Sunday, April 13, 2008

National Broadband Network for Australia

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has issued a Request for Proposals to Roll-out and Operate a National Broadband Network for Australia. The Australian Government wants a fibre network to provide a minimum of 12 megabits per second to 98 per cent of homes and businesses. The government is willing to pay up to $4.7B for the roll-out and change regulations to make the system possible. There is a 114 page document detailing the requirements for the network.

One problem with the RFP is that it prescribes the use of a fibre optic network, either fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP). This precludes the use of wireless technologies which would otherwise meet the requirements. However, use of wireless from a node to the premises, covering the last few hundred metres, seems to be permitted, as there is mention of "wireless base stations" in the RFP.

Another problem with the RFP is that it does not completely match the ALP election commitment. The ALP promised "A Fibre To The Node broadband network with a minimum 12 megabits per second to 98 per cent of population", but there is no mention of "population" in the RFP, which only refers to "98 per cent of Australian homes and businesses". Companies could use this discrepancy to avoid servicing low income homes.

One positive point is that the RFP asks about provision of battery backup of the equipment and energy efficiency: "... power efficiency, including the provision of low power or “sleep mode” operation for both network and customer terminal equipment; and intelligent active measures to increase energy efficiency in the network."

Overall this is a reasonable attempt to solve a very difficult problem. Suppliers are going to have to work very hard to meet the objectives of the project:
... Commonwealth’s objectives for the NBN...
  1. covers 98 per cent of Australian homes and businesses;
  2. is able to offer broadband services with a minimum 12 Mbps dedicated downlink transmission speed over each connection provided to a premises;
  3. supports symmetric applications such as high-definition video-conferencing;
  4. is able to support high quality voice, data and video services;
  5. uses fibre-to-the-node or fibre-to-the-premises network architecture;
  6. enables uniform retail prices on a national basis;
  7. is rolled out and made operational progressively over five years from the date of execution of a contract between the Commonwealth and successful Proponent;
  8. continues to promote the long-term interests of end-users;
  9. has sufficient capacity to meet current and foreseeable demand and has a specified upgrade path within clear timeframes, consistent with international trends;
  10. facilitates competition through open access arrangements that ensure equivalence of price and non-price terms and conditions, and provide scope for access seekers to differentiate their product offerings;
  11. enables low access prices that reflect underlying costs while allowing Proponents to earn a rate of return on their investment commensurate with the risk of the project;
  12. provides benefits to consumers by providing choice to run applications, use services and connect devices at affordable prices;
  13. provides the Commonwealth with a return on its investment of up to $4.7 billion;
  14. is compatible with the Government’s related Fibre Connections to Schools initiative;
  15. meets Government requirements for the protection of Australia’s critical infrastructure;
  16. is consistent with national security, e-security and e-safety policy objectives including compliance with laws relating to law enforcement assistance and emergency call services;
  17. is consistent with Australia’s international obligations; and
  18. facilitates opportunities for Australian and New Zealand small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to provide goods and services to the project.
From: Request for Proposals to Roll-out and Operate a National Broadband Network for Australia, ATM ID DCON/08/18, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, 11-Apr-2008

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