grannies within 5 years of it being completed, and it'll cost another $30B (10M households x $3K each) to upgrade to something that's useful again.

      By the same argument having scheme water to every house in the country could have been an unnecessary eextravagance at the time that was being rolled out. Most houses would be fine with a well dug in the backyard. Similarly when electricity was being rolled out. No one had fridges and washing machines at that time so who needs power? Candles are just fine.

      It's infrastructure for the future. No one took the time to invent a mass market affordable fridge ahead of grid power being available, and why would they. Developing a product without possible customers is stupid.

      So saying that FTTN is just fine for people's needs today implies that you don't expect there to be any technological changes in the next 10 or 20 years. But having a fast reliable communications infrastructure also guarantees that as being the only possible

      Not being able to imagine some possible uses that don't exist yet is a failing of your imagination, not proof that there aren't any.

      Not every single house in Australia will get FTTP. Houses in smaller towns will get Wireless, and more isolated houses will get satelite services on the NBN. There are several reasons why FTTN just won't cut it.

      1. It will still use the existing copper wiring that in many places has been in the ground for the last 50 years. That wiring has reached the end of its life, and so it has to be replaced with the same, or something better. In this case the "something better" is Optical Fibre connected to 93% of all premises, which includes Schools, Universities, Hospitals, Businesses, and Homes. Just in case you are wondering about how much it will cost to continue to use copper wiring for the final delivery of services, a Telstra spokeman recently confirmed that it has been costing over $2Billion per year of repairs, to keep the network operational.

      2. At best, FTTN is only a marginal upgrade of the existing ADSL technology that we have been using since the early 90's. It is true that with a Node right in front of your home, and with brand new copper wiring connecting your home, you will be able to receive 100Mbps download speed, which sounds good when compared with what is currently on offer to those connected to the NBN. However, late this year, or early next year, those on NBN Fibre connections will be able to be upgraded to 1000Mbps (1Gbps) with just a handfull of keystrokes. Recently there were trials conducted using higher frequency laser driven fibre connections, somewhere overseas. Those trials consistently maintained a data transfer rate in excees of 1Petabit per second.

      3. Right now, here in Armidale, there is a TeleHealth trial taking place, using the NBN as the means of communication between patients and their doctor. In cases where specialist consultation is required, a patient can have a proper scan at their local hospital, the images that result from that can be transmitted using the NBN to a specialist in Sydney or Newcastle in minutes, and a decision can then be made if surgery is needed before the patient leaves the hospital. I'm a good example of the benefits that can be obtained from this: Last year at cricket training, I was struck on the forehead and my glasses by a cricket ball that had been driven by a batsman in the training nets. I had just finished my batting practice and was removing my protective gear and putting it away. The impact of the ball broke my glasses frame at the top, and drove the bottom into my cheek and nose on the right side. That broke 2 bones in my nose. Four weeks after the incident, I had to travel to Newcastle to see the specialist, so it was the better part of 6 hours driving down, an overnight stay in accommodation, see the specialist first thing in the morning, and then drive back home. Two days to accomplish what can be done in less than an hour using a TeleHealth service over the NBN.

      4. There is a new High Definition television on the market, with the name of 4K. They are the equivalent of 4 HD sets generally available in all shops that sell TV's. To live stream to them a household needs to have a sustained data transfer rate in excess of 30Mbps, dedicated solely for that purpose. If someone else starts downloading to their tablet, laptop, pc, etc, then that smooth streaming will go in bits and pieces, and someone is not going to be happy. The thing is, FTTP will not have that issues, because there will be plenty of bandwidth to spare.

      5. Also back in the 90's and into this century, there was a big fuss made about the "digital divide", where some people had Cable, or ADSL for their internet connection, as opposed to those who could only get a dial-up connection at a very much lower speed. The thing is the Coalition's FTTN idea will make that earlier digital divide even worse. Among network professionals, like myself, that is why the idea of using FTTN is being called the National Fraudband Network.

      6. One major disadvantage of FTTN is that each node will have to be equipped with batteries to supply power to the equipment housed in them so that services can be maintained in the event of a blackout. Those batteries have to be replaced every 3 years. In the UK where they already have a FTTN network, they have found that the nodes have been targeted by people stealing the batteries. The other thing is that they have found that people have been spray painting their "tag" on the nodes. Just another thing that costs extra money.

      I would point out that the points that I have made above are not an exhaustive listing of the differences and benefits that can be gained with using FTTP when compared to FTTN. Thinking that FTTN will "do a good enough job" is ludicrous at best.

