NBN: Nothing, But Nothing is happening

Summary:You know the NBN is dead when not even the FttN haters bother to shellac Malcolm Turnbull's blogs. As Telstra reasserts control over the NBN and the Coalition government flounders, can we actually expect anything from the NBN anymore?

It's a frustrating thing, the weight of possibility and expectation. One day, you think anything is possible – and that an opportunity for is just around the corner. The next, the opportunity is gone and you must satisfy yourself with the scraps of a dream – a consolation prize that is at best a hollow imitation of the original vision.

Just ask Brazil, one of the world's best soccer teams and the host nation for the just-concluded World Cup, which had to satisfy itself with finishing as an also-ran as it was outclassed by a determined Netherlands team in a battle for third place – in front of a home-team crowd, nonetheless.

iiNet-Slovakia
iiNet sums up the state of the NBN today. Screen capture: David Braue/ZDNet Australia

Australia's broadband effort has become a lot like that Brazilian defeat – all full of hope and optimism one day, dashed to pieces the next as things fall horribly apart. There is always next time, the players are telling themselves half-heartedly now – and Australia's broadband community is already starting to do the same as the NBN effort continues to spin its wheels.

There was, of course, the affront of having to pay a $200m penalty to Telstra  because of NBN Co's poor performance under its contract with the telco giant. And there's the political defeat as the government failed  in a somewhat hostile new Parliament to disband the Labor and Greens-led Senate Select Committee on the NBN.

This failure not only reflects the current government's inability to act with the same conviction with which it was elected, but gives Senator Stephen Conroy – whose new role as shadow defence spokesperson hasn't stopped him from being a twisting thorn in the sole of the Coalition government's floundering NBN effort – considerable leeway to continue raking Malcolm Turnbull's NBN Dream Team over the coals in what has become a regular administration of humility and schadenfreude.

For sheer entertainment value, then, the NBN will likely continue to offer its highlights – especially as we close in on 2015 without a completed cost-benefit analysis (CBA); new reports suggest it will land in August but I doubt many are holding their breaths). The outcome of that CBA will then inform the rewritten NBN Co Corporate Plan, which in turn will also reflect the outcome of NBN Co's renegotiations with Telstra.

You do remember those renegotiations, right? Yes, the ones that Malcolm Turnbull said  over a year ago (in a fit of pre-election optimism that now rings more like laughable naiveté) would be completed with “slight adjustments” to the current contract.

The Coalition was elected on a promise of kicking the NBN into gear, but all Turnbull has accomplished so far is to hogtie a slowly-improving fibre rollout and tape a 'kick me' sign to the company's back.

Rather than completing the negotiations quickly, the government has struggled to assert itself at the negotiating table, putting the NBN rollout schedule so far behind that it's not even worth seriously contemplating a real completion date. The Coalition was elected on a promise of kicking the NBN into gear, but all Turnbull has accomplished so far is to hogtie a slowly-improving fibre rollout and tape a 'kick me' sign to the company's back.

Deliverables so far, few and far between, have had little real impact other than to dig further soil from the bottom of the hole in which the government has found itself. Sure, the 9000 people that will get access to 1999-era broadband through the government's newly announced satellite subsidy  will be a bit happy about it (I will for now skip the chance to restate the irony of the current government desperately waiting for the delivery of the Ka-band satellites it so vociferously opposed  when they were announced).

Then there's the first Vertigan Review report, which promises an era of price discrimination  that will deliver bigger discounts to larger players. That review is also setting the stage to kill private-sector infrastructure telco investment completely, by suggesting that companies building networks will be forced to open them to competitors on a wholesale basis. I'm sure that one will have private operators lining up to invest.

Who can forget the government's $150m gift to Telstra  in the form of a massive “trial” (read: fibre-to-the-node seeding depoyment) of some 1000 fibre-to-the-node nodes (remember what NBN Co said about them last year?) to deliver services to 206,000 premises.

That generous government investment in Telstra's network will help bring Turnbull's perverse multi-technology mix vision to fruition – and can only end in NBN Co rolling over to Telstra's every whim as the government desperately and unsuccessfully tries to get David Thodey to gift it the company's most strategic asset. The way things are going, Turnbull will need to offer 20 years as Thodey's personal manservant to get that deal across the line.

Sorry, folks, but that's not going to happen and everybody seems to know it but Turnbull. Everything that's going on around the NBN now seems tailor-made less to stimulate the telecommunications industry into a flurry of investment and optimism, and more to play into Telstra's hands by further entrenching the company's dominance over the telecommunications services we all rely on every day.

The greatest indication that the NBN as we know it is dead lies not in Turnbull's predictable number fudging, but at the end of that blog – where there are exactly zero comments about his argument. For a blog that used to be regularly inundated with comments from Australians angry about Turnbull's broadband plan, that's a frightening sign that those same Australians simply do not care anymore. 

So we slip, rather ruefully, back into our quiet shells and watch one country after another pass Australia on broadband rankings (kudos to iiNet for its painful-to-watch-because-it's-so-true Slovakia ad).

We watch Jason Clare (optimistically but not impossibly) shellacking the new government's poor NBN performance in Parliament and predicting the NBN can only resume its proper state once Labor is re-elected in 2016.

And Turnbull? When he's not skewering ever-reliable NBN Luddites Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones or issuing scintillating and out-of-portfolio press releases about child-care benefits, Turnbull has been taking on a “confused and confusing” Clare's numbers in a blog that is no less confused, or confusing.

Yet perhaps the greatest indication that the NBN as we know it is dead lies not in Turnbull's predictable number fudging, but at the end of that blog – where there are exactly zero comments about his argument.

For a blog that used to be regularly inundated with comments from Australians angry about Turnbull's broadband plan, that's a frightening sign that those same Australians simply do not care anymore. They hold no optimism for the new government's NBN and just don't have any more emotional energy to invest in the discussion.

Until Turnbull's chaotic NBN effort begins to deliver some real results – other than throwing good money after bad at Telstra – things aren't likely to get any better. Labor's NBN may have been the soccer equivalent of Australia – pumped up and ready for a tilt at the prize against overwhelming odds – but the Coalition's version looks set to end up like Brazil in this year's World Cup: overwhelmed, overrun, and ultimately languishing as a forgotten also-ran.

What do you think? Is the NBN party over? Or is the best yet to come?

 

 

Topics: NBN, Australia, Broadband, Fiber, Government, Government : AU, IT Policies, Telcos, Telstra

About

As large as the US mainland but with a smaller population than Texas, Australia relies on ICT innovation to maintain its position as a first-world democracy and a role model for the developing Asia-Pacific region. Award-winning journalist David Braue has covered Australia’s IT and telecoms sectors since 1995 – and he’s as quick to draw le... Full Bio

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