Torches and Pitchforks

Bring Your Torches and Your Pitchforks, It’s Time To Burn a Broadband Network.

Governments often avoid long term policy goals for fear of never seeing them completed. This unfortunately means that large infrastructure projects fall by the wayside as it’s unlikely that they’ll be finished in a single term, leaving a potential political win on the table for an incoming government. The National Broadband Network then was something of an oddity, forced into being due to the lack of interest the private sector showed in building it (despite heavy government funding) it was one of the few examples of a multi-term policy that would have tangible benefits for all Australians. Like any big project it had its issues but I, and many others, still thought it was worth the investment.

Torches and PitchforksIf you were to believe the Liberal’s rhetoric of the past couple years however you’d likely be thinking otherwise. Whilst the initial  volleys launched at the NBN were mostly focused on the fact that it was an expensive ploy by Labor to buy votes it soon metastasised into a fully fledged attack that had little rhyme or reason. It’s ultimate form was the Liberal’s FTTN NBN, a policy which many saw as a half hearted attempt to placate Liberal voters who saw the NBN as an expensive Labor policy whilst trying to retain the tech vote which they had spent so many years losing. After they got into government however many of us, myself included, thought that it was all a load of hot air and that they’d simply continue with the current NBN plan, possibly with someone else building it.

Oh how wrong we all were.

I mentioned last week that Turnbull needed to start listening to the evidence that was piling up that the FTTP NBN was the way to go, figuring that the unbiased strategic review would find in favour of it given the large body of evidence saying so. However the report was anything but saying that the current NBN plan was woefully behind schedule and would likely end up costing almost 50% more than it was currently expected to. The new NBNCo board then recommended a plan of action that looked frightfully similar to that of the Liberal’s FTTN NBN, even touting the same party lines of faster, cheaper and sooner. Needless to say I have some issues with, not least of which is the fact that it seems to be wildly out of touch with reality.

For starters I find it extremely hard to believe that NBNCo, a highly transparent company who’s financials have been available for scrutiny for years, would be unaware of a cost blow out exceeding some $28 billion. The assumption for the cost blow out seems to stem from an ill formed idea that the cost per premise will increase over time, something which is the exact opposite of reality. There also seems to be a major disconnect between the Liberal’s figures on take up rates and plan speeds which makes it appear like there’s a huge hole in the revenue that NBNCo would hope to generate. Indeed if we look at the 2013-2016 corporate plan the figures in there are drastically different to the ones the review is using, signalling that either NBNCo was lying about it (which they weren’t) or the strategic review is deliberately using misleading figures to suit an agenda.

I won’t mince words here as it’s clear that many aspects of the review have a political agenda behind them. The $28 billion blowout in the FTTP NBN seems to have been calculated to make the $11 billion increase in peak funding for the Liberal’s NBN seem a lot more palatable, even though its cost is now basically the same as the original costings for the FTTP NBN. Honestly we should have expected this when the majority of the new NBNCo board is staffed with former executives from telcos who have large investments in Hybrid Fiber Coaxial networks, something which the new NBN will be on the hook for (even though the Liberals seem to think they’ll get those for free).

In short the review is laughable, an exercise in fudging numbers to suit a political agenda that has absolutely zero groundings in reality. The end of it is that we, the Internet users of Australia, will get horrendously screwed with outdated technology that will have to be replaced eventually anyway and at a cost that will far exceed that of a pure FTTP solution. Of course it’s now clear that it was never Turnbull’s intention to do a fair and honest review and was only interested in being given evidence to support his skewed view of technology.

 

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