New Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, MP, yesterday held a media conference (see also the official media statement) in which he announced the new NBN Co interim statement of expectations. In the conference Mr Turnbull reiterated that the government will institute a strategic review of the NBN. Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) calls on Mr Turnbull to include the public in the upcoming NBN review.
EFA believes that the NBN is Australia's most important forward-looking infrastructure project. It has the potential to dramatically improve the Australian way of life in all sectors of the economy and society, and is an important step in achieving equality between regional and urban areas.
Recently there has been much public debate over the relative merits and costs of a Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) versus Fibre to the Node (FTTN) version of the NBN (see Delimiter's coverage. IT professionals tend to prefer FTTP. Nick Paine's a private citizen and self-described Liberal voter, has received over 260,000 signatures for his petition "The Liberal Party of Australia: Reconsider your plan for a 'FTTN' NBN in favour of a superior 'FTTH' NBN". Social media interest continues as each announcement is forthcoming, including this most recent one. EFA believes that this all speaks to a broader issue: Australians want to have their say.
EFA agrees that the new government has every right to conduct audits and reviews of NBN Co, and that there are questions of fiscal responsibility, project management, and technology that deserve greater scrutiny. We approve, too, of the new interim statement of expectations call for transparency. The third last paragraph of the statement (addressed to NBN Co) says:
You will be aware that Government policy provides for increased scrutiny and transparency of NBN Co and its activities. As a first step in improving transparency we ask that you publish weekly information on your website indicating the number of premises passed, those premise that are passed but cannot receive a service (.e.g service class 0) and those premises with an active service for each element of the network. Your advice is also sought on longer term arrangements for improving the transparency of the NBN Co operations.
Such transparency is commendable. As such, EFA asks that the government sets itself the same high standard.
EFA takes Mr Turnbull at his word that the government is technology agnostic, that the government wishes to bring the public into its confidence, and that every public infrastructure project has to be carefully and honestly analysed so that governments, and citizens, can weigh up the costs and benefits.
EFA argues that the best course of action is to let Australians have their say, fully and frankly, as part of a transparent strategic review that mirrors the openness of a Parliamentary Inquiry. Interest groups, institutions, corporations, and citizens should all be able to have their say. In short: don't just inform us, ask us.
The review should include:
- full disclosure public discussion documents clearly comparing and contrasting all NBN options, with a specific emphasis on future expansion of Internet needs with respect to urban and regional equality;
- a period of public consultation long enough and accessible enough to provide meaningful responses;
- the review committee making concrete recommendations on the basis of all responses, transparently indicating which suggestions have been taken up and which have not, and the reasons for doing so.