NBN numbers prove we need more numbers

NBN numbers prove we need more numbers

Summary: Now that the updated NBN corporate plan is out, we have better numbers to inform public debate. Haters have jumped to conclusions, but if Conroy is smart, he’ll lift the NBN’s bushel to silence the critics.

TOPICS: NBN, Broadband

It can't have come as a surprise to anybody that NBN Co would turn in an updated business plan with figures suggesting that its actual cost will be slightly higher than the projections made two years ago. This was as sure a bet as the green lighting of the second and third Hunger Games films.

So why all the hullabaloo? Despite the business plan reporting a relatively modest 3.9 per cent increase in capital costs — and a 2.5 per cent drop in revenues due to a slower-than-projected ramp-up, thanks to the protracted Telstra negotiations — you'd think the National Broadband Network (NBN) was an unmitigated disaster in the vein of government outsourcing and the privatisation of Telstra.

We know this, because commentators like Andrew Bolt told us so. Bolt, an unapologetic conservative, passionately hates the NBN and its left-wing, socialist, tree-hugging, pink batts-apologising, electric car-driving, latte-sipping commie purveyors more than he hates Julia Gillard and everything that the Labor government has ever done, or tried to do, or workshopped on a whiteboard.

Words like "blowout" and "disaster" have been too easily seized upon by those who haven't bothered to take the time to entertain facts that run contrary to their own preconceptions.

Bolt authored not one, not two, not three, but at least five different blogs (count 'em: one, two , three, four, five) in the wake of the updated NBN Co plan — all of them harping on the supposed "blowout" brought to light in the updated business plan.

If you just read the headlines, rather than taking the time to actually read the corporate plan, you can understand his anger — sort of. Words like "blowout" and "disaster" have been too easily seized upon those who haven't bothered to take the time to entertain facts that run contrary to their own preconceptions.

Those with more ideologically moderate proclivities will have read the figures, thought for a moment, shrugged and then turned to the Olympics results.

For example, by FY2021, the updated corporate plan predicts, NBN Co will have passed 12.2 million premises and connected 8.5 million premises — 200,000 more than were budgeted for in the previous plan.

NBN Co is now planning to run fibre along 148,000km of roads, compared with 130,000km in the previous estimation; that's a 13.8 per cent increase. Physical distance covered by the GPON fibre-to-the-premise (FttP) technology has increased from 181,000km to 206,000km. That's also a 13.8 per cent increase.

Call me an apologist, but if NBN Co is now going to roll out 13.8 per cent more fibre than it was previously expecting to, and its costs have only increased by 3.9 per cent — well, doesn't that suggest that the company is actually on track to benefit from economies of scale that will drive the per-kilometre price of its fibre down? And don't those numbers largely negate the arguments of those who look at the numbers and nothing else?

I'm sure we can expect more of this as the NBN progresses; statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) suggest that Australia is building over 150,000 new dwellings every year, and each of these will need to be hooked up to the NBN, too.

That might even cost a bit more money than NBN Co anticipated. Will the louder members of the media jump on that as being yet another blowout?

After years of driving the NBN according to mushroom theory, Labor should boost transparency if it wants to engender voter patients.
(Backlit mushroom image by Eric Meyer, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Do we say that Medicare's budget has blown out because it is being extended every year as Australians pursue that financially inconvenient habit of popping out more and more babies? Do we complain that our Veterans' Affairs budget has blown out because our soldiers insist on growing old?

Proponents and opponents of the NBN can and will argue till the proverbial cows come home about what the numbers mean, and Bolt and many others (and I include the rabidly pro-NBN punters here, too) will continue to bend the numbers to suit their own particular perspectives and headline-grabbing odium.

Far from exposing some horrible conspiracy, I'd suggest that the most valuable thing about the corporate plan — apart from the fact that it confirms that the government still thinks it can deliver what it has promised — is that it represents a significant milestone in transparency.

Putting these figures out there has helped Stephen Conroy move the goalposts, reposition the debate, change the terms of engagement. Whatever idiom you prefer, Malcolm Turnbull will have to give up his habit of blithely quoting figures from the initial business plan that was formulated two years ago.

