Australia has already given up on an all-fibre NBN

Australia has already given up on an all-fibre NBN

Summary: Forget waiting for the election: Judging by the rhetoric now coming from the highest levels, Labor has already lost the election and we should apparently start redecorating the NBN now. Let's hope the Coalition has more planned than just gutting NBN Co.


In one of the more tasteless literary exercises of the past decade, in 2007, OJ Simpson pushed a combined book-TV special entitled If I Did It, Here's How It Happened — flipping the proverbial bird to those who believed he was guilty of the 1994 murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, of which he was acquitted.

Why wait until the election? The NBN's naysayers are ready to redecorate now.
(Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 Simon A Eugster)

Controversy quickly saw the TV special cancelled and 400,000 copies of the book pulped. However, there seems to be no hope of a similar ban on the increasingly vitriolic public discourse around the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The project has veered from once-cautious optimism to a nihilistic sense of despair that is being stoked by an opposition party as relentless in its attacks on Labor and leader Julia Gillard as it has been ready to ignore the finer details of implementing its own NBN policy.

That the Coalition is already taking its September 14 victory for granted could not be clearer after recent revelations suggested that Malcolm Turnbull is already approaching candidates to replace current NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley once Tony Abbott takes power.

Such changes — just months after the did-he-just-say-that dramas around Quigley's support for a fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) and fibre-to-the-node (FttN) comparison, a disastrous subcontractor implosion, and an asbestos nightmare that has given Telstra a chokehold on the NBN rollout and put more nails into NBN Co's coffin — all contribute to the growing perception that Labor's NBN is done for.

Such changes — just months after Quigley's support for an FttP-FttN comparison, a disastrous subcontractor implosion, and an asbestos nightmare that has given Telstra a chokehold on the NBN rollout and put more nails into NBN Co's coffin — all contribute to the perception that Labor's NBN is done for.

Move on, nothing more to see here. All that is left is to write the eulogy — and, if the reports about early staff recruitment are to be believed, Malcolm Turnbull is already doing so. Perhaps it will be an addendum to his ongoing political strategy, which might as well be called If I Ran the NBN, Here's How It Would Happen.

Turnbull's sustained political assassination of the NBN, and of the Labor party that begat it, has spilled more ink than one cares to think about — and the effort to redirect NBN Co will be a story of biblical proportions. My poor fingers are aching just at the thought.

Yet, all that is still three months away; shouldn't NBN Co just keep on getting on with things for now? Apparently not: The fact that politicians have effectively started to look past the current NBN rollout is an enduring monument to the persuasive power of an avalanche of FUD, tainted with just the right amount of posturing, a disaffected electorate, and a whole lot of selective information.

Yet, one important thing has changed in recent months: Ideological moderates, like pro-NBN independent Rob Oakeshott, have also begun to qualify their support. This is most significantly reflected in the report of the parliamentary committee, which seems to charting new waters by calling for NBN Co to move well past its remit by actively exploring alternatives to the sitting government's policy.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Labor is still in power; shouldn't NBN Co, then, rightly just keep doing what it's doing up until beer o'clock on Friday, September 13?

The political buzzards are so eager for their NBN meal that they're already looking past the election and settling onto the bandwagon behind which Julia Gillard's political carcass is already being dragged.

Abbott, Turnbull, and everyone else due for a change of address come September are so eager to govern that they're not even waiting until they're elected to do so; one suspects that Kresta salespeople will be queued up outside Parliament House on election eve, measuring tapes in hand, ready to get stuck into the ex-Labor ministers' parliamentary offices the next day.

Yet, the changes they'll need to make are more than cosmetic — much more than big spending cuts with little regard for capability or long-term strategy. Critics may be calling for an early rethink of NBN Co's direction, but there are still so many unanswered questions that one wonders whether those same critics will take the time to think through the tougher parts of that change.

In successfully rallying the people to an upswell of discontent, the Coalition has set itself up for immensely tough scrutiny as it comes into office. And when that happens — is it even useful to say "if" anymore? — only then will it, or anybody else, be in a position to call for a change of direction for NBN Co. Let's all hope it's the right one.

What do you think? Is it too early to be giving up on the NBN? Have we held onto Labor's FttP dream for far too long already? And is it right to expect NBN Co to start moving on even while Labor is still in power?

