Conroy is from Venus, Turnbull is from Mars

Conroy is from Venus, Turnbull is from Mars

Summary: The real show around the NBN is the contrast between Turnbull's Mars-like war dances around Parliament House and the feel-good, loves-everybody, isn't-it-beautiful optimism of Conroy — the Venus in this little metaphor.

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TOPICS: NBN
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The pages of late 20th-century history are peppered with stories of Japanese "holdouts" who hid in jungles and on Pacific islands for decades after World War II, never knowing or believing it had actually finished. Judging by the way Malcolm Turnbull has been tilting at Labor's windmills since his appointment, it seems there is more than a little of the same going around the Coalition camp.

On the surface, Turnbull comes off as a better-versed technologist with credentials stretching back to the early days of Australia's internet. He is clearly a better foil for Stephen Conroy, who had a basically unopposed election run-up thanks to an invisible and utterly ineffective Tony Smith spruiking the Coalition policy. A policy that was conspicuous first in its absence, and then in its inadequacy.


(Credit: NASA)

It's surprising Abbott didn't let Turnbull loose on Conroy in the lead-up to the election so as to avoid the non-event that was Smith's opposition ministry — at least until you remember that Turnbull was probably still touchy about that whole leadership-challenge thing. Abbott could hardly have attacked Gillard over her political assassination of Kevin Rudd if a more-visible Turnbull reminded the media just how tenuous was Abbott's grip on his own party.

Make no mistake about it: Abbott is angry that "He Wuz Robbed", and he's going to do everything in his power to make Julia Gillard's life difficult over the next three years. Yet there is something fundamentally wrong about Abbott's opposition so far: far from positioning the Coalition as a healthy, robust and progressive opposition, Abbott's ministerial approach gives off the impression that the Coalition are still in election mode.

Opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne made this very clear with his after-the-match revelation that the Liberals may change their broadband policy. Could someone please tell this man the election is over, and his side lost? The time to tweak the Coalition's policy would have been before the election. But after Abbott held that policy back until 11 days before the election and put it in the hands of a singularly unimpressive ministerial spokesperson, that was never going to happen.

Abbott's instructions to Turnbull suggest he is still very much at war with Labor, and that he wants nothing more than for Turnbull to shoot Labor's 'white elephant' NBN, make footstools out of its legs, spread its hide across the floor of his office and carve little ivory baubles from its tusks.

It goes without saying that the Coalition would revise its communications policy over the next three years. Yet for now, I'm not sure anybody cares about the Coalition's policies, or whether they are changing; they were rejected by the electorate (albeit by the slimmest of margins) and they are no longer relevant to the NBN discussion. The Opposition's role is no longer spruiking its proposed policy, or tweaking it to be more appealing or appropriate. Its primary role should be to focus on Labor's policy, ensuring that the NBN roll-out is subject to healthy scrutiny and a methodical system of checks and balances.

Yet Abbott's bellicose instructions to Turnbull suggest he wants nothing more than for Turnbull to shoot Labor's "white elephant" NBN, make footstools out of its legs, spread its hide across the floor of his office and carve little ivory baubles from its tusks. Just consider his efforts to charge Turnbull with "turning independents" to the Coalition's side and "demolishing" the project by blanketing it with scathing financial criticism of the type Turnbull seems to have no trouble dispatching on a moment's notice. Turnbull seems to relish the role, seizing on a UN report commending progressive NBN models, and slamming claims the NBN is as ambitious and necessary as the Snowy Mountains scheme.

There is something tired about Turnbull's constant, speculative financial analysis and his somewhat-rich claims that the NBN will have a net present value just half of its construction cost. We heard it through the election; we heard it through the caretaker period; and now, with the NBN a done deal, we're still hearing the same old arguments. The NBN is a business, Turnbull argues, and not a public good.

