Veni Markovski. CC-BY-SA

Veni Markovski. CC-BY-SA

Anyone watching or listening to today’s day-long forensic deconstruction by former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy of the current state of the NBN rollout could but not conclude that the entire project is being neutered for entirely political reasons.

Even NBN CEO Bill Morrow, by the end of the day, effectively conceded that he was no longer able to defend the Prime Minister’s stated belief that a Fibre-to-the-Node approach was the most cost and time effective approach.

This  is an opinion piece by EFA Executive Officer Jon Lawrence. It reflects his views and does not necessarily reflect the views of EFA.

There are two main views on the approach that Malcolm Turnbull, then Communications Minister, took to the NBN when the Coalition took office in 2013.

One view is that Malcolm Turnbull is the destroyer of the NBN. The other, that I still tend to subscribe to, is that Malcolm Turnbull delivered the best NBN he could, given the ideologically-motivated luddite he previously reported to.

Like many people, I have assumed/hoped that, once elected in his own right, Malcolm Turnbull would spend some of his newly-won political capital on fixing this absurd ideological neutering of what is, arguably, the single most important infrastructure project in this country’s history.

Listening to today’s testimony from NBN to the Senate has however changed my view.

As anyone who really knows the technology has always said, the NBN will ultimately have to be a primarily Fibre-to-the-Premises affair, except in remote communities, where the cross-subsidy will never stack up. We either have to build it with fibre to the premises now, or come back later and upgrade all of that ‘last mile’ copper to fibre in the future.

Without being either a network expert nor having examined the economics in detail, it’s always seemed pretty intuitive to me that building national infrastructure like this right the first time, even if the cost were slightly higher, was the right approach.

Malcolm Turnbull however tried to sell us a different approach.

Faster and cheaper it would be, he said.

The standard line in any technology deployment decision is:

  • Fast, Good or Cheap; Pick any Two

It’s now very clear that it will be neither cheaper nor faster, and it will almost certainly not be better.

But, don't take my word for it: watch the real experts on Lateline last night.




  1. well you are glass half full! this guy has enough of a brain to know just how bad FTTN is and how rapidly costs were coming down in deploying fiber which give substantial speed performance above copper and HFC networks. He single handedly politicised the NBN and ruined it for political gain. Stop being so blind!

    Comment by jake griffiths on 16 March 2016 at 11:14
  2. The EFA is losing its focus.

    The National Broadband Network is an economics issue, not a digital rights issue.

    The question of whether or not the government should intervene in the market to provide a service such as the NBN has nothing to do with privacy, free speech, intellectual property, nor security.

    This is an economics issue between market economy versus centrally planned economy. Further, if the government should intervene in the market, should it be at a Federal or State level?

    The EFA should be neutral in such questions, as it would otherwise alienate individuals from different sides of the political spectrum. The EFA is not a political party -- it is a lobby group, with a very tight focus, and it should be non-partisan it if wants to maintain political inclusiveness to meet its core objectives.

    Besides, do you actually trust the government to run a broadband network and resist the urge to snoop on your data? Really?

    Stay focused on digital rights, not economic issues. Do one thing, and do it well. This is the UNIX Philosophy.

    (P.S., I understand that this article is an "opinion piece," but that's kind of a grey area, right? So, here's my unreserved opinion: Members who want to campaign for higher taxes, centralised control, and government spending can do so by joining the Labor party.)

    Comment by Damien Bezborodov on 16 March 2016 at 11:17
  3. If he was a real leader, Malcolm could have stood up to (I believe "shirtfront" is the term) the former PM.

    But instead, he showed his true colours.

    Comment by Richard Ure on 16 March 2016 at 11:38
  4. Damien: you can either have the government paying tax dollars to ISPs to sniff out your dick pics or you can have the government building a fibre network to your home that also sniffs out your dick pics. Which do you choose?

    Comment by someone on 16 March 2016 at 12:17
  5. When Abbott took power, he didn't have a clue about how to deliver the NBN faster and at lower cost, which is why he asked Turnbull to be Comms Minister. Turnbull then laid out HIS plans, and Abbott then agreed it was the best way to tackle the project. Once the lot of you come to understand that as the real truth, you'll see that this whole mess is 100% Turnbull's fault, because Abbott was given plausible deniability. Tony was simply making decisions based on information presented to him by a person he perceived as 'an expert in the field', which then proves he failed the country by
    (a) not personally doing further research about the nature of broadband technologies, and
    (b) focussing his intent on the advice of one man and one man alone.
    The whole project has been a disaster from Day One, after Labor failed to create NBNCo as a single 100% government-controlled entity then build a full fibre infrastructure in direct opposition to those of the privately owned telco's. There should never have been any need for NBNCo to purchase privately owned cables in the ground; instead, fibre cables should have been laid beside those copper pairs or HFC, then fibre direct to homes, businesses and MDU splitters. NBNCo would then lease the Telstra exchanges by way of charging them less than other RSP's for access to the new and completely independent full-fibre virtual circuit, and away we go.

    Comment by Terin Mahsout on 16 March 2016 at 12:33
  6. Terin Mahsout, you are clearly misinformed about NBN under Labor. NBN Co was exactly as you've described- a 100% government monopoly delivering fibre exclusively to 93% of Australians and delivering a mix of wireless and satellite broadband to the most remote 7%. NBN Co would have acted as the monopoly wholesaler, selling to retailers who then competed to sell to Australian homes and businesses. I'm not sure quite how you think they could have achieved that without buying cables since under the Australian constitution the government can't acquire private property without compensation, which effectively it would have been doing if it stopped private companies such as Telstra from using their pre existing networks. Nor am I sure why you think Telstra should have been given a special role in the NBN, since part of the policy purpose of the NBN was to finally structurally separate Telstra and end the stranglehold they've had on telecommunications in this country for far too long, which has resulted in us all paying stupid prices for services compared with the rest of the world.

    Comment by Rebekka on 16 March 2016 at 21:35
  7. I agree with Jake you're being far to nice to this scum bag.

    Comment by kevin scott on 17 March 2016 at 00:50
  8. Rebekka, do Telstra own the ditchs the cables go through under all of our government roads and footpaths? If not, then laying cables beside theirs wouldn't be taking their property.

    Comment by kevin scott on 17 March 2016 at 00:53