100 Knots Of Fibre To Your Node


The internet. Powerful, mysterious, terrifying. Since its invention sometime in 2004 by a small group of socially maladjusted chronic masturbators, the internet has become one of the most important elements of modern life, far outgrowing its original purpose of providing a meeting place for Dr Who fans and a worldwide distribution hub for Harry Potter slash fiction. Today we use the internet for all kinds of things: movies, music, news, banking, identity theft, and so on and so forth.

In Australia, we are about to enter a whole new era of the internet, with the Government’s new National Broadband Network, or NBN for short, which promises to transform our lives in ways we cannot even imagine due to our dull, atrophied imaginations, a direct result of the ponderous and insufficiently stimulating internet service we currently receive.

However, as exciting as it is, any major change is bound to be confusing and scary, and it will do us all good to make a bit of an effort to understand the NBN before it arrives, so that we don’t accidentally electrocute ourselves or burn our houses down or launch a sophisticated and untraceable global child pornography ring or any of the other silly things that "noobs" often find themselves doing when they fail to familiarise themselves with the web before using it.

What exactly is the NBN? Put simply, it is a bunch of big wires that go underground. This may be putting it a bit too simply, however, and so let’s get a bit more technical: not only do these wires go underground, they will actually run right into your home. This is nothing to be afraid of: having internet wires come into your home is nothing like having a burglar or a large angry bird come into your home. You’ll hardly even notice the wires, until information starts flying along them and you find yourself able to update your Geocities homepage faster than ever! Pretty sweet, yes?

This technology is known as "fibre to the home", and it is very controversial, because some say that we don’t need it. There is a school of thought that says fibre doesn’t need to go all the way to the home, and that all we really need is "fibre to the node". What is the node? The node is a mysterious and bad-tempered creature who lives under bridges and distributes internet access. It would be much cheaper to use fibre to the node rather than fibre to the home, but the internet would be a lot slower because of the time it takes to answer his three questions correctly.

And of course the whole point of the NBN is speed. Internet right now is painfully slow, leaving us twiddling our thumbs and yawning pointedly as we wait for our illegal downloads to finish. Take me for example. Right now all I can get is wireless broadband, partly because I live in an outer suburb and partly because Telstra management is made up exclusively of the results of unfortunate cloning experiments involving human DNA and ferret-rectums. With my slowcoach wireless, it can take hours for me to download something simple like the Complete ‘Allo ‘Allo; but with the NBN, at 100Mbps (literally, "knots"), it would take mere seconds. And if I were downloading something small like a blurry photo of Meg Ryan’s nipples, it would arrive so fast that I would, technically, travel backward in time.

On the other hand, it is certainly true that the NBN will be expensive. It will cost $43 billion, or possibly $36 billion, or maybe $49 billion. In any case, it will cost several metric buttloads of cash, and so naturally the government is being extremely careful in figuring out all the details in its sophisticated and comprehensive "business case", which it can’t tell anyone about because they are "commercial in confidence". This is a special concept invoked by politicians whenever they feel like they’re being taken too seriously by the public, and are looking to break the monotony with some laughably transparent dishonesty. It passes the time.

Anyway, the business case for the NBN was so very secret that the Government would not even let the independent senators see it unless they promised to keep quiet about it and mingle their blood with Penny Wong’s. At this point Nick Xenophon said he wouldn’t vote for it unless he could see the business case AND tell everyone about it, living up to the policy platform he was elected on, "Vote 1 Xenophon: The Man With The Big Fat Mouth".

It was also at this point the government realised the business case wasn’t that secret, really, and the independents could see a short summary of it, since they have such short attention spans. This put the senators’ minds at ease, given the summary was just 36 pages, on all of which were printed the words "THE NBN IS THE GOOD SHIT" in bold red letters. And so we move forward with the NBN, our minds put at ease by the business case, and our hearts gladdened by the amusing and adorable sight of Malcolm Turnbull having a bit of a cry every day in Parliament.

So, now that the politics are out of the way, how will the NBN change your life, besides, obviously, causing you to go bankrupt as the government forces you at knifepoint to pay $400 a week when you don’t even have a computer?

Well, lots of ways. For example, e-health. When we have the NBN, we will have e-health, which is like ordinary health, only more e. Let’s say you’re very sick, but you can’t get to a doctor because you’re a farmer or something stupid like that. No need to worry! With the NBN, you can contact a doctor thousands of miles away, and he can diagnose you over the internet. And then…well then you might die, if it’s something serious. But in time, with the NBN’s amazing speeds, the doctor will actually be able to cure you online. He’ll even be able to perform surgery on you! With the NBN, it will be possible to have robot arms actually come out of your computer screen and remove your gall bladder. That’s how fast it is! Fast enough to spontaneously generate surgical robots over optical fibre lines.

This may sound farfetched, but Stephen Conroy himself has pointed out that the NBN will allow us to do things we can’t yet conceive of, so why not? The most important thing about the NBN is that it will free our imaginations to soar and glide and dip and rest for a bit while we get out breath back. It will open up our economy to magical new possibilities, like establishing a thriving pirated snuff film industry, or allowing government ministers to sell planning permits on eBay. It will transform our education system, allowing our children to undergo their schooling in hermetically-sealed pods, protecting our valued educators from dangerous childhood diseases and the rest of us from the company of children. It will make our defence forces much more efficient: rather than spending so much time and effort tediously "defending our borders", super-fast broadband will allow them to remotely blow up asylum seeker boats at the push of a button.

And when combined with Conroy’s state-of-the-art whiz-bang internet filter, it will allow you to be irritated and infantilised faster and more efficiently than ever before!

In a nutshell, then, the NBN will allow the entire country to romp around in a big custardy pool of convenience, wallowing in our glorious technophilia like a pig in honey, sending productivity skyrocketing, slashing the time required for work and upping the time allowed for leisure, leaving us with nothing to do, really, but watch TV, write poorly-constructed blogs about what we ate last night, and gradually become a utopian society of morbidly obese freelance IT contractors.

So there you go. Now you understand the NBN and are totally equipped for the new digital age. No longer do you have to fear looking stupid and naïve when the menacing workmen appear at your door demanding to knock down your walls and shove a cable up your crawlspace.

Oh yes, you can listen to the cries of doom from Tony Abbott and his grey-faced band of Luddite Cassandras. You can listen to their feeble proposals to move into the 21st century by buying everyone a $20 pre-paid dial-up voucher and an as-new fax machine. You can, in short, be an idiot.

But you’ll be missing a fantastic opportunity. An opportunity to join an exciting new digital tribe. An opportunity to help forge a new world of communications. An opportunity to consume so much explicit high-definition s*xual material you will become jaded and impossible to arouse by conventional means within mere weeks.

The future is knocking. Will you get up off that couch and answer the door?

Well, good news: with the NBN, you’ll never ever need to.

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Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.