Even if you believe him, the numbers stack up far better than he allows. For example, nowhere does he consider the fact that actually building the NBN will create an estimated 25,000 jobs. At, say, $50,000 each over eight years of construction, that's $400,000 per job, or $10 billion of the estimated $26 billion government expenditure that will go straight into the working population's pockets. Never mind the flow-on effects as billions more of capex flow into local manufacturers and service providers; even if the NBN never carried a single byte of data, the jobs it will create will pay back nearly half the government's investment in what would effectively become a massive jobs stimulus package. Can that be all bad?

Turnbull isn't factoring intangibles into his tortured calculations, which show a stubborn determination to continue the election-time policy debate based on his simplistic back-of-the-envelope maths.

Those figures took me 15 seconds to derive, and they don't even begin to address the network's broader possibilities. Turnbull isn't factoring intangibles into his tortured calculations, which show a stubborn determination to continue the election-time policy debate based on simplistic back-of-the-envelope maths. This glaring simplicity is even losing traction with the traditionally Coalition-leaning business community, which now seems ready to take a leap of faith with Labor: Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry head Peter Anderson recently conceded (PDF) that business does recognise that, in the short term at least, there will be some costs which are not able to be returned in a direct way the instinct of the business community is that there can be a real productivity kick and benefit from getting on with the job.

In other words, even the biggest proponents of financial responsibility are willing to give Labor the benefit of the doubt, although they will be watching carefully. Which is a good thing.

So while Tony Smith may have spent most of the election on the dark side of the moon, the real show around the NBN will be the contrast between Turnbull's Mars-like war dances around Parliament House and the feel-good, loves-everybody, isn't-it-beautiful optimism of Conroy — the Venus in this little metaphor. And while it's understandable that the Coalition is annoyed about the election result, pro-NBN factions got more votes than those opposed to it, and it's going to proceed.

Turnbull can either stay on Mars, marginalising the Coalition's relevance and firing BBs into the side of Labor's "white elephant", or he can admit that the war is over; reconsider his attack; and find new ways to hold Labor to account.

After all, Conroy's biggest challenge is increasing Labor's engagement with the industries that the project will benefit; fostering the kind of thinking evident at the Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society; and encouraging the faithful to join him in the smothering warmth of Venus. If Turnbull can't be part of that discussion, he will be as irrelevant to communications policy as Tony Smith was, and the Coalition will be left floating in space until the next election or beyond.

What do you think? Is Turnbull firing blanks at the NBN, or are his shots hitting true? What vector of attack will be most effective against Conroy? And is there really any point fighting the NBN any more?

Topic: NBN

About

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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64 comments
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  • In eight years' time the technologies available will be several and will have surpassed this labor intensive waste. Best use the labor for value creation. Regards, Blind Freddy.
    Jacquie Butterfield
  • Blind fool - please don't make comments on technical matters when it is obvious you have no idea what you are talking about.

    Really weary of the mindless, parrotting one-eyed political ideologues, who have plucked this nonesense out of the air that fibre is imminently obsolete.

    We have been using fibre for 4 decades, and are still nowhere in sight of getting close to their physical limitations. The same fibre as is being laid for the NBN is currently being used in one submarine cable providing 8Tb/s - that's 80,000 times the speed of the NBN. And there are several multi-Tb/s submarine cables already serving Australia.

    That's the beauty of it - its completely future proof. When you want to upgrade the speed, you don't have to touch the fibre at all. You just change the equipment at either end (with faster equipment that already exists!) And away you go.

    With copper, we are already well and truly at its physical speed limit and have been for years. That's why ADSL was invented, because we couldn't go any further with analogue modems. When we want to upgrade the speed, the only options you have are to reduce even further the distance from the exchange (the opposite of what we need in Australia) or wait until someone invents an incremental speed boost over ADSL.

    And that's the point - fibre we already have the technology right now to provide speeds that will cover us well into the foreseeable future, not years but decades, without even taking into account future advances in fibre technology. With copper we are already at the limit of our technology and would be dependent on as yet uninvented inventions!