He'll have to work from this version from now on, and that could conceivably fuel a more honest debate. Because nature abhors a vacuum, and so too does telecoms policy.

If the NBN debate can be informed with current numbers, the release of the updated business plan should rightly mark a turning point in the whole NBN project — but it will require a bit of straight shooting by Conroy, and a commitment to honest debate rather than obfuscation on Turnbull's part.

There is an easy way to push the debate in this direction: Conroy should, as a matter of priority, instruct NBN Co to set up a website showing the exact numbers of premises passed; metres of fibre rolled out; numbers of live subscribers and what suburbs they're in; and the suburbs in which NBN Co roll-out crews are working on any given day.

Key metrics should be published clearly and updated no less than daily for all to see.

There should also be financially pegged metrics, such as the average cost per premise, cost per kilometre rolled out, cost of fibre versus cost of labour in that expenditure and so on.

These, and any other key metrics deemed relevant to the project, should be published clearly and updated no less than daily for all to see. Even Turnbull, who will no longer have to suffer the embarrassment of building his arguments against Labor's NBN on hopelessly out-of-date figures.

Improved transparency would benefit everybody involved in this debate — particularly a government that has responded to the constant barrage of criticism by burying new NBN information in tightly controlled, sporadic press releases. That's not the way to win over philosophical enemies.

My call for transparency is hardly unprecedented; governments do it all the time, highlighting how much particular road projects or council works are costing. It's a token gesture, but it goes a long way to improving the feeling of community buy-in — and the community's willingness to show patience for an outcome that they can see, feel and touch.

Would that Australia could afford the NBN the same patience. In a populace accustomed to a debate marked by unceasing spin and partisan point making, it's a big ask — and a somewhat unlikely one, given the maelstrom of debate that awaits us all in the lead-up to next year's election. However, a move by Labor to put the right numbers in all of our hands would counteract the narkiness, and benefit observers on both sides of the NBN equation.

Would better numbers take the acrimony out of the NBN debate? Or did the updated business plan provide all the information you needed to make up your mind about the project?

Topics: NBN, Broadband


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • "but if Conroy is smart,"

    But he is not!

    Conroy promised that the NBN would cost $30bn "and not a cent more". He gave a gilt-edged undertaking about the cost of the NBN. Bolt and others have every right to hold him to account. This Labor government has wasted an extraordinary amount of money on its failed projects and policies.

    That said, there is a worker out the front of my home right now checking the recently installed cabling that was installed a few weeks ago. I want to subscribe to the NBN; I'll get it as soon as it is connected. Unfortunately, he cannot tell me when that will happen :-(
    • "Conroy promised that the NBN would cost $30bn "and not a cent more"."

      Are you sure this is what he said? Please post a more accurate quote, the date he said it and to what constituted the NBN at the time.

      "Bolt and others have every right to hold him to account."

      Bolt is a mental midget. We don't listen to him unless we have an IQ lower than a gnat. Is there something you want to tell us?

      "This Labor government has wasted an extraordinary amount of money "

      Please give a accurate number here. "Extraordinary" is a subjective term.

      "I want to subscribe to the NBN; I'll get it as soon as it is connected. Unfortunately, he cannot tell me when that will happen :-("

      That's odd. You seem sad about this, why? I would have assumed the opposite. When you get "connected" aren't you a little bit concerned that you are effectively endorsing a project you disagree with making you a hypocrite? Now if you want to come back and argue that you don't have a choice then A) You actually do have a choice B) Doesn't sound like the NBN will be a "failed project" after all. Now your previous argument against it is nullified. Thanks for stopping by.
      Hubert Cumberdale
      • Answers

        "Are you sure this is what he said? Please post a more accurate quote, the date he said it and to what constituted the NBN at the time."

        No. I am not your lackey. Learn to do some research.

        The rest is simply offensive and not worthy of my time to comment.

        Thanks for stopping by . . . but in the future, don't bother!
        • Hmmm

          I did some research and couldn't find it (Conroy saying $30B). Curious.

          In fact from Day 1 the figure was up to $43B all up CAPEX and has since reduced, to now $37.4B iirc.


