Reg Coutts, NBN expert panellist, passes away

Professor Reg Coutts, one of six expert panelists who helped envisage the original National Broadband Network (NBN), has passed away.

Professor Coutts passed away peacefully in hospital in Adelaide from liver cancer on Sunday night, the Telecommunications Association (TelSoc), of which Professor Coutts was vice-chairman, said on Monday.

Professor Reg Coutts.

In 2008, Professor Coutts was appointed by then-communications minister Stephen Conroy as one of six members of a panel of experts to assess proposals to build the NBN and to advise the government on the awarding of a $4.7 billion contract to part-fund its construction.

The panel eventually rejected all proposals put forward and submitted its report and a letter to the government in January 2009, which found “that none of the national proposals offered value for money”.

The letter provided the framework for Labor’s $43 billion NBN policy announced in April 2009 which has now been realised, albeit under a Coalition government and in a very different form.

Professor Coutts, who has been involved in the telecommunications sector for almost 40 years, was Professor of telecommunications at the University of Adelaide from 1993 to 2003.

He also ran his own consultancy firm Coutts Communications, held technical positions at Telstra, and worked for the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

He was also particularly outspoken in defending the advice he provided as part of the NBN expert panel.

“Reg had a great life and was a truly amazing person, a wonderful father for Paul & Louise and my soul mate for 42 years,” his wife Pam wrote in a message which has been distributed to family, friends and colleagues, according to Adelaide’s Power FM. “I will miss him hugely, as will Louise.”

Professor Coutts had a go at federal politics as the Labor candidate for the seat of Mayo in the 2018 federal by-election. He was also chairman of TelSoc from its inception in 2013 until last year and was previously chairman of the Telecommunications Society of Australia for a number of years.

Paul Budde, another telecommunications consultant, remembered his “dear friend and colleague”.

“Since Covid we had regular telephone discussions about our ‘beloved’ NBN,” Mr Budde said in a LinkedIn post. “Always working on ideas on how to get the current government to accept a better plan to get fibre deeper into the network.

“The last time we discussed this was only a month ago. I knew Reg was ill but he was always positive and full of fun (and mischief). My deepest sympathy to Pam and his family. I will always remember Reg as a great friend and colleague. He will be greatly missed.”

The day before he passed away, Professor Coutts wrote a letter to his friends, distributed by Myrana Wahlqvist, secretary of the Mayo FEC.

“Unfortunately, my health has taken a turn. After eighteen months of feeling quite good, my cancer has suddenly spread to my liver,” his note read, Power FM reported.

“The doctors have done all they can do and I wanted to say my goodbyes. I have really enjoyed getting to know you all in our efforts to advance a better society and body politic through Labor. Thanks also for your support in my campaign. Keep powering on.”

Ms Wahlqvist said Professor Coutts “was a marvellous and inimitable character” and that there would “never be another like him”.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

  1. Kevin Thomas 3 years ago

    Reg was full of beans at a family gathering only a few weeks earlier. This was quite a shock and he will be missed.

  2. Geoffrey Baldwin 3 years ago

    I sat dropped in to St Andrews with Haigh chocolates & sat with Reg last Friday chatting until he fall asleep, said I’d drop in again Friday. (I did) Just saddened by his passing, a great mind, wicked banter, mischievous, loved our debates over numerous bottles of red wine.

  3. I had few opportunities to meet with Professor Couttes, but was clearly a man of intellect and vision. We will carry on the good fight.

  4. Thanks Ben very well done.

  5. Helen Meredith 3 years ago

    Thank you Ben for your fine article on one of my all-time heroes in the critical and endlessly frustrating arena of Australian telecoms. We were together on the board of AITEC and as a journalist I always looked to him for balance when untangling the complex issues at stake. Hugely respected and without rival in his strategic thinking on Australia’s telecoms future, his death is a great loss to his loving family, while exposing our immediate need for similar minds to serve a nation desperate for ethical, efficient and inclusive telecoms service.

  6. I am deeply saddened by the news of Reg’s death. A convivial companion, a champion of Australian technology, an intelligent, humane man, with a strong social conscience and commitment to equality and progress. Reg Coutts will be missed.

  7. Tim Herring 3 years ago

    Ben, Well done for a lovely article on my old friend and colleague Reg Coutts.
    He and I were in Telstra Mobiles in the early days together and latterly I have worked with him in TelSoc for over 15 years. A brilliant, yet at times exasperating, person who was nonetheless the first person I would run to to discuss a problem or decide on the best solution.
    I for one will sorely miss him, as will Australian Telecommunications.

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