    Wireless isn't even a discussion - brilliant and irreplaceable for mobility but worse than copper for mass deployment of mainstream domestic broadband. What a shameful waste of precious and very limited wireless shared spectrum to try and use it for this purpose! And completely self-defeating once the sheer number of people using it cause it to grind to a halt and need a base station on the corner of every street to support it (which would need to be connected using a fibre network to every street anyway!)

    None of this information is hard to understand with 15mins reading on the subject, nor difficult to come by. Yet once again the political debate has been hijacked and deceived by agenda driven individuals who are perfectly happy to bare face lie, knowing there are enough (faultlessly) naive voters prepared to lap up the usual politics of fear because most media outlets, officials and politicians are terrified of treating them like adults and actually explaining the detail a little further than repeated, drool-inducing sound bites.
    lexter99
  • I agree with Lex - there's a lot of misinformation or pure lack of information around the place, especially in regards to fibre optics. It's not like other cases where people have gone ahead with what would soon be superseded technology like Betamax. Fibre optics will become the international standard, and to not be joining that standard is letting opportunities go and will not help us in preparing for whatever the future may hold. Furthermore, with a national fibre optic infrastructure we can start to decentralise the workplace a lot easier, meaning data processing facilities could be had in towns rather than in the city. Wireless doesn't allow the same efficiency, in any case, and satellite costs an arm and a leg. Either way, we'll end up paying for new nation wide standardised infrastructure in tax, or we'll be paying extra for constantly upgraded and makeshift systems, so it seems wise to go with the one that gives us a decent future for our infrastructure.

    In a way, this NBN project sounds similar in some aspects to the German Autobahn system in how it will supply jobs and build a basis for a decent future infrastructure, only instead of a far right dictator , it's a moderate almost left democratic government. Sounds like a win-win, and hopefully the Liberal party and the Greens prevent Conroy from trying anything stupid with the filter plan.
    chrissomerry
  • "Blind fool - please don't make comments on technical matters when it is obvious you have no idea what you are talking about."
    My my, another expert. So you have read up on networking for 15 minutes? Impressive. I have been doing the same for 27 years now. Optical fibre is NOT future proof. We heard this before when the industry was told that "do it once, do it right, this fibre is forever" when we in the industry built FDDI OFT. The gbps copper came along and we all turned of FDDI MANs. The the OFT industry fought back with higher speeds. Unfortunately the half a million km of pipe we buried was 62.5 mikes fat, and the new technology required a pipe of 50 mikes fat. Hmmmm. That didn't last very long. Telstra, OPTUS, Internode, AAPT, iiNET, TPG, Primus ... have about ~7-8 MILLION km of fibre already buried in this country, to urban, regional and remote areas, much of it unused. A cusory glance at projects around the world will show that the rest of the planet is settling on an FTTN/STTN - FTE wireless architecture. In fact, BARAK OBAMA has indicated that rolling out this next gen wireless network across ALL USA is THE number one business driver. I have the White house missive in appendix a of a small document. The current NBN model is wasteful, in that it duplicates technology already installed, and it is obsolete before it starts. Not the media, the application of the media in topology design.
    http:/www.addinall.net/nbn.pdf
    Addinall
  • I suspect Mr Abbott has set up Mr Turnbull to beat NBN or NBN to beat Mr Turnbull
    Mr Turnbull may do better to prosecute a fibre dominant solution somewhere between $6b and $43b and focus on its productive usage value rather than its construction cost.
    Prescience
  • Singing the praises of Barack (yes with a C) who not so long ago you were bagging along with Rudd as being the leftries bringing down the world...LOL.

    Oh how you tune changes to suit your wallet...!

    Seriously though, you'd think after 27 years you would have improved, not still doing the same old 27 year supercede garbage!
    RS-ef540
  • Abbott couldn't make himself relevant to the electorate before the election, and hasn't learnt anything from the experience. He evidently doesn't know much about being in opposition either.
    mudpuppy-71780
  • "Unfortunately the half a million km of pipe we buried was 62.5 mikes fat, and the new technology required a pipe of 50 mikes fat"

    I can't understand addinall's point. Is he proposing that we need to replace the copper with 50 mikes fat? Doesn't that also cost us money to carry out as well?