          I do believe the McKinsey report which Conroy supported mentioned $26B - $27B in government investment (no not tax payer dollars) required. Perhaps this is where you are becoming confused?

          Seriously imo, if you are going to make claims, it would be prudent to back those claims with a URL, otherwise it may be construed as FUD and you will receive the appropriate and deserved reply!
          • Just do a search on . . .

            "conroy not a cent more" and you will find numerous references.

            Yes, I could have included a reference at the start, but this was such a widely discussed issue at the time I assumed that I thought it was well known. Irrespective, Hubert could easily have done the same as you as done a quick Google search before posting. Whether or not Hubert found the references, I simply, polite question is all that was needed and i would have readily responded. Instead, he chose to do not checking at all and responded with unnecessary flippancy and sarcasm. The real shame is that people on ZDNet and other fora have to put-up with imbeciles such as Hubert. I don't mind being challenged or asked questions, but there are limits to what I will tolerate. There was absolutely no need for him to resort to flippancy and sarcasm instead of politeness. In the end, he has been proven to be a fool and it is all of his own doing. It is now for him to act honourably and apologise.
          • Sorry

            Sorry, did as you suggested (and not trying to be difficult) but there's no reference to not a cent more than $30B
        • "No. I am not your lackey. Learn to do some research."

          If you want to be taken seriously here you will back up your claims with facts and sources. Our only option if you don't is to call you out on it and after failing that we can then call you a liar or deceptive. Your choice champ.

          "but in the future, don't bother!"

          I will. You can expect it every time you omit information or deliberately mislead. You think you can just say anything and not expect to be questioned when you get facts wrong? Sorry, I wont placate you in any way shape or form, if that is what you want you've come to the wrong place.

          Oh and btw if you think what I said was offensive you must have really thin skin, though I'm not surprised given than someone like Bolt seems to be your hero. Your defense of him certainly is telling.
          Hubert Cumberdale
          • And I will not pander . . .

            . . . to your need for self-aggrandisment. I have not intention of answering your questions. Learn some manners.
          • Breaking: NBN haters accuse "facts" of ruining narrative


            The NBN is a great investment.

            However, the conservative viewpoint is that it's an awful idea and a failed project. They have half-truths and mis-truths to back this viewpoint up.

            Meanwhile, they're as keen as everyone else to get connected.

            So how will *you* be voting next election? (clue:
          • When the OECD criticized the NBN

            Was that a half-truth or a mis-truth?
          • My point is that the NBN is quite a contentious issue

            It may prove to be fantastic . . . or the opposite. There is quite a lot of competing information. I'll get connected; I've no second thoughts about that. However, I will also wait to see what happens with the NBN over time before assessing its success or otherwise.
          • "I have not intention of answering your questions."

            That's because you lied about the Conroy quote. You have no proof at all.

            "Learn some manners."

            LOL. Stop making excuses. You were wrong. The least you can do is admit it.
            Hubert Cumberdale
          • Seriously, do you not know how to Google?

            If your computer skills matched your ability at flippancy and sarcasm, you would have easily found numerous references.

            Just Google "conroy not a cent more" and you will find it.

            Oh yes, I did make a minor mistake. It was when Conroy promised that the NBN would cost $4.7bn "and not a cent more". It is now costing 10x as much.

            If you bother to look, you will have been proven wholeheartedly incorrect. I have not lied. I have not made excuses. There was nothing for me to admit. I was correct from the start and always knew that to be so because I specifically remember seeing the video of Conroy making the statement on several occasions.

            Now that you have been proven wrong, is it your intention to act honourably and to proffer an apology? More so, will you bother to learn manners? You have made a complete an utter fool of yourself by being sarcastic and derogatory when a quick search by you would have proven me correct before you even bothered to make your first comment. But hey, why let facts and truth stand in the way of your sarcasm.
          • "Seriously, do you not know how to Google?"

            Not my job. The burden of proof is yours. You made the claim. Not me.

            "Just Google "conroy not a cent more" and you will find it."

            Wow, you really don’t seem to be getting this do you?

            "Oh yes, I did make a minor mistake."

            LOL. You should have figured that out after I said: "Are you sure this is what he said? Please post a more accurate quote"

            "If you bother to look, you will have been proven wholeheartedly incorrect."

