Bevan Slattery, founder of datacentre provider NextDC, has said that people should invest in Telstra now as it stands the most to gain from the "toxic" National Broadband Network (NBN) project.
"Buy shares in Telstra is my piece of advice. No not advice, suggestion," he told the Communications Day Summit audience in Sydney yesterday. "Telstra's in the box seat. They really are. They're sitting down negotiating with the government, they're talking about volume discounts. They really have the subscribers NBN Co needs to have a chance of even getting off the ground."
Slattery said that with the growth of mobile, once Telstra gets spectrum for its 4G services, and the money from its planned $11 billion deal with the government, "the rest is academic". Telstra would have the capital to invest heavily in the hot mobile area, putting it streets ahead.
Slattery said that as talks draw out for the final details of the deal, Telstra's negotiation position was stronger than that of the government.
"David Thodey is a genius, an absolute genius. The week before [former Prime Minister] Kevin Rudd got knifed was the time that they did that deal. Telstra has the best negotiator on its side and that's time. They sit there and wait and wait and wait. Time is always on their side," he said. "That copper is worth ... probably between $2 and $4 billion. What would people pay to get [the raw material] out of Telstra exchanges? They'd pay heaps for it."
If the NBN was an economic failure, which Slattery predicted would occur, Telstra would be the only potential buyer in his opinion.
"I think ultimately it will [fail], that's not me being anti-NBN, as a pure businessman, I look at this and think it is a bad investment and it will fail," he said. "If that's the case, then Telstra is the only buyer. They've got their spectrum, they've got their money and get to buy [NBN] back at 20 cents in the dollar."
Slattery said that the details of the NBN project had changed so much since it was first announced that only the name was still the same. He predicted that test sites would go for longer, with ISPs not being charged the actual cost of the service for a longer time in order to get customers onto the network.
"They're trying to change the entire basis of this network so it can fit into a return of some sort," he said. "If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny."
Although he was disparaging about the NBN's business case, Slattery was certain about the viability of the case for his own company.
Macquarie Telecom CEO David Tudehope had predicted at the summit that new datacentre players such as NextDC would be out of business within three years. At the closing of the event, Slattery backed his company with a $1 million bet.
"So David thinks I'm going to be out of business. The bet is on. The winner gets to select the charity that it goes to," he said. "Not only will I be right, but I will be co-locating 20 of his competitors.
"David Tudehope, time to put up or shut up."