    Copper has problem with losing signals over distance and also crossed wiring whereas fibre optic doesn't.

    Can the FTTN/STTN - FTE wireless technology provide enough bandwitdth, speed, data and reliability for business? Also for private users as well? Will it be cheap?

    "Telstra, OPTUS, Internode, AAPT, iiNET, TPG, Primus ... have about ~7-8 MILLION km of fibre already buried in this country, to urban, regional and remote areas, much of it unused"

    New lines laid are all fibres I believe, and I don't think there is the complete infrastucture built to turn all these lines to high speed broadband. Where there is high speed broadband already, there isn't enough competition so the price is too expensive for business eventhough they would love to have it.

    Surely wireless sounds very attractive if it can meet our need.
    Blood-523f6
  • I googled info for "FTTN/STTN - FTE wireless", nothing turned up except for a couple of posts that belongs to addinall. Does anyone know what it is? Yeah, apart from crosstalk, losing signal over distance copper is also susceptible to electrical interference as well.
    Blood-523f6
  • "I can't understand addinall's point. Is he proposing that we need to replace the copper with 50 mikes fat? Doesn't that also cost us money to carry out as well?"

    The point is Obl-Do, the community were told "Do it once, do it right, with fibre. The only cable you will have EVER to bury". So we did, and it lasted nearly 15 years before it became obsolete. Now, if cable becomes obsolete in a backbone, fine, replace it over time with new technology, not affecting the last mile, just delivery to the node. If the fibre to the home becomes dated, you have to rip up Australia again. And this is quite likely. The speed of telecommunications evolution (increase in speed and capacity) is 8 times that of Moore's law. We can transmit signals faster than your machine can read them.

    "Copper has problem with losing signals over distance and also crossed wiring whereas fibre optic doesn't."

    Why do you think OFT has repeaters? The fibre equivilant to 'crossed wiring' (when has that ever happened?) is fibre fuse. Can't be fixed. Needs to be replaced.

    "Can the FTTN/STTN - FTE wireless technology provide enough bandwitdth, speed, data and reliability for business? Also for private users as well? Will it be cheap?"

    It depend on what qualifies as business. But the simple answer is yes. It may not be appropriate for large businesses, or medium businesses that for some reason have a VERY high data/speed requirement. In these instances either a private pipe and/or a managed network would suit better given today's technologies. These businesses are ALREADY connected to the net with fibre. Hospitals, government departments, universities, research organisations all have fibre connectivity. We ran an exercise in a large government department a few years ago and provided a few sections with Gbps to the desk. Made nodifference whatsoever in the user experience or productivity. Faster is not always better.
    The personal user, and the business that moves, are my primary drivers for the adoption of LTE last mile. Large office blocks seldom alk into another town, but hole diggers change location, support engineers, salespersons, CEOs, CIOs, fishermen, anyone who moves from a single desk will benefit from FTE. This is why the rest of the world is adopting it. VERY high speeds are available in Australia now. The take up rate is poor. People don't want it. Price is the driver with most (>65%) subscribers opting for 1.5-8 mbps (ABS 2006 Yearbook).
    Affordable? I should think so. Here is he first implementation of 4G in Perth
    http://www.vividwireless.com.au/home
    Brilliant hey? Unlimited, $75 per month.

    All ne backbone lines have been fibre for nearly 30 years. They are turned on when demand is sufficient.

    What business that needs broadband, doesn't have it? Unless you want to run a data centre somewhere west of Cloncurry, you are already pretty much served in this country. Can you have it for free? No. The NBN isn't going to come cheap.
    http://www.iprimus.com.au/PrimusWeb/HomeSolutions/FibretotheHome/
    iPrimus are offering 15G (5 GB Peak) at 25 mbps for $89 per month.

    Which deal is better? Unlimited at 8 mbps and mobile across a city (soon the world) or 5GB during normal hours, 25 mbps, tied to a desk?

    I know which one I want. Stick the FTTH.
    Addinall
  • "I googled info for "FTTN/STTN - FTE wireless", nothing turned up except for a couple of posts that belongs to addinall."