Topics: NBN, Government AU, Australia, IT Policies, Next Generation Networks


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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  • An unfortunately accurate prognosis

    Sadly, the electorate will get the government (and the NBN) it deserves. Those of us with brains will have to smile wryly as billions of dollars are poured into an already-obsolete FTTN 'upgrade' for a similar price to FTTP.

    It's a monumentally stupid policy in pretty much every way and it's insulting to our collective intelligence to say it'll be done faster on the one hand, and completely re-write the scope of the project with the other. I hope Labor do retain power, for the NBN if nothing else, but it doesn't look good for them right now.
    • seriously, by any

      measure this government has not been overly successful. We all know the policy failures over the past 6 years and very occasional successes.
      Be disappointed if the LNP win in September on the basis that the NBN FTTP(B) will be modified, but overall we all must be better off losing this government.
      Blank Look
      • Seriously?

        "seriously, by any measure this government has not been overly successful."

        Only if you limit your reading to New Limited press.
        • i reviewed the website you offered

          my thoughts remain unchanged.
          Blank Look
          • open you mind

            There are none so blind as those who refuse to see, sadly.
            Frank Sartore
    • "Those of us with brains will have to smile wryly as billions of dollars are poured into an already-obsolete FTTN 'upgrade' for a similar price to FTTP."

      Nailed it;-)
      Hubert Cumberdale
      • agreed but those with

        some intellect also worry about the high cost of this network and the repeated delays.
        Blank Look
        • Ah yes...

          But $30B for FttN is perfectly ok *sigh*...

          Because David said the copper he wants to sell at the highest price, is perfectly fine and will last ooh, another 94B years... oh wait that was another BS figure wasn't it ;)
  • Wireless Technology Evolving Fast

    Samsung's rumoured to be on the cusp of releasing wireless new technology two orders of magnitude faster than 4G. If true, fibre to domestic premises may well become obsolete very soon given private capital cost of connection to a street's fibre infrastructure. Politics aside, NBN Co would be smart to go slow on connecting to directly to residential premises and focus on the fibre backbone to get it to the street!
    • Good luck with that AdelaidPete

      And what do you think those superfast (5G) wireless towers are connected that Samsung are testing AdelaidPete? If you answered "Fibre" you would be correct! We still don't have any technology in the foreseeable future that can handle the contention/speeds of fibre, we are not even close to that point yet.
    • Thats not how it works...

      Just because they have technology that can reach faster speeds on wireless doesn't mean that the speeds will be relevant to the real world. For example I have a WiFi n modem at home capable of 300Mb/s, if i'm the only one using it then I get that speed, if others are home then that speed goes down because the signal is shared.
      Its the whole reason why the Vodafone 3G network is so screwed. The fastest speed I ever got was at some little town in outback victoria because there was a good chance I was the only vodafone customer there, in the CBD I get close to dial up speeds because there is not enough signal to go around.
      This is what will happen if you try to put every household in anything more than a minor town on a wireless connection.
  • stop the NBN and save country from massive debt.

    Australia does not need the NBN. most institutions will get high speed fibre anyway. carriers will deliver the fibre to them because they are high value customers.
    normal residents only require high speed if they are nerds. Nerds generally will work out a way to maximise their capacity.
    the general users are all moving to Mobile networks as seen by the downfall of PCs and rise of the Iphone.
    • Really

      Ohhh okay, sorry I get it now, you are joking ex-te, phew, I was worried you were being serious for a moment lol.
  • Given up

    Yes unfortunately i have given up several months ago that we will have a decent telecommunications infrastructure for the forseeable future.. Such a shame.
  • Cost benefit favours FTTP

    Spending $30 billion to build copper broadband is ludicrous in 2013-2019.

    Spending $40 billion to build fibre to all urban premises in the nation will pay for itself, as we already see with above-forecast takeup and above-forecast bandwidth demand.

    FTTN will not recover its cost of construction, because it does not offer households and businesses the same value proposition for substituting other services, such as Foxtel, offsite backup and recovery and videoconferencing instead of travel. FTTN will require taxpayer bailout, whereas FTTP will self-fund.

    FTTN fails the cost benefit test.

    And counting votes from opinion polls before cross bench alternatives are considered has cost the coalition before this.
  • Some small hope.

    A petition is up to keep the NBN as it is.