Conroy ignored industry on NBN: Slattery

Summary:Three of the members of the newly formed Alliance for Affordable Broadband have said that there was no discussion with the telecommunications industry as a whole about whether the National Broadband Network should exist.

Three of the members of the newly formed Alliance for Affordable Broadband have said that there was never any discussion with the telecommunications industry as a whole about whether the National Broadband Network should exist.

"The vast majority of carriers have received zero contact with the government," Paul Wallace, Polyfone CEO, told ZDNet Australia.

"Not a sausage. Not an email."

In fact, according to Pipe Networks founder Bevan Slattery, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy formed its fibre-to-the-home plan on a metaphorical island consisting of the minister, the department and consultants.

He said the proposal was created in a "closed loop of people who have to have little-to-no experience in deploying networks".

Only the larger end of the telco town, which publicly supported the NBN view, were consulted, Slattery said.

Although there had been a lot of communication with the government after the fibre-to-the-home proposal was decided on to talk about technical aspects, Vocus CEO James Spenceley said that there wasn't a general reach out to industry on costing and architecture.

"If we're the only country looking at 93 per cent and have the least dense population, why are we missing a costing?" he asked. "The absence of costing has to be an absolute red flag." He believed there should have been open forums that ran over a long time where every carrier was involved.

"I was never consulted on it," he said.

Spenceley said that if the government was going to completely revolutionise the industry, an open forum discussion in public over a long time was necessary.

Slattery described the process towards fibre to the home as a kind of comedy of errors.

"The real situation was that the government had promised under NBN to deliver a fibre-to-the-node network by the end of their term," he said.

For this to occur, he said, it was necessary for Telstra to play ball. When Telstra didn't, the government was "left in the situation where they couldn't deliver their election promise".

It couldn't talk to industry about the situation, Slattery said, because if the government did, everyone would have known what a cock-up it was.

So it took a suggestion out of the expert panel's report and found another way to strong-arm Telstra — fibre to the home.

It has now been over a year since that decision was made, and in Slattery's eyes, Telstra has won the boxing match with the government. "It's done really well," he said.

The consequences

Slattery was concerned that the NBN could widen the digital divide between those who can afford to pay for broadband and those who can't. Whether this turns out to be true will depend on what access prices are placed on the network, a figure that has not yet been set.

He also feared that innovation will be stifled by NBN Co's monopoly.

"NBN Co will have no competitive reason to provide competitive products for retail providers," he said.

Wallace said that the industry had already suffered in the innovation stakes, with venture capital funds turning off the tap until certainty returns.

"Since they announced this thing, [venture capitals] totally and utterly stopped investing in this space," he said.

Wallace thought that the NBN was a business killer for many of those in the telco market.

"Here we are, a regular carrier, with the NBN about to compete as another wholesale provider," he said.

In communism, governments take your business and gave you a job, he said. In medieval times, rulers took your business and axed your brains, he continued. What was happening with the NBN was somewhere in between, he believed.

In response to comments that the Alliance for Affordable Broadband was created out of self-interest rather than those of the nation to say no to the NBN, Wallace said only: "Yes, it's in our self interests. To stay alive."

Topics: NBN, Broadband

About

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for t... Full Bio

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