    Fibre To The Node/Satellite To The Node - (FTE is a typo)(LTE) Long Term Evolution

    This hybrid model is being implemented in the USA and Saudi Arabia using Ka-band focussed beam satellite transmission/receive technologies to provide backhaul/backplane services to major nodes in an LTE network. HTH.
    Addinall
  • I've just quickly look at the vividwireless plans. The $75 unlimited may be on low speed because the 40GB per month plan costs $99. My experience with wireless has been bad the bandwidth has been getting congested because of too many users and sometimes does not work. So I don't know if they will be able to keep offering good speed for customers, and I heard the space orbit is quite chocked full already.

    There needs to be an upgrade of the infrastucture across the board in order for new technologies and business to be created as well as to meet demand for the future. If they could intergrate the new wireless technology to delivery equitably for the city and the regional at cheaper cost then it will be great.

    I suspect that they would have look at satellite already to see if it feasible. They say that they have some new satellites capability of 60-80gb to deliver peak speed of 12MPs for the 7% of the rural who miss out on fibre. If the new wireless that your talk about meet the need then I think they would have jumped on it because it means they could complete the whole system up and running in pretty short time instead of 8-10 years. But yeah, if the wireless technology is feasible and cheaper then they should use it.
    Blood-523f6
  • Yeah my wireless is on 3g network and it's gone pretty crap so I don't know if this 4g thing will stay good and I'm not sure what speed they are offering.
    Blood-523f6
  • I've just read your first comment in your reply, I found this over at Crikey.com.au:

    the following is taken directly from Alcatel-Lucent Australia paper ‘FTTP – Our digital future at the Speed of Light’,
    Top 10 Fast Facts on Fibre:
    • GPON = “Gigabit Passive Optical Networks” – the most cost effective, environmentally friendly and most up-to-date standard with the highest throughput, to
    deliver fibre to people’s homes and workplaces
    • Uses pulses of infra-red laser light – not electricity – to transmit information
    • Already runs at 2.5 Gbit/s (2500 Mbit/s) and will soon support 10 Gbit/s, with evolution towards 40 Gbit/s
    • Users can connect at up to 1 Gbit/s – 1000 times faster than basic broadband and 700,000 times faster than dial-up
    • A fibre-optic strand is the thickness of a human hair and can serve up to 64 homes. Fibre optic cables generally contain many strands and come in a range of thicknesses from millimetres up to around a centimetre
    • Fibre-optics are extremely secure against snooping. They do not generate any electromagnetic interference themselves and are not affected by nearby electrical
    equipment
    • Consumers located at the furthest distance from a fibre exchange get the same broadband speed as those next door to the exchange
    • GPON generates only about a third of the carbon footprint of an FTTN system delivering similar services
    • GPON uses a passive network that requires no power or electronics at any point between the exchange and consumers’ premises
    • Alcatel-Lucent GPON is already deployed and in operation in more than 75 major networks around the world.

    So they are evolving towards 40gb and there is still plenty more potential left before it goes out of date considering the next genration satelite capacity is only 60-80gb.
    Blood-523f6
  • Interesting discussion re fibre being obsoleted and wireless improving in the future. Turnbull took prompts from the UN report to suggest the NBN shouldn't be locked in as a fibre infrastructure but it does seem to be the consensus amongst telecoms types as the best way forward. It certainly seems hard to argue that the copper network has enough legroom in it going forward when many people are already struggling to get adequate speeds over copper.

    But these are technical issues, and Turnbull seems to have brought in on financial issues since Smith couldn't refute Labor's technical arguments. What does everybody think of this approach -- does Turnbull's somewhat arbitrary argument about the NBN's claimed $10b net present value actually sound reasonable? And if so, is that enough to disqualify the case for the NBN?
    david@...
  • Not winning power by a whisker is ' Abbott couldn't make himself relevant to the electorate' - really?
    advocate-d95d7
  • @davidbraue

    No David, because the NBN is a public goods exercise not a private investment and the spin off of tax revenues from new business, technology and employments as well as many other social benefits are not being included as Turnbull is talking about a cost benefit analysis of a private company which looks at the outlay cost over say ten years and the income from the sales of the internet alone.

