Hackett on NBN board: Gaining experience or silencing a critic?

Hackett on NBN board: Gaining experience or silencing a critic?

Summary: The appointment of Internode founder Simon Hackett has broadly been met with approval by all sides of the NBN debate, but will his role be to better advise NBN Co, or to stop being a vocal, and well-informed critic of the NBN?


It is difficult for anybody to fault Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull for appointing Internode founder and telecommunications industry veteran Simon Hackett to the new NBN Co board, but will he be brought on for his vast knowledge and experience, or just to stop him giving inconvenient public advice about the rollout?

Hackett is the first uncontroversial appointment to NBN Co since the election, given Turnbull to date has appointed a range of ex-Telstra executives and friends from his days in the private sector.

It is not unsurprising that Hackett would be sought for a board position, he is one of the more thoughtful and constructive critics of the rollout and implementation of the National Broadband Network (NBN). His speeches at industry conferences and events for the past three years have been must-see.

Unlike many of the often hyperbolic critics of the NBN project, Hackett has had a technical approach to his criticism of the NBN rollout and its pricing model, but has been able to distill it in such a way that makes it easy for the average joe to understand.

His biggest criticism of the NBN so far has been NBN Co's pricing model. He has long been critical of the connectivity virtual circuit charge that sits on top of the monthly access charge for securing bandwidth from the point of interconnect to a customer's premises. Hackett has argued that the CVC costs are far too high, creating an artifical scarcity in bandwidth that doesn't exist.

He ended up in a few public debates with then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy on that issue.

His more recent criticism has been that the Network Terminating Unit (NTU) and battery back up provided by Alcatel-Lucent could simply be replaced by a direct fibre connection, and would save the company on the cost of the NTUs and the installation cost. His full presentation is online, and worth watching.

It's not surprising that given his contribution to the debate so far, the reaction I have seen to his appointment to the NBN board has been mostly praising Turnbull for the decision. Even his shadow, Labor MP Jason Clare did not attack Turnbull for appointing Hackett, instead focusing on "more jobs for the boys" with the appointment of Turnbull's friend and ex-Telstra executive Justin Milne.

The scepticism around his appointment lies with those questioning whether Hackett will be able to be as vocal on the NBN when he is part of the board overseeing the project. It is much tougher to be an outspoken critic of the very project you're now a part of.

On the one hand, now that he is part of the project, Hackett will have a stake in ensuring that the project is delivering as promised, and will want to be a team player. But as to how much input Hackett gets, we will have to wait and see.

Hackett just is one of six NBN Co board members, all of whom will have their own ideas for the network. He will have to contend with the collective experience of at least two ex-Telstra executives in the form of executive chairman and former Telstra CEO Dr Ziggy Switkowski, and ex-Telstra executive Justin Milne.

Even if Hackett's influence on the board is substantial, there is no indication that he would advocate within NBN Co for the company to continue the Conrovian fibre-to-the-premises rollout. He will undoubtedly offer his more cost-effective alternative idea, but it is unlikely that he is going to be the FttP Trojan Horse that some would like him to be.

Hackett has been an important part of the NBN debate to date, and Turnbull now has the kind of experience he has long claimed the NBN Co board requires to undertake the massive task of improving broadband in Australia.

Let's just hope that NBN Co getting that experience doesn't come at the cost of the public debate around the rollout.

Topic: NBN


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • We can only hope

    If we look for a positive outcome, Hackett could provide the excuse Turnbull needs to keep Fiber-to-the-Premises.

    Hackett's ideas for reducing the boxes for installation and cost, combined with newer cheaper methods to lay glass cable underground, could allow Turnbull to say that "we gave everyone fiber to the home for less cost than Labour."

    Unfortunately, it's more likely to be a negative outcome, with the government pursuing Fiber-to-the-Node and Corroded Copper to the Home (CCttH), which will block future full-fiber installations ever happening.
    • the often hyperbolic critics of the NBN project

      "Unfortunately, it's more likely to be a negative outcome, with the government pursuing Fiber-to-the-Node and Corroded Copper to the Home (CCttH), which will block future full-fiber installations ever happening."
  • Hackett's FTTP vs FTTN presentation

    This is worth checking out and sharing. Hopefully people will listen to Hackett's advice.

  • A vocal & technically knowledgeable....

    critic is effectively silenced.

    One independent voice against two Helstra cronies.
    One is the Board boss, the other held ADSL2+ back for years, and of course MT, the Minister in charge, who is at best a bean counter with little technical knowledge & likes to have his own way on all issues.

    Mr Hackett isn't going to have much say in the debate, especially since he will be expected to be a team player !

    Any hope of getting FTTP, the best option in every respect, is now a dead duck & endless delays attempting to renegotiate with the greedy, corroding copper owner, will push the cost up even more..

    Australia will slide even further down the digital divide ladder.
    • Not to mention

      One responsible for the tardy patchy (IMO Sabotaged) asbestestos, pit and pipe remediation disaster by Telstra. Now scores a position of influence and control on the NBN's future
      Abel Adamski
  • Perspective

    IMO a key issue is not being addressed
    We have a demonstrated focus on the Telco/Business POV, whilst I have great respect for Simon, his POV is that of an RSP or Telco whose sole objective is profit and dominance in a competitive environment, entirely counter to enabling competition and innovation

    The NBN is NOT a Telco, it is a UBIQUITOUS NATIONAL WHOLESALE COMMUNICATIONS PLATFORM for the next century.for the benefit in so many ways for the Nation designed to facilitate competition and innovation. Yes it provides broadband, it is a digital platform. But as designed is not intentionally hobbled or crippled
    I wonder if these individuals have the innate greatness to look beyond their Telco and/or profit/loss business mindset and look to the greater good for the Nation

    For example Simons oft stated POV of discarding the 4 Port NTD which IMO and many others agree is one of the grounbreaking and innovation enabling aspects of the current design to instead replace it with an anti competitive innovation strangling single port or even worse an RSP provided NTU.

    I see around me in certain media and business and political individuals and organisations demonstrating an unfortunately small minded petty viewpoint effectively either losing or obscuring the plot.

    It will pay for itself not only directly but in many other ways also

    It concerns me the focus on long term losers with FTTN or FTTB, but more so the sudden obsession in certain quarters with an aerial solution, consider the Philipines and recent weather in OZ with warmer than usual oceans, even with current weather the SES and utilities are always repairing power lines brought down by trees or debris, add on multifibre NBN cables
    Abel Adamski