- 05 October 2017
- Written by Sam Varghese
Friday, October 13, 2017
The NBN Seems To Have Become Enough Of A Liability That We Even Have The PM Making Excuses!
This appeared last week:
Published: October 4 2017 - 4:13PM
The $49 billion National Broadband Network was meant to spearhead a digital revolution. Instead, the botched project risks becoming a poster child for government mismanagement.
Australia's biggest-ever infrastructure investment has turned into a political football, plagued by cost overruns and construction delays.
With the network years behind the original schedule and only about half finished, Australia has slumped to 50th place on a global ladder of internet speeds, behind Kenya and a string of former Soviet bloc nations.
Public frustration with the project is boiling over amid mounting criticism that politics is trumping policy across a host of areas from housing to energy and damaging economic prospects.
"We are really an example of how not to do it," said Paul Budde, a Sydney-based former adviser to the United Nations on the social and economic benefits of digital development. "We have ended up with the worst possible solution."
The network was conceived as a high-speed platform to increase economic output and beam state-of-the-art health and education services to remote corners of the country. The cost of failure is stark.
With a substandard internet backbone, it's tougher for workers to leave the major cities and ease pressure on house prices in Sydney and Melbourne. It becomes harder to boost productivity, which the RBA says must improve to avoid a decline in living standards.
Ian Martin, a telecommunications analyst at New Street Research in Melbourne, says the network will never generate enough revenue to recoup its cost and a writedown of between $20 billion and $30 billion -- about half the price of its construction -- is inevitable.
"It will never be a success financially, not in terms of ever getting the money back that's been spent on it," said Martin. "To do it as a nationalised government monopoly was clearly the wrong way to go."
Looking back at it, the NBN has become a story of state intervention, political ambition and a ballooning bill for taxpayers. It sparked a mixture of excitement and skepticism from the outset.
Lots more here:
Then we have this:
The Labor Party's communications spokesperson Michelle Rowland has taken aim at Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over the national broadband network rollout, pointing out that criticism of the network is now coming from his own side of politics.
Rowland pointed to statements made by Nationals Mallee MP Andrew Broad and former Liberal MP Fiona Scott, both of which were critical of the policy adopted by the government for the NBN rollout and followed by the NBN Co.
Broad, the lone Nationals MP on the joint standing committee on the National Broadband Network, gave an interview to The Guardian Australia in which he was fairly scathing about the rollout.
"You’ve got retailers blaming the service provider and then they get exasperated and they come into our office and you end up having to spend all your time having to sort it out," Broad said.
"We almost have a person full-time on mobile phone and NBN issues in our electoral office — which is ridiculous — that is not the role of an MP."
And finally for this week we have the Conversation weighing in:
October 4, 2017 5.36pm AEDT
Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia
The Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network (NBN) released its first report on Friday, just as most people on the east coast of Australia headed into a long weekend, complete with two sporting grand finals.
The release on a Friday afternoon, sometimes referred to by the media as the “Friday news dump”, is generally what governments do when they want the published report to gather dust.
In fact, its hundreds of pages actually included two reports from the one committee. The dissenting report, supported by its Liberal Party members, including the committee’s chair Sussan Ley, contradict many of the conclusions of the first, which was backed by the Labor Party members and Australian Greens, among others.
One ironic benefit of the report is that whatever your political view, there will be something that you’re likely agree with. But is that the way to create good internet policy?
The report is from the latest committee, formed in September 2016, to inquire and report on the rollout of the NBN. It replaced the Senate Select Committee on the NBN that operated between 2013 to early 2016.
The report makes 23 recommendations. These range from recommending that the NBN cost and plan for a switch for all remaining Fibre to the Node (FTTN) connections to use Fibre to the Curb (FTTC), through to recommending that the government measure and report on “digital inclusion”.
Many of these recommendations are dismissed or ignored in the Chair’s dissenting report.
As political and business commentator Alan Kohler summarised in The Australian:
Like so much of Australian public policy over the past 10 years, the NBN has been hopelessly politicised, so that anything that comes out of any politician’s mouth on the subject can be ignored as most likely unreliable twaddle.
Given the political nature of the process and the desired outcomes, in my view, there is a bias built into the process from the start.
This is both in how facts are interpreted and presented in the report, and how groups, companies and individuals with specific vested interests use committees as a means of stating their claims.
The report claims for example that FTTC is a “future-proofed technology” whereas FTTN is not, but little evidence is given to back up the claim.
It appears “future-proofing” is simply a term for the fact that FTTC would theoretically cost less to upgrade than FTTN, but complete data is not offered.
In another case, the report discusses complaints made to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman about connection delay issues, citing a “slight decrease” in the number of complaints relative to the number of activated premises.
The decrease is not entirely insignificant: for example, complaints made about 0.98% of total new connections in quarter three of 2015-16 dropped to 0.56% in quarter two of 2016-17.
The rate of fault complaints about NBN services has also dropped slightly over time and is running at 0.15% of premises activated (2,460 complaints made out of 1,652,564 premises activated over time in quarter two of 2016-17).
Another key problem with committees of this sort is that during the time it takes to investigate, write and publish the report, events have overtaken the process.
The report recommends that the NBN cost a plan to substitute FTTC for FTTN. This has already happened after a fashion, with NBN Co presenting costing to the NBN Co board and to the government. The proposal was apparently rejected because it would have been too expensive and not kept NBN Co’s funding within the A$49 billion limit.
Much of what is included in the report are issues that have been discussed by previous committees, but also more widely in the public sphere. We have seen the same topics, arguments, paucity of data and overreliance on anecdote time and again.
Given the government’s “Friday news dump”, a more general question to ask is whether making submissions to these committees is worth the time and effort?
I personally attended an expert session in Parliament held by the previous committee in early 2016. The same issues and questions were asked then and by and large the same types of responses were given. Nothing came of that and this report largely rehashes the same conversation.
As Alan Kohler remarked, public policy shaping the NBN has been marked by political motives and to a far lesser extent, economic or social ones. For that reason, data is not being given proper weight, and is often shaped to support a political perspective.
Given the situation, we are perhaps fortunate to have made the progress we have.
Here is the link:
I note the PM is blaming the service providers and the NBN Co for the issues at present. That can only last so long before the rather smelly mess lobs all the way back to his office. Give it about another six months I reckon, unless things are made dramatically better.
Posted by Dr David G More MB PhD at Friday, October 13, 2017