      One very very good reason, if it goes straight to your house, you will get cheaper internet. If it goes only to the node, Telstra is then involved due to their copper lines, and if Telstra is involved, internet to your house will be expensive from then on. Is that a good enough reason for you. Besides, the quicker the internet, the better for everyone, and it's not just for downloading movies faster. Streaming movies will be of a higher quality and suffer no stuttering. Video calls will also be better as well. There are a myriad of reasons why fibre to the house is more preferred. Technology gets better every year but it might need extreme speeds to make it work properly. Another analogy is, why put the best safety tech in cars immediately when a seatbelt will do for now.

      Probs the most downvotes for a comment I've seen on Giz so far..
      Well done! At least you got your questions answered.

      You can dig a hole in the garden and poop in it oo but I reckon you like using a reticulated sewerage system.

      Thanks for all your replies. Obviously faster internet is better. But i guess my whole point is, FTTN costs a hell of a lot cheaper. It would also mean a faster rollout as FTTN would require less work than FTTP. Plus the FTTP budget is going to blow out by billions of dollars.

      For locations where the copper is just not up to scratch, use FTTP.

      For locations where the copper is still okay, FTTN. And like i said, all businesses, schools, new housing estates, etc.. should get FTTP. I'm not saying FTTN will last 50 years, i'm saying for the vast majority of house holds it's more than fast enough, it's a hell of a lot cheaper to roll out, AND it's a stepping stone to FTTP anyway....

    I live in Armidale. I've yet to meet anyone who dislikes the NBN. Some have experienced some real frustrations in getting it connected, but once connected, that is a whole different story. There is next to nothing that would entice me to leave Armidale and my 100/40 connection.

      My 70yo aunt lives in Armidale and recently got her NBN connection. It's a *huge* improvement over what she had, and she's more than happy with it.

        I love that your 70 yo aunt 'gets it' - can she go round and convert the curmudgeons?

      Also live in Armidale and I have never heard any one complain about the NBN. Having been connected for the past few months I have absolutely nothing negative to say about the service. A huge improvement over my old bigpond wireless broadband!

    I live in regional Victoria and work from home full time in a design and advertising role for a Sydney based company. So I deal with big files all day. Couldn't have done it without the NBN. Couldn't have done it with less than 100Mbps. Small towns need to think about the economic benefit.

      Small towns need to think about the economic benefit.
      Everyone needs to think about the economic benefit. I think the only people who don't think it's a good idea, don't understand and/or use the possibilities a faster network brings. That, and they don't understand how fast the internet and its demand has grown and will continue to grow.

    Put the town back on copper for a week and then go talk to them about the NBN..

      At the very least you'd think they'd be happy to be able to make phone calls via VoIP that don't drop out every time it rains, and then have to wait a month for Telstra to fix it after registering a fault via a 45 minute mobile phone call that ended up costing $100.

      Looking forward to finally having some actual competition to that crappy copper network that Telstra has no incentive to fix, because that would cost money for something they're guaranteed to have exclusive access to anyway.

        ^^ This! Except if you're using iinet through Telstra. Add an additional 2 hours in calls plus 2 additional days off for unessessary presence during tech visits.

        " happy to be able to make phone calls via VoIP "

        Telstra still use copper for telephone calls. With Telstra, the NBN is currently only used for data.

          Quote: "With Telstra, the NBN is currently only used for data."

          No, plenty of people here in Armidale use the NBN for their phone service. It's also more reliable than using a copper phone line leased from Telstra. The other thing is that here the copper phone service will be switched off some time next year. (Earlier rather than later, as far as I'm aware). The other thing is that it is a lot cheaper to use the NBN for your phone service. I'm paying only $10 per month, for unlimited local and national calls.

            "plenty of people here in Armidale use the NBN for their phone service."

            That is NOT what I said.

            I said "WITH TELSTRA".

            If a person chooses the NBN with Telstra, then the copper line is used for voice and the NBN is used for data. This is the way ti is with Telstra. If a person chooses some other ISP, then the NBN is used for both voice and data.

            I am in Armidale and I absolutely know what I have got and with Telstra I have NBN over fibre and voice over copper! I was stunned when I made the initial inquiries with Telstra, but that is the way it is - at least until May next year when removal of copper supposed to commence.

    How bout a touch of journalism like say, instead of opinion, give me some numbers. How many houses in Armidale are NBN enabled. How many households have actually signed up.