            No. I already knew that the quote was not accurate. Why exactly did you think I asked for "a more accurate quote" to begin with?

            "I was correct from the start"

            Except you weren’t at all and you still haven’t told us the date and to what Conroy was referring to...

            "and always knew that to be so because I specifically remember seeing the video of Conroy making the statement on several occasions."

            You remember him saying 30 billion when he actually said 4.7 billion? So the error is yours not mine.

            "Now that you have been proven wrong"

            I have not been proven wrong. You just proved yourself wrong. Glad to see you have finally admitted your mistake.

            "is it your intention to act honourably and to proffer an apology?"

            Your apology is implied and accepted. Thanks for stopping by.
            Hubert Cumberdale
          • Your really are a sad case

            This is exactly the behavior that I anticipated from you. Rather than apologise you deflect. Rather than accept that you were wrong, you build flimsy excuses. Convoy saidvthecwors "and not a cent more". The matter is incontestable. What a sad excuse a person you are. Even in the face of incontrovertible evidence, nay proof, that convoy said h words that I quoted you find it impossible to apologise. Piss off!
          • "Rather than accept that you were wrong"

            I was wrong asking for a more accurate quote? Interesting.

            "Convoy saidvthecwors "and not a cent more". The matter is incontestable."

            That's right. No one was arguing that with you. The fact that you tried to attribute the quote to a 30 billion number rather than the 4.7 billion and what he was actually talking about back then either means you were deliberately trying to mislead or you were plain wrong. Take your pick. Both are possible and both work for me. However since even you said "I did make a minor mistake" apology accepted! Don't you feel better now? I know I do :-)
            Hubert Cumberdale
          • You refused to accept that Conroy uttered the words

            He did. It is unequivocal that he did. You were wrong you challenged me prove myself correct. I was easily abl to doso. All the flippancy and sarcasm that you can muster will never undo that I was correct in my quotation and you are wrong token it. You are clearly incapable of such a basic, rational understanding. My contention has always been that he uttered those words "and not a cent more". Whether it was for $4.7bn or $30bn is irrelevant. In fact, uttering them for $4.7bn and then spending 10x that amount merely makes my case stronger. Conroy said, "not a cent more". You are unable to disprove that I am wrong and it fact you know that I am correct. Like it or not, Conroy said, "and not a cent more". "Not a cent more" meant exactly that. It is impossble to misunderstand. You know, like "There will be no carbon tax under the government that I lead". I challenged me to prove it. I did. You don't want it to be true, but it so. Just accept it. Conroy made a stupid statement. You did ot know about it. You wanted a challenge. You got it. You lost. Thanks for playing, but next try, do try some manners. You will bve surpised what a difference it makes . . . especially in not making you look like a fool.
          • "You refused to accept that Conroy uttered the words"

            No. I asked you "Please post a more accurate quote". No one is denying that he said "not a cent more". It is the price and what he was talking about that I was questioning. It's all there in black and white in my original comment.

            "I was correct in my quotation"

            Except you tried to attribute it to a completely different price tag and you STILL have refused to give a DATE and WHAT he was talking about at the time. This is called deception.

            "Whether it was for $4.7bn or $30bn is irrelevant."

            Sorry, but it's totally relevant. If you corrected (or admitted) your error at the beginning it would not be have been an issue at all. The error was yours not mine.

            "Like it or not, Conroy said, "and not a cent more""

            I don’t believe I ever denied that. Go on look through ALL my comments here. You wont find me disputing that at all. What I asked is for you to "post a more accurate quote" because I knew the NUMBER was wrong (you even admitted it) and I also know what Conroy was talking about (seems you don’t). You had NO PROOF whatsoever he said "and not a cent more" about $30 billion because it simply did not exist. You failed.

            "especially in not making you look like a fool."

            You've certainly done a very good job of making yourself look like a fool. I'll give you that. Perhaps you could learn how to comprehend written words and verbal communications in the future as your display here is quite telling.
            Hubert Cumberdale
          • you are an idiot

            what a load of drivel
        • HAHA. He got you there...

          And rather than reply to just cry lol. Mum get the man/mouse a tissue.