The resignation of the National Broadband Network board was an expected move due to the current government’s high level of criticism of the project. Of course while I, and many other technically inclined observers, disagreed with the reasons cited for Turnbull’s request for their resignations I understood that should we want to get the NBN in the way we (the general public) wanted it then it was a necessary move that would allow the Liberal party to put their stamp on the project. However what followed seemed to be the worst possible outcome, one that could potentially see the NBN sent down the dark FTTN path that would doom Australia into remaining as an Internet backwater for the next few decades.
They hired ex-Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski.
For anyone who lived through his tenure as the head of Australia’s largest telecommunications company his appointment to the head of the NBN board was a massive red flag. It would be enough to be outraged at his appointment for the implementation of data caps and a whole host of other misdeeds that have plagued Australia’s Internet industry since his time in office but the real crux of the matter is that since his ousting at Telstra he’s not been involved in the telecommunications industry for a decade. Whatever experience he had with it is now long dated and whilst I’m thankful that his tenure as head of the board is only temporary (until a new CEO is found) the fact that he has approved other former Telstra executives to the NBN board shows that even a small amount of time there could have dire implications
News came yesterday however that Turnbull has appointed Simon Hackett, of Internode fame, was appointed to the NBN board. In all honesty I never expected this to come through as whilst there were a few grass roots campaigns to get that to happen I didn’t think that they’d have the required visibility in order to make it happen. However Hackett is a well known name in the Australian telecommunications industry and it’s likely that his reputation was enough for Turnbull to consider him for the position. Best of all he’s been a big supporter of the FTTH NBN since the get go and with this appointment will be able to heavily influence the board’s decisions about the future of Australia’s communication network.
Whilst I was always hopeful that a full review of the feasibility of the NBN would come back with resounding support for a FTTH solution this will almost certainly guarantee such an outcome. Of course Turnbull could still override that but with his staunch stance of going with the review’s decision it’s highly unlikely he’d do that, less he risk some (even more) severe political backlash. The most likely change I can see coming though is that a good chunk of the rollout, mostly for sites where there is no current contracts, will fall to Telstra. Whilst I’m a little on the fence about this (they’d be double dipping in that they’d get paid to build the new network and for disconnecting their current customers) it’s hard to argue that Telstra isn’t a good fit for this. I guess the fact that they won’t end up owning it in the end does make it a fair bit more palatable.
So hopefully with Hackett’s appointment to the NBNCo board we’ll have a much more technically inclined view presented at the higher levels, one that will be able to influence decisions to go down the right path. There’s still a few more board members to be appointed and hopefully more of them are in the same vein as Hackett as I’d rather not see it be fully staffed with people from Telstra.
There’s been little doubt in the tech community that Malcolm Turnbull had it out for the FTTP NBN. He’s been quite critical of the program since its inception and has taken every opportunity to point out that it’s behind schedule (even though it’s 3 months in a 10+ year project). The FTTN policy which they campaigned with was universally derided yet Turnbull fervently defended it at every possible opportunity. Whilst I was somewhat optimistic that it was all campaign blather just to secure votes from some select parties, especially considering its non-core status, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that Turnbull really thought his policy was worthwhile, especially when he said FTTP had superseded FTTN.
Turns out that my predictions have largely turned out to be correct.
In a stark reversal on his previous positions about the NBN Turnbull has now instead opted to conduct a full review to ascertain how long the current rollout will take and if there’s anyway that can be reduced. Whilst on the surface this would appear to be just the next logical step in taking the axe to the FTTP program however it’s been shown that FTTP would end up costing about the same so any cost benefit analysis would conclude it would be the better option. Of course this also opens the door for Turnbull to take credit for the whole program by only making some superficial changes to it. Whilst this is probably the best outcome I could hope for, especially considering that current fibre rollouts will continue until the review is completed (expected to take 6 months), it doesn’t make up for the fact that Turnbull has taken every opportunity to blast the NBN and now wants to take credit for it.