      Figures in that Oz piece that I linked to (to give you the background) suggest that there's around 5,000 active NBN subscribers in Armidale out of around 11,000 homes that could have a connection. That the kind of thing you wanted?

        I cannot provide a full explanation as to why more than half the residents of Armidale have not connected to the NBN. However, at least part of the problem, but only a part, may stem from the large number of rented homes, homes rented often to Uni students who often come and go from the town.

          There's also, of course, people slow to connect; the elderly without help from family or friends, people who can't afford it, and, as you say, rental properties and students.

          The fact that nearly half of the entire population has signed up is an amazing takeup rate. When you consider there are probably still people using dialup.

          Many people are also on existing ADSL contracts that they may have signed onto a year ago with a 24 month term, as their contracts run out they will connect to the NBN.

          Also, there are many people who (believe it or not) simply do not have the internet, do not use it and do not see any need for it. Sure it is a small percentage, but in an office of 14 people we have one like that here in Armidale!

            Yeah, my uncle simply uses an iPad and 3G connection. That does everything that he needs. I know several others in similar positions.

    I moved to Armidale 3 weeks ago with my family for a temporary period of 6 months while my wife does a work rotation up here. The house we're renting didn't have an NBN box but the landlord gave permission so we got it connected and are now on a 50 down/20 up plan.

    I have NO IDEA how i'm going to leave that in 6 months and go back to my sub-par ADSL connection in Newcastle where I get 2mbps down on a good day and the upload is even more pathetic than that. And it costs the same as i'm now paying for my 50/20 NBN plan. Boy is that backwards.

    I'm sure NBN probably is a non-factor in the election in a place that already has it, since they're not going to pull the fibre out and put copper back in. It's the rest of us poor plebs who are still stuck in the stone age that regard it as an issue because we actually have something to lose.

    The difference in online coverage of the FTTPvsFTTN issue is massive compared to network tv/newspaper coverage. Damn shame people haven't argued/discussed this more (and intelligently) in the 'older' media outlets (refuse to call them 'traditional'), as it's a massive game changer for our future.

    I live in Penrith and am connected to the NBN through telstra. My phone is connected through the t-gateway and only fibre is connected so to say the copper is still used to connect the phone is incorrect

    There is a 20ha industrial park at Uralla that cold be developed as a that hub with enthusiastic Uralla Shire Council support with infrastructure needs. The cool climate is conducive to data storage and there is considerable IT skills at UNE and in the community.

    As Alex would advise, Armidale is NOT your typical right wing rustic bogan regional centre.

    Very interesting discussion and some great points raised. Whilst I don't live in Armidale, I went to Uni there for many years and still have friends in the town so I do have some understanding of the place (I love it) :) so hopefully see the comments in perspective.

    One thing that is constantly overlooked though in nearly every NBN discussion I have seen - and I have been following it closely for several years - is that the current NBN plan involves dismantling a big part of our emergency phone system. Whenever I mention keeping a landline I get told you can have one on the NBN, but what people mean is you can have a VOIP phone which is useless in an emergency if the power is off and not the same as people have now, though I have heard some sellers say things that make it sound awfully like it is. To get a landline with the NBN you have no choice but to sign up for it and then find a provider - and there are hardly any - who will connect over the UNI-V port so you can have at least limited time with a working phone if the power goes off. Even if you do find one, nearly all will only sell it to you bundled with an internet connection you may not use either because you don't use the net or you already have it with someone else. It's really pushed the price of UNI-V up way higher than current landlines (I have been comparing it for about a year as providers have published their plans, and included both line rental and average call usage in my calculations.)

    I have several relatives, and their friends, who don't use the internet due to disinterest, no need, or disability which prevents them using it, but who use their current landlines heavily, and I am getting really nervous about having to make sure they keep the security of a working landline in a blackout, when the NBN is forced on them, at a price they can afford. None of them use a mobile either because they don't need the expense of both phones, and again some can't use one due to disability. These are all people living in their own homes quite okay, by the way.

    Whilst this may seem a relatively small number of people, these are the ones who aren't part of the argument, blogs, interviews etc., and I believe it is still tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who are similar around the country. I've noticed this issue is now being very belatedly talked about more, because the NBN and providers can't ignore it any longer. I've seen online several cases in Tasmania for instance where people got the NBN early, ended up with VOIP lines they didn't understand, and have been in really dire situations with medical conditions and no working landline. Bring on the new technology by all means, but not at the expense of people like this.

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