PAUL BUDDE. Australia needs a proper NBN.

Regrettably it appears that on both counts – proper infrastructure plans and the need for affordable services – the government and the nbn company, despite spending something like $50 billion, have failed to come up with the right solution for Australia. 

Here we go again with more useless debates about whether the country needs a first-class national broadband network or a second-rate one; and again there are discussions around what other flavours of the multi-mix technology can we now add to it to strengthen the brew. By now we have lost most of Australians in this useless debate, and we are making very little progress.

Of course we need a first-class nbn, and that is what we would expect those in charge, both in government and in the nbn company, to deliver to the Australian people.

Rather than addressing the core of the problem those involved in these debates pick on certain elements; and often, yes, there are two sides to such detailed issues. But in this nitty gritty debate everyone involved misses the bigger picture – or perhaps deliberately avoids addressing it.

In such situations I have always argued for going back to the core – why we are building an nbn in the first place. Given all the government money spent, the answer has to be ‘in the national interest’, and if you dig deeper you get into the social and economic benefits we have been talking about for a decade (healthcare, education, national productivity, digital economy and so on).

So if we look at the nbn with the national interest in mind what sort of infrastructure is needed to deliver those national outcomes?

There is little argument about this from all of those involved in these endless debates. Such an infrastructure needs to deliver the following: capacity, robustness, security, low latency and ubiquity. Once we agree on this I think nearly everyone will say that the answer is fibre to the home (FttH).

The real question then is how do we get there?

If we don’t build an infrastructure based on FttH we will get into trouble, and the endless arguments are a clear indication that the nbn in Australia is in trouble. For example, looking at the patchwork nbn we are getting right now – because of its reliance on old technologies the mixed technology might work in one area but not in another; or better here and worse there.

Roughly a quarter of nbn users have complaints about the quality of their service. It could well be that one house has a perfect connection while the next one has an abysmal service. And there are many possible reasons for that, which sometimes makes it very hard for the nbn company to fix the different problems.

For national services such as e-health, education, government services, finance or business, a network with consistently good characteristics nationwide is necessary. If such an infrastructure can’t be delivered then the institutions that need to build those digital services simply won’t do it. It is a chicken-and-egg situation. So if you don’t build a first-class network you won’t create the supply, and when you don’t have a good supply of services you won’t get the demand.

However, it is totally wrong to then claim that because there is no demand Australians don’t need a proper nbn.

If, as Prime Minister Turnbull maintains, at this point in time we can’t afford such a network it would still be necessary to build an nbn with that end goal in mind – and to very clearly communicate the vision and provide the right strategies for it. So far neither the government nor the nbn company has provided such a vision or strategy.

Talking about money, building an nbn is one thing. Making sure that people can afford it is another. So, apart from the infrastructure characteristics that are mentioned above, an important inclusion in the business model of the nbn needs to be recognition of the reality that people will only buy what they can afford. So building any infrastructure that will result in unaffordable prices for the users is also not the right thing to do. The Government is the only one who can take the national economic and social benefits into account; commercial organisations can’t do this, as these benefits don’t show up in any financial format on their P+L.

Regrettably it appears that on both counts – proper infrastructure plans and the need for affordable services – the government and the nbn company, despite spending something like $50 billion, have failed to come up with the right solution for Australia.

Paul Budde is an independent telecommunications analyst. 



Paul Budde specialises in the strategic planning of government and business innovation and transformation around the digital, sharing and interconnected economy.

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5 Responses to PAUL BUDDE. Australia needs a proper NBN.

  1. Avatar John says:

    In 2004 I started building the back end for a global online business that relied on fast broadband. Speed and bandwidth weren’t up to the task so I moved on to other things until the mooted NBN was built.

    Still waiting.

  2. Avatar David Brown says:

    well said Paul

    as usual the watch cry should have been…. keep it simple stupid

    Labor had a simple idea, Abbott et al on principle had to spoil and they have
    for lots more money and headaches for everyone

    Libs use our taxes for private profits
    Why did YOU vote for Liberals?

  3. Avatar Malcolm Crout says:

    Sadly this and other public services have become marketable commodities due to the ideological views which have dominated in the last thirty years or more. It was considered by proponents that Governments were inefficient in delivering these services and that the free market would provide an efficient and cost effective service. The reality is that ideology is rarely a reliable measure of the reasons for privatisation and we are now seeing the failure of the market to provide what was promised. The fact is that reliable energy supplies are now in question to both business and consumers. Early in the NBN story we now find that both groups are to be delivered an unreliable internet service. If we look at all of the privatisation experience all we can see is that services are wound down to a basic level and rather than providing a cheaper service than Government was able to do, the free market actually is more expensive as was pointed out by the Bluescope CEO comparing energy costs in the US compared to Australia.
    It’s not too late to realise the folly of this dangerous and fruitless exercise and take corrective action before it permanently damages the very fabric of productivity in this country. All public service assets must be immediately nationalised and the private owners paid out the value of those assets. If the State Governments don’t have the cash, then the currency issuing Federal Government should provide enough fiat to achieve renationalisation. The neoliberal factions will warn us that Australia will be the laughing stock of the world, but I guarantee that all citizens in all world nations will applaud the Government for their forward thinking nation protecting plan. The reality is hitting home now with Brexit and Trump, soon France and Italy who will exit the Eurozone and the only people who are complaining are the elites through their media mouth pieces and corrupt officials. The current globalisation of capitalism is so rampant that it is destroying the host and unless Governments step in and wind it back we will enter a twilight period where the only escape for citizens will be to support right wing populism to redeliver national interests. We’ve been here before and ended up with years of depressions and world wars until citizenry prevailed which gave us the golden post war era until the 1970’s when the cancer of neoliberalism began to find it’s way into Government officials who were quick to pick up the spoils thrown down as bait by the elite 1%.
    It’s not too late but getting very close.

  4. Avatar ern armstrong says:

    Useless comment, Paul.
    Hark back to the original Labor proposal-=fttp, the system up and running and returning a modest profit before handover to service providers.

    Hark back to Abbott’s era–interference and obfuscation of Telstra, the bitching by the private sector, the ‘asbestos pits’ that required attention, and all capped by the bribing of Turnbull–you can be communications minister providing you destroy the nbn and set the rot loose within the abc.

    Mission accomplished.

  5. Avatar P Monaghan says:

    Could you expand on that issue of affordability? What would be a viable way of building an NBN that is adequate for likely future needs, and also affordable both in its building phases, and in its charges to users?

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