Of course there’s every chance that he’d could still do a lot of damage to it without fundamentally changing the technology that underpins it. Now that the entire NBNCo board has resigned at his request Turnbull has apparently tapped former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski to head the new board. Anyone who lived through Ziggy’s tenure as CEO of Telstra will tell you that he’s bad news for a telecommunications company as he proceeded to run Telstra into the ground and was ousted late in 2004. He has not been involved in the telecommunications industry since then so any cred he had has long since lapsed and would be far more likely to give a repeat performance of his time with Telstra. This could be made up for somewhat by the fact that NBNCo is still on the government’s leash but I’d rather not have to get them involved every time Ziggy makes a poor business decision.
Talking this over with my more politically minded friends it seems like this will be the only avenue in which we will be able to get the FTTP NBN we want: by letting the Liberals claim it as their own. Personally that gives me the shits as it shows that politicians aren’t interested in continuing large, multi-term infrastructure projects unless they can somehow claim ownership of it. Of course the tech community will always know it was Labor’s idea in the first place but the larger voting public will likely see it as a beleaguered project which the Liberals valiantly fixed, something which is provably wrong. In the end I guess I don’t care what the public perception is as long as it gets in but I’d rather not have to argue the point to convince people otherwise.
So hopefully 6 months from now I’ll be able to write a post about how the review has come back and magically convinced Turnbull of what we all knew: the FTTP NBN is the way to go. Whilst I’m struggling to figure out how NBNCo could do what they’re doing faster and more efficiently I’m sure they’ll be able to find a few percent here or there that will be enough to ensure the overall structure doesn’t change dramatically. With that Turnbull can claim victory that he’s able to do the exact same thing better than Labor and I’ll write another angry rant, albeit from behind a nice, fat 100MBs pipe.
As someone who languished with dial up whilst all his friends got ADSL, then got ADSL and then moved to a location where the sync speeds weren’t all that great you can imagine why I’m always excited to hear good news about the NBN making progress. Sure I’m not stuck with my old 56K connection which served me well for the better part of a decade but I can think of enough uses for a 100Mbit connection that would make my life a whole lot easier (none more so than being able to host my own websites with a decent amount of bandwidth behind them). There’s been little news on how the roll out has been going and the only recent good news was that it wouldn’t be canned because of the hung parliament. Picking through my month sized backlog of blogs and news articles today changed that however.
On Friday it seems that the Senate approved a bill which splits Telstra’s wholesale and retail arms effectively putting an end to the natural monopoly advantage that Telstra had over every communications company in Australia. Back when I first heard about the government attempting to do this it seemed more likely that Telstra would be doing the separation themselves under the watchful eye of the ACCC. This legislation shows that such an arrangement couldn’t be met and instead the government has made good on its promise ensuring that the NBN can proceed as planned. Telstra isn’t wholly losing out in this deal however but they will be competing on level ground with the other telcos once the separation is complete.
The cost to the Australian public for this deal is $11 billion and that pays for all the copper networks and the Telstra customers that will be migrated over to NBNco. That cost may seem high however the alternative is to duplicate much of the infrastructure that supports the copper network, namely the cable ducts. Replicating that entire network just for the fibre cables would consume much more than the amount than what’s being paid to Telstra, especially if you factor in the costs of disrupting everyone while you dig trenches up major roads. Additionally with a good chunk of Telstra’s shares still being held by Australians and the Australian Government (to the tune of 10.9%) it works in Australia’s best interests to not tear into Telstra too ravenously, even if they deserve it.
The deal is fantastic news for the NBN program. Back during the election there was the distinct possibility that the hung parliament could have swung the other way which would have had it scrapped in favour of the Liberal party’s cheaper option. With that obstacle avoided it meant that the fledgling NBNco could continue the work it was doing in the initial pilot areas whilst plans for the larger implementations took shape. Now with Telstra’s network under their belt they can begin developing roll out strategies for larger deployments. That also means that should we face a change of incumbent parties in the next election it will be far too politically toxic for them to can it and Australia will end up with one of the most advanced communications networks in the world.
We are of course many years away from the majority of us receiving the benefits that the NBN will provide but it’s always good to hear that it’s still making steps towards its realisation. With the Internet filter dying an (albeit extremely slow) death the future of communications in Australia is starting to look a whole lot brighter than when it was back when I first started writing about it. Hopefully I can continue along those lines for many years to come, I’d hate to have to write about why the filter should die again 😉