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NBN: Justin Milne backs Coalition’s FTTN as ‘vastly more sensible’

Published 16 April 2013 11:31, Updated 17 April 2013 07:06

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NBN: Justin Milne backs Coalition’s FTTN as ‘vastly more sensible’

“FTTP is ridiculous overkill and underlying the ideas behind FTTP is a lack of understanding of the internet,” says Justin Milne.

Veteran telco businessman Justin Milne has endorsed the Coalition model for the national broadband network, describing fibre to the node as “vastly more sensible” than fibre to the premises.

Milne, the former group managing director of Telstra until 2010, told BRW he would choose fibre to the node because it was “orders of magnitude” faster and cheaper to deploy.

He says the internet is designed to be a patchwork of networks and the notion that it needs to be “pure” fibre is technologically misguided.

“FTTN is a vastly more sensible idea than FTTP – FTTP is ridiculous overkill and underlying the ideas behind FTTP is a lack of understanding of the internet,” Milne says.

“The internet is called the internet because it connects a whole bunch of networks. I can send you mail and before it gets to your in-box it may have travelled across HFC, fibre, DSL, wireless, 3G, 2G and then finally it makes it to your phone, say. The problem with the FTTP vision is that it’s ‘we’ll just scrap all that rubbish that’s there and build a great big new one that will be pure and everyone will have 100Mbps’, which is just wrong. The internet doesn’t need to be pure – it’s designed to be a patchwork.”

Milne currently serves as director on several boards including as chairman of broadband equipment business NetComm Wireless. He was group managing director of Telstra from 2002 to 2010 and chief executive of OzEmail from 1998 to 2002, where he overlapped with Malcolm Turnbull by several months.

FTTN will be faster to build

If the Coalition wins the election in September, Milne expects construction of the NBN to pause while the new government puts in place the proposed changes. However, he says that the switch in strategy to fibre to the node would still mean the network was completed sooner.

“It’s hard to see that there won’t be ... a six or nine month hiatus after the election presuming the Libs get in until everybody’s regrouped,” Milne says.

“The Libs have made it clear they see changes to NBN Co itself, changes to the technology and changes to the relationship with the major telcos and there may be some additional regulatory packages to put in place, and that will simply take time.

“On the upside, once you start rolling fibre to the node, it will roll much, much faster than fibre to the premises; it is orders of magnitude easier. I think it will be completed sooner.”

Worst first is best

Milne says the Coalition policy to go after the areas with the worst internet speeds first is the right one and he argues that fibre to the node makes it possible to fix broadband blackspots quickly.

“There are pockets around Australia that have lousy connectivity even in the middle of our cities because of issues like pair gain and fibre to the node allows you to get on top of that much more quickly,” he says.

The current NBN has been hit by delays because of a shortage of skilled network engineers to do the work. In light of this, Milne says, the government should find a greater role for the telcos in order to speed up construction of the network.

“Nobody has the capacity that Telstra has to engineer networks and that is just a fact because they currently provide the network to most of Australia,” Milne says. “Why wouldn’t you use that and then regulate it in a way that it doesn’t increase their market power? That’s a regulatory issue but from an engineering point of view, those guys are great engineers.”

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