NBN Co crows over reliability and transparency, while Foxtel abandons HFC

In a “stunning” effect that is surprising to absolutely no one who has been calling for it for the past few years (*ahem*), NBN Co’s decision to heavily reduce CVC costs has both all but eliminated 25mbps plans, dropped wholesale pricing across all tiers and all but eliminated peak congestion on the network. Who would have thought that doing what RSPs, analysts, journalists, the opposition and basically anyone with half a clue suggested would solve two of the network’s most urgent problems?

If anything, it’s given the much-maligned company something genuinely positive to talk about, and long-suffering users are finally able to use the speeds they have been promised – both Telstra and Aussie Broadband, considered to be two of the most consistent RSPs on the network, have been able to raise their average peak speeds on 100mbps plans to 80mbps. Congestion that was sitting at an average of five hours a week across the network has now plummeted to 12 minutes. This is a massive improvement in BASIC network management and simply means that (most) customers will be getting the bare minimum of what they promised.

The other biggish announcement was that NBN Co has now finally decided to release metrics that affect end user experience – such as the current number of outstanding faults, peak speeds and so on – although, tellingly, this only applies to Fixed-line connections. Those on Sky Muster (Satellite) and Fixed Wireless products are likely to stay in the dark for the near future, especially since almost nothing is known outside NBN Co about the status of those products, including the capacity and speed issues Sky Muster currently faces and will continue to face over the next five years.

Both changes are welcome but dramatically overdue. CVC reform had been so piecemeal up until the 50mbps price drop that dozens of RSPs were barely scraping by while the larger, more capital heavy RSPs hoovered up the clear majority of new customers via volume discounts and blanket marketing. The playing field is indeed much fairer now but we’re already 50% through the rollout – although what is left is arguably much more prime (largely metropolitan users) as they tend to prefer higher speed tiers and are interested in bundling services and other benefits. I would still much prefer a single 100mbps tier, but I’m grateful for any movement from the Jurassic period sludge we had been stuck in.

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows – HFC is still a complete and utter shitefest for the company, as we are now almost six months into the “pause” with no guide or plan as to when things will resume. Sources tell me much of the stoppage was largely related to repairing major faults with fundamental network design – as in the size of both existing and new nodes, the Layer 2 “hack” that funnels PPPOE connections through DOCSIS to allow a choice of ISP, firmware problems on CPEs and more. Sly eyes also noticed a weak drop of a percent or two from the HFC column in the last plan to FTTN, providing that parts of the network are either too difficult to repair or too expensive to expand.

Much was made of the announcement that Foxtel would be “abandoning” the NBN HFC network for Satellite in “order to improve reliability” for its customers. This is complete rubbish. Even with its problems, Telstra’s HFC network was and is in genuinely good order for providing PayTV services, as it’s done for decades. Satellite, however, is disrupted during bad weather, has limitations on bandwidth provisioning and requires ugly and largely unnecessary equipment to be bolted onto roofs. The real situation here is that Foxtel is shoring itself up to be a standalone company and wants to reduce (remove) reliance on third party networks that it does not control.

Additionally, Foxtel is likely to be completely IPTV capable within the next five years as the NBN finishes rolling out, meaning that it can avoid dealing with complex installations and instead simply ship out set-top boxes or provide complete access through apps on Smart TVs and Tablets. A small side note in the same Foxtel Town Hall mentions that the plan is to phase out Satellite over the next five-to-seven years as well. Fixed Line communications infrastructure investment by 3rd party companies for residential services is largely on the way out as 5G combined with the NBN makes it largely redundant.

There is a lot to unpack in that entire scenario, including the logistics of migrating 2.5+ million customers to Satellites – Trevor Long on EFTM writes more about the repercussions to customers in his original breaking piece on the subject. Meanwhile, there are big benefits to Foxtel relinquishing its hold over part of the HFC network – many of the restrictions placed on the cable are due to Foxtel sucking up a decent amount of the available spectrum. With the entire network available to NBN, provisioning higher speeds will be much easier and require less fiddling and retooling.

That’s if NBN Co can pull itself out of the ditch and start getting back to rolling out services based on its own deadlines, however.

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