The Week: Generous Treatment

NBNCo Chairman Ziggy Switkowski appeared last night on ABC's The Business, whereupon he was invited to expound upon most aspects of the National Broadband Network. He was treated, to put it mildly, generously.

Host Ticky Fullerton is to be commended for addressing almost all pertinent points. Indeed, I did not note that any substantial issues - alterations to the NBN, competition, NBNCo performance, TPG, Bill Morrow, Telstra negotiations, copper network upkeep, plus others - were omitted. Having supplied the topics however, viewers were invited to watch Dr Switkowski construct a platform from them, from which he was permitted to declaim uncontested.

These are contentious issues, but for the most part his answers weren't sufficiently examined. At one point he mentioned NBNCo's mission to deliver 'high quality, upgradeable bandwidth connectivity'. It was a resonant and complex phrase that cried out for dissection.

For starters, whether the mutli-technology model (MTM) NBN is truly 'high quality' is not merely a question of opinion, but one of geography. Fullerton might have pointed out that there will be large parts of the country for which the NBN will not be high-quality, by any reasonable standard.

'Upgradeable' is also a fraught term. While no one would decry the capacity for any piece of technology to be further upgraded, in this context it hides the reality that parts of this NBN will need to be upgraded rather sooner than one might hope. In the case of the copper network, large parts of it will have to be upgraded to fibre within the next decade, at a large cost that has not been factored into current modelling. Switkowski suggested these upgrades would be done reactively, in response to market needs.

We're a far cry from Tony Windsor's declaration after the 2010 election that 'You do it once, you do it right, you do it with fibre.' It turns out you do it repeatedly, with whatever is to hand. Switkowski's weasel-term here was 'fit-for-purpose', a tried and trusted method of glossing over a lack of forward-planning. 

Optus Apology

Back in February, the Supreme Court of Victoria found that an Optus television ad breached the Australian Consumer Law by implying that the geographical coverage of its mobile network was almost equal to that of Telstra's. Optus argued that they'd implied no such thing, and to be fair one can see their point. Sadly for them, Justice James Elliott did not.

The upshot was that Optus was ordered to issue a public apology, and to allow any customers who signed up to an Optus mobile plan between January 26 and May 26 2014 to cancel their contract without penalty. Yes, that is correct - this court order even covers Optus customers who haven't yet signed up. I suppose there's no better time to try out Optus than the next month.

Last week Optus tried to get out of issuing an apology in print, offering the fairly audacious argument that newspapers are a dying medium. The judge was unconvinced, and the apology - a study in grudging acquiescence - appeared yesterday in a range of publications.

Telstra 3G Data Speed Cap Lifted

Good news for customers of any MVNO that relies on wholesale Telstra mobile services, which mainly means Aldi Mobile. ZDNet is reporting that Telstra has announced it will soon remove the speed cap on the 3G data services.

Previously the cap was set at 7.2Mbps, which is pretty close to the top speed you're feasibly likely to see on a 3G mobile network in real-world circumstances. Average speeds generally sit well below that, anyway, but this news will presumably thrill that small subset of customers who a) are capable of higher 3G speeds and b) were even aware they were being throttled.