PAUL BUDDE. Can we please cut out the political NBN noise?

Jun 9, 2016


With all the kafuffle around the NBN it is very difficult for most people to see the big picture in all of this. The issue has been so incredibly politicised that it is almost impossible to cut through all the noise.

I will stick to what I believe is at the heart of the issue – the future of our national telecommunications infrastructure. We are spending close to $60 billion dollars on our national digital economy infrastructure and we need to do it wisely and effectively.

This has nothing to do with doing things cheaper and faster; as a matter of fact I would argue for slowing it down, to make sure we do it right.

After all those years neither the government nor the NBN company have come up with a plan for what we need the NBN for; and what it means for the economy of our country. All Minister Christopher Pyne had to say on the NBN was that it allows us to download five movies at the same time. How absurd is that? It is not a comment that you would expect from an informed senior political leader. Is that what his vision is for the country, for the NBN – the ability to download Netflix movies? I find that insulting.

Furthermore, the NBN is a monopoly service, paid for to a large extent with taxpayers’ money, so why is there a need to hide information? Why is there such an issue around leaked documents? There can’t be much commercial-in-confidence information in what is a monopoly business?

Last year I appealed to the professional code of our NBN engineers and argued that they have a duty to ensure that what we are building is indeed what they believe is in the best interest of our country.

I am full of admiration for the people who responded to that.

There is no way the monopoly company can argue that the leaks are undermining them commercially. Sure, they undermine them politically, but isn’t it in the national interest to ask questions about this important investment?

It was rather ironic to read that the NBN Chairman Ziggy Switkowski indicated that the leaks were released by politically partisan persons. Didn’t this government put a fully partisan structure in place in respect of its reviews, board members and senior business management? Isn’t it strange that none of the people involved in these reviews and functions are willing to tell us why we, as a country, will invest close to $60 billion in this infrastructure; and what the requirements of such infrastructure are in the light of the digital economy, the government innovation and smart city policy? How partisan is that!

So do we need the Australian Federal Police to intervene in this politically charged situation? If the NBN company can’t solve its own internal problems isn’t that perhaps an indication that there is something wrong within the company, rather than with the whistleblowers? If it had been a private company would it have been considered appropriate for the AFP to intervene?

As this is a nationally-funded infrastructure the Australian people have the right to ask questions about the validity of a policy that might deliver a short-term, cheap and quick fix, but might not deliver the long-term digital infrastructure that is needed for a modern economy and a modern society. The MtM policy severely undermines other long-term government policies such as innovation and smart cities. All those involved in innovation and smart cities are saying quite clearly that in order to get the proper benefits from these policies a full fibre network is required.

The fact that the real questions regarding the validity of the MtM cannot be questioned also became clear in a recent report that Analysys Mason wrote for the ACCC. It came to the conclusion that the MtM approach is doable and deliverable within the context of the cheaper and faster policy of the government. But the research company had been explicitly forbidden to take other technologies into account. It is like investigating the road system between Sydney and Melbourne but not taking the freeways into account.

Interestingly, the report alludes to a possible upgrade to FttH but indicates that there are no specifics available on such pathways going forward, something that we have continually questioned.

It says that pathways for such upgrades do exist in other parts of the world. That might be the case, but in those other parts of the world there are no legislative restrictions to such an upgrade. The NBN company has a regulated monopoly and forbids anybody else to build residential FttH networks in Australia so there is no competitive pressure for the company to upgrade. Furthermore, with government funding for the NBN running out, how can the NBN company finance such upgrades? Conveniently, none of these questions feature in the report.

Once the politically-focused election period is over we should sit down with cool (bi-partisan) heads and ask the question – are we heading in the right direction with the NBN and make the necessary changes in accordance with that?

If the rest of the world can find bi-partisan solutions for its digital infrastructure why can’t we do the same?

Paul Budde is a bloggist like me. He has kindly allowed me to reproduce this blog. For a link to his blog site, see 

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