Coonan delivers final NBN swipe

Coonan delivers final NBN swipe

Summary: Outgoing former Howard Government Minister for Communications, Helen Coonan, has used her valedictory speech in the Senate to take a swipe at Labor's National Broadband Network (NBN) project, saying that the OPEL project would already be delivering fast broadband to regional Australians today.

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Outgoing former Howard Government Minister for Communications, Helen Coonan, has used her valedictory speech in the Senate to take a swipe at Labor's National Broadband Network (NBN) project, saying that the OPEL project would already be delivering fast broadband to regional Australians today.

"It is indefensible that Australians in rural and remote areas have been denied the benefits of fast, affordable broadband that would have been available to them for the past three years under the OPEL network. OPEL was a part of my vision in 2006 to meet the needs of rural and regional Australia and it remains relevant today," Coonan said yesterday. "Sacrificing OPEL on the altar of the costly NBN experiment has meant only a handful of people in regional Australia have taken up the service thus far."

The OPEL plan was killed off in early 2008 by the newly installed Labor government in favour of its own fibre-to-the-home project that ultimately became the NBN. Recently, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy described Coonan's $1 billion OPEL wireless vision as a "dog that got put down".

Coonan rose in the Senate yesterday to announce her retirement, saying that after 15 years in the parliament it was time to move on. Coonan admitted that her time as communications minister from July 2004 until the Howard Government was voted out in November 2007 had been one of the most challenging points in her parliamentary career.

"In the vast Communications portfolio I inherited [there were] many policy challenges including some major unfinished business; to get legislation passed to enable completion of the sale of Telstra and to reform media regulation that had been in place, virtually untouched, for over 20 years," she said.

"This was when rapid advances in technology were and still are transforming the media landscape, making existing regulatory settings of converged platforms, with global reach, increasingly redundant."

Although she admitted she had sympathy for any minister in charge of developing communications policy in such a changing environment, she warned that this environment is exactly the reason why the government should not be locking Australians into a single technology — fibre — pointing to the example of the recent US research for Data In, Data Out (DIDO) wireless technology, which promises wireless speeds up to 1000 times faster than those offered today.

"There are enormous hazards inherent in picking one dominant technology, fibre to the home, for a new ubiquitous network, when all the risk is borne by taxpayers who will likely be left with a sub-optimal network when something more efficient comes along, as it surely will over a 10-year roll-out," she said.

Coonan put the government investment figure for the NBN at between $50 and $80 billion, despite the cost of the network being put at $35.9 billion, with government investment estimated at $27.1 billion. She then questioned whether this investment would guarantee a future-proof network.

The senator added that while there was bipartisan agreement that all Australians should all have access to fast, affordable broadband, and said she would like to see broadband included in the telephone guarantee already offered by government, currently provided by Telstra.

"I, for one, consider that this basic guarantee should be provided in the Universal Service Obligation [USO]. The days when it is sufficient to guarantee Australians a phone on the wall have well and truly been superseded by the need for access to a fast and affordable broadband service regardless of where you live."

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government AU, NBN

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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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28 comments
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  • Senator Coonan knows nothing, says anything.

    Well, if she's shedding tears for the OPEL that never was, then she's the only one.

    And her grasp of DIDO and fibre technologies... well, let's just not bank her hopes for becoming an IT consultant anytime soon. It's her"sub-optimal" claim about the NBN's fibre network that is shamelessly ignorant.

    If only all the other dinosaurs from the Howard era would become extinct as well.
    Gwyntaglaw
  • "who will likely be left with a sub-optimal network when something more efficient comes along, as it surely will over a 10-year roll-out,"

    LOL. The hypocrisy is breathtaking, this is basically an admission that the OPEL project was a lemon. As for "sub-optimal network" & "future-proof network" I guess Coonan hasn't done much research on this subject, that is the only way to explain such ignorance about the capabilities of fibre.

    I do wonder what her definition of an optimal network is though... hmmm, let me guess a FTTN patchwork with a bit of HFC here and there with wireless filling in the gaps... wait come to think of it why are the coalition even persisting with this plan isn't DIDO going to save us in 10 years???
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • Does anyone really care about what numnuts has to say? She is retiring FFS! The coalition had their chance and they blew it.

