The NBN – the single biggest failure of our ‘infrastructure Prime Minister’?

The National Broadband Network (NBN) was announced by the Kevin Rudd Labor government on 7 April 2009. The plan announced would have bypassed the existing Telstra copper network by constructing a new national broadband network combining fibre to the premises (FTTP), fixed wireless and satellite technologies.

The NBN, as originally planned, was without doubt one of the most ambitious and expensive, but visionary and world-class, infrastructure projects in Australia’s history. It was intended to provide critical infrastructure to a future digital economy.

I talk about the NBN in the past tense because it will most likely become the single biggest failure of Tony Abbott as an ‘infrastructure Prime Minister’. A failure that will haunt the nation for decades to come. And that’s quite an achievement when one considers the series of failures the Prime Minister had overseen over the past two years.

If elected, I want to be known as an infrastructure prime minister.
Only the Coalition will deliver the infrastructure of the future, Liberal Party of Australia Media Release (5 September 2013)

The NBN is a project that has been gutted and effectively destroyed by the shortsightedness of the Coalition government.

A government with a complete lack of understanding of the emerging digital economy.

A government filled with intellectual failures, whose mindsets belong in the 1950s.

A government which ironically enough continues to believe, and assert, they are the best political party in Australia for business, and the economy.

But this is a government that, as Colin Jacobs of Electronic Frontiers Australia put it in 2014, appears to see the internet as an entertainment device for bored geeks, and fails to comprehend its significance as business tool, and for the economic prosperity of the nation.

After all, this is a coal-loving and wind farm hating Prime Minister who has ‘a bible in one hand and a shovel in the other,’ and whose only frame of reference for the nation’s future is a doomed, mining-fuelled resources economy.

This saga will also always be a stain on Malcolm Turnbull’s political career who, as Communication Minister, acquiesced to the destruction of the NBN, even though as a respected and successful businessman he should have understood the severity of the consequences of doing so.

The FTTP nature of the NBN was a critical component of the original plan, designed to ensure the reliability, scaleability and speed of the service.

Upon taking government in September 2013 the Coalition had promptly announced a review of the NBN, having already indicated a preference for a fibre to the node (FTTN) network, complemented by the existing Telstra copper network into individual premises. Upon the Coalition taking office the entire board of the NBN promptly resigned, a clear sign of their lack of confidence in the incoming government.

The outcome of the review was surprise to no one, given the clear pre-election indications by the Liberal Party to scale back the costs, and technological specifications.

The changes by the Coalition were designed to deliver the project faster and cheaper. Sadly, neither the faster nor the cheaper part of that plan is likely to come to fruition, but we will still be left with a substandard and globally uncompetitive network.

The forecast $41 billion price-tag for this ‘faster and cheaper’ NBN has now blown out to $56 billion just two years into implementation, and repeated delays plague progress.

To add insult to injury, reports indicate it may also become the most expensive broadband service for customers in the world.

I don’t know what [the government] is doing on the other policy fronts but on this they’ve completely stuffed it. More and more Australians will leave the country looking for jobs and you’ll continue to be a resource based economy – the hope of building IT jobs and a digital economy will kind of be more difficult to achieve.

On FTTN we’ll market 100Mbps and when people come over we’ll say ‘sorry, thank your government [because] you’re on a shit network and the most you can get is 20-30Mbps, but we will continue to lobby your government to turn it into a fibre-to-the-home one and as soon as you get there we’ll get you a free upgrade to fibre.
Malcolm Rodrigues, Co-founder of MyRepublic

I can only hope a future government will be able to correct the mistakes made to date, and deliver the ‘Real NBN.’

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