    Please go to crikey.com.au on the Pollytics section and read through all the arguments at the article "Cost benefit delusion of the NBN" where all the pros and cons are examines; I recommend you to try to read all the comments. It's a myth that Turnbull has the credential to prosecute the case considering the problem of his Ozemail under Wordcom; Worldcom went under the share dropped from 70 to zero leaving many investors in pain.

    I will add one more to the argument. Did they stop building roads and railway tracks after they invented the plane? Or they still use trains and automibiles and try to make them faster as well as more convenient. How long more before wireless technology is sufficient to superseed fibre optic?
    Blood-523f6
  • Pollytics is over at the blogs section of crikey if you are not familiar with it.
    Blood-523f6
  • "Interesting discussion re fibre being obsoleted and wireless improving in the future. "

    Fibre is not obsolete, nor will it be in my lifetime, and probably beyond.
    However, current fibre technology will almost certainly be obsolete in
    a decade. Lowering the impact of future change is "future proofing".


    "Turnbull took prompts from the UN report to suggest the NBN shouldn't be locked in as a fibre infrastructure but it does seem to be the consensus amongst telecoms types as the best way forward."

    Well, I'm a Telecom type, and I know that FTTN is a great way to build a network.
    FTTH however, is unrequired frappery on what could be a clean network topology.


    "It certainly seems hard to argue that the copper network has enough legroom in it going forward when many people are already struggling to get adequate speeds over copper."

    That has less to do with 'copper' than enabled exchanges.


    "But these are technical issues, and Turnbull seems to have brought in on financial issues since Smith couldn't refute Labor's technical arguments."
    Well Smith isn't the sharpest pin in the embroidery box, about on par with Conroy, but less distastefull. Labor did not, and has not, provided a technical argument to refute. I watch this very closely, and last week when NBNCo turned itself into a wireless provider, I bounced into the site for some specifications.
    http://www.nbnco.com.au/wps/wcm/connect/main/site-base/main-areas/our-network/glossary-of-terms#w

    Well howdy doody. hat a wealth of information. This obscene spend is being made up on a daily basis. Small wonder no traditional documentation is available. This was an idea thought up over a fe drinks, and no-one expected it to be actually built. Somehow it got a $43 BILLION dollar nod to explore worlds of fiction.

    "What does everybody think of this approach -- does Turnbull's somewhat arbitrary argument about the NBN's claimed $10b net present value actually sound reasonable? And if so, is that enough to disqualify the case for the NBN?"

    It does not disqualify an NBN. Just this one.
    Addinall
  • "Hey Fido, fancy you coming here to bless us with your idiocy...!"

    It is one of the standards of great presentations, is the ability to present to one's audience. I try to avoid big words just for you.


    "Singing the praises of Barack (yes with a C)"

    The author of this post is making a spelling flame? Hmmm. Irony is not your forte'?


    "who not so long ago you were bagging along with Rudd as being the leftries bringing down the world...LOL."

    Sorry? Anyway, even BARACK OBAMA has decreed that 4G wireless technology is THE driving factor in the USA broadband initiative at this very moment. Perhaps he listens to network specialists, rather than spotty little script kiddies - who knows. He seems to be on the right track at least.

    "Oh how you tune changes to suit your wallet...!"

    Eh? My wallet is just fine. RODD & GUNN hand tooled leather. What does that have to do with networking topologies?


    "Seriously though, you'd think after 27 years you would have improved, not still doing the same old 27 year supercede cr*p!"

    Tell ya what spotty child, if and when you make through High School, and get a grown up to show you how to use a library, get back to me. I may have a position watering the office plants one day. OFT is not new. It is the best we have to provide bulk backbone infrastructure. It is entirely the worst to deliver last mile to the home. Absurd. Now run along and play.
    Addinall