    I wouldn't be surprised if DIDO is just snake oil, it sounds a bit like BS to me the white paper (http://www.rearden.com/DIDO/DIDO_White_Paper_110727.pdf) is a bit of a joke and is terribly light on details. Even if it is real it's still years away before it's going to be ready to roll out, fiber is ready to be rolled out now.

    If we keep waiting for magic technologies that are better and faster and cheaper than fiber then the NBN will never be built.
    Jingles-8366c
  • I have read the comments in this space for some time, I do not understand the emotional fervour that is displayed by many of the participants.
    So now my 2 cents worth.
    My issue with the NBN is that it is a political decision rather than an engineered, commercial or social decision. And like most political decisions, from any side, if you don't take advice and listen to it, you get it wrong.
    I have planned, designed and constructed telecommunications networks for the last (mumbles to ones self) years.
    This project would not stand up to the most rudimentary analysis of its engineering or commercial outcomes.
    The other thing that concerns me is that it will take several years for the voters to discover that the benefits fall far short of their expectations. By that time the incumbents will be voted out and the new government will have the legacy of a $80B network that will most likely be dark fibre.
    Where did $80B come from? As those who have been following the project will know, Telstra will be paid almost $1B per annum for rent (not included in the $36B), another $10B to gain access to the Telstra network. Additionally rent will be paid to the power distribution authorities for mounting the fibre on the poles. The additional load on our power grid by millions of NTU's being run 24 hours per day is not included.
    I am not saying don't build the NBN, but make sure that the technology deployed is the right technology and that people have a clear knowledge of what it will cost and what it will mean to them and Australia.
    Technogog
    • Welcome to the world of governments, Technogog. Where ALL significant decisions are political decisions. Build a new road here -- a rail line there -- a hospital somewhere else. All political! There is no technocratically precise way to allocate all funds and make all decisions. You have to ask yourself what decisions you WANT to make. Should we do more for people with disabilities? Should we make it more attractive to create more jobs in the regions? Should we do more (or less) to help families?

      That's what we elect governments to do - to represent our interests when making those big kinds of decisions. It's why government is different from everything else. You have to know what you want to DO with it.

      Please, don't make the mistake of adding up every figure you have heard of and coming up with a big lump sum like $80 billion. You haven't made any effort to sort out capex from opex. And balanced the income earned against opex.

      It's like the Sydney Opera House - if you added up every dollar ever spent on the place... then it would appear to have cost billions and billions, and by that measure in fact we're still paying for it, because there are outgoings every day (maintenance and all other kinds of operating expenditures).

      And in both cases they are productive assets - they earn an income. Not like a road, where once you've built it you never get a penny back.

      What engineered or commercial decision would have built us the Sydney Opera House? None, obviously - they would have flogged off the land for "luxury apartments". And what social decision either? Did it fulfil a widespread, yawning, clamouring need for a great big cultural temple on the site? Hardly! But who would give it back now? Was it wrong to build because there hadn't been a Cost Benefit Analysis - or because an engineer claimed there was a way to do it cheaper (undoubtedly there was)?
      Gwyntaglaw
      • Uh, except the sydney opera house is currently running at a loss. Services a small number of patrons considering the population of sydney alone, and both the SOH trust and the state government are wondering how they can afford to keep the placing running, or if they should just shut it down.
        Tomhows
      • Welcome to the world of government, where they take your money **** it up the wall, then give you something dodgy that private industry could have delivered sooner and for less overall cost.

        Gwyntaglaw, you have made a very bizarre statement. You are saying that governments are in a league of their own, and that we shouldn't try to judge them by usual standards, instead we should judge them by by magical government standards.

        But if you think it requires government action to help disadvantaged people or people with disabilities, you are very wrong. Those are the people who suffer the most under a large government, because the larger a government gets, the more opportunity and innvoation it removes from the overall economy.

        Who are the people who help the disadvantaged? They are their friends, family, neighbours, and the charities that receive donations from the broader community, all of these are being taxed by the government. All of these will be paying more for electricity due to carbon taxation, all of these will be paying more for internet under the NBN internet tax, all of these will be paying increased income tax to cover the government's skyrocking debt....

        Governments take from the strong and give to the weak. But it is the strong who are best able to help the weak, because when one man helps another man to become strong, he gains a strong friend. Governments on the other hand are in the business of cutting everyone else down so that they are numero uno.

