The tortured path of NBN’s journey

James Riley
Editorial Director

The tortured journey of what could have been one of Australia defining infrastructure projects, a digital Snowy River project as someone once referred to it, is taking yet another of its twists as the National Broadband Network looms as a potential election nightmare for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Its hardly worth trawling through the breathtaking number of poor decisions taken on the NBN over the years, beginning with its half-arsed birth as a Kevin Rudd thought-bubble based on a back-of-the-envelope government ransom note written by former Telstra chief Sol Trujjllo and his propaganda chief Phil Burgess.

At least not yet, except to say it’s been pretty much downhill since then.

Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN: It won’t do the coalition any favours at the election

But the worst turn the project took, arguably, was when Tony Abbott hospital passed the network as part of the communications to Turnbull, the rival he had vanquished (just) with instructions was to strip back the NBN, apparently to save billions of dollars.

Junking expensive but worthwhile technology that would have helped set Australia up for the future, a rare feat for Canberra.

This week at the Communications Day Summit, Labor’s communications spokesman Jason Clare, who is quickly realising the huge opportunity he has to become one Labor’s star performers reminded us of this.

“Whatever you think of what Labor did in office or the original model for the NBN, the fact is Malcolm Turnbull put forward an alternative plan to the people of Australia three years ago – and three years on it’s now clear he has failed to deliver it,” Mr Clare said.

Frankly it’s hard to argue. Most particularly it has failed to deliver on what anyone with even a fairly basic knowledge of both network technology and economics, and Telstra’s ageing copper network could have told the PM, was a misbegotten mix – the so-called MTN (multi-technology network). But what we here at InnovatiionAus.com like to call the Malcolm Turnbull Network.

Mr Clare laid out a string of startling broken promises about the cost of the network (it has now almost doubled from the three years ago estimates) and access to decent broadband services (promised for the end of this year.

It is patently clear that apart from making dreadful technology decisions, again, no one with any concept of even attempting to future proof a network would make, at no stage in its existence – from day one- has anyone don’t a remotely credible business plan for the NBN.

Barely a target has been hit or cot been correctly estimated. The MTN was no different.

As Mr Clare noted, the costs for Fibre to the Node connection has almost tripled from $600 to $1,600. More backs of envelopes, more bloated bureaucracies, more mismanagement. And lately it has emerged that new “skinny fibre” technology is poised to prove a better economic and technology option than FTTN, surprising no one watching global networks (except this government.)

A continuing stream of leaked documents from a company that has long been riven with internal factions (thanks Steve Conroy and Mike Quigley for recreating Telstra at its pre-David Thodey worst with the company’s also rans) shows that nbn co (and nowhere has lower case been so appropriate) is still missing targets.

And its scarcely credible serial denials management, under the yet-to-convince Bill Morrow does no one any favors, least of all themselves.

All this of course adds up. And up and up.

Given his track record of financial wheeling and dealing, is frankly pretty lame Mr Turnbull has still to explain to the country who will pay for the $27 billion dollar shortfall (and counting). And you get the feeling that Mitch Fifield is no secret financial genius.

But perhaps the most intellectually dishonest piece of the whole NBN schemozzle is that in all his (wearying) stump speech about agility and innovation and future industries in Australia, Mr Turnbull manages to conveniently forget the high speed connectivity that is critical to his vision.

It’s a hole the size of large cruise ship in his narrative, waiting to be driven through by any opposition worth its salt.

As Clare noted yesterday: “Where this really rubs people the wrong way is in electorates like Perth and Cowan in WA and seats like Banks in NSW, Deakin in Victoria and Bonner in Queensland.

“In these electorates no one in an existing home or business has the NBN. Not a soul. The brownfields rollout hasn’t even started in these areas yet. And yet everyone was promised they would have 25Mbps. It is an extraordinary breach of faith.

“In other seats like Barton, Page, Brisbane, Reid and Melbourne no one has got Fibre-to-the-Node yet or HFC. These are all battleground seats that will determine the result of the next election – and they have been dudded massively.”

The sad thing is that, nine years after the 2007 election where broadband speeds played such as big role, and billions of dollars later, here we go again.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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