        Case in point, with the NBN on the way, a new government monopoly, all the competitors are being bought out or regulated out of existance. This forces eveyone who wants a terrestial internet connection at their house to use NBN. It's essentially all a big power grab by the government.
        coolguy4
    • "I do not understand the emotional fervour that is displayed by many of the participants."

      I do not understand the emotional attachment people have for the copper network that needs to be upgraded and replaced. These anti-NBN crusaders are far more emotional about opposing the NBN and most of it is totally unnecessary. The flawed arguments they have are usually about money but we've already established that the cost to taxpayers over the build time of the network really isn’t that much and contrary to what they say and would have you believe is actually affordable.



      "My issue with the NBN is that it is a political decision rather than an engineered, commercial or social decision."

      Wrong. The NBN only became political after the last election. Long before Labor even came up with the FTTH plan people accepted that fibre was the future. When they announced that is what they were doing everyone was pleasantly surprised and it simply made sense, it was only after the coalition failed to gain power that it became so political.




      “This project would not stand up to the most rudimentary analysis of its engineering or commercial outcomes.”

      What are you basing this on?



      "Where did $80B come from?"

      Exactly. Where does this 80 billion dollar figure come from? Helen Coonan? The coalition? How credible are they? She says the NBN will cost 80 billion but the fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter how much it costs, it could cost 80 trillion, the number to look at is how much is the government contributing and that number is $27 billion.



      "The additional load on our power grid by millions of NTU's being run 24 hours per day is not included."

      I think you are overestimating the power consumption of the NTUs, regardless the total power consumption of the network will be much less than the current copper network.



      “make sure that the technology deployed is the right technology”

      What is the right technology?
      Hubert Cumberdale
      • > Long before Labor even came up with the FTTH plan people accepted that fibre was the future.

        You co-ordinate being against the NBN as being against fibre. Private companies could build fibre much faster and cheaper than the NBN. Private companies built the mobile networks.... they could have built the fibre networks. Unfortunately with the NBN looming, nobody is going to invest.

        >Where does this 80 billion dollar figure come from?

        It is an unequivocal fact that the NBN will cost more than it should.
        1. It is being built by a government. Governments always spend more than they should.
        2. It is an overbuild, it is being built in places where there is not sufficient demand, this increases the overall cost and the maintenance costs. Further to that, the labour costs will be inflated as the project will drain on the labour market.
        3. The competition is being eliminated. The only reason they would do this is to ensure that they can charge what they like. Hence there will be an internet tax to pay for the NBN.
        4. Because this is a monopoly project, it will mean that private investment in the market will be suppressed. The effect will be similar to the effect of Telstra in the 90s and early 2000s. It used to be Telstra's way or the highway, soon it will NBN or the highway. The consequence of under-investment over the long term will mean that the NBN will be unchallenged in the market and prices will stagnate. Conroy himself said that the cost of the cheapest NBN plan will NEVER drop, instead the cost of living will rise so that the NBN will SEEM cheaper.

        40, 80, 90, 100, 120 billion. It really doesn't matter what price you put on it, we know it will cost more than it should. This wasted money is real money, earned by Australians and taxed away from them. This is money that people could be spending on their families, on their friends, donating, investing in small business generally, making the world a better place. That is something that governments can never achieve, since whatever they do, they rely on coercion.

        >What is the right technology?
        Why should anyone decide? It's like saying which is 'the one website' that the government should fund and make it illegal for every other website to exist because that will save money. Any technology that can be brought to the market can find a niche. Copper will be useful for a long time to come. Why destroy something that works? It's as if you build a new bridge, a strong bridge that can carry heavy trucks, great, but why blow up the old bridge? It was fine as it was, and it increased the overall capacity across the river. Now everyone has to use the new bridge, Cook too much for dinner? Why throw it out when you can put some in the fridge? Then you can eat some for lunch tomorrow? Destroying the copper network is clearly wasteful, and a loss of productivity.
        coolguy4
        • "Private companies could build fibre much faster and cheaper than the NBN."

          Go. Do it. Prove it.




          "Unfortunately with the NBN looming, nobody is going to invest."

          Unfortunately nobody really had any plan ever to.




          "It is an unequivocal fact that the NBN will cost more than it should blah blah blah"

          -10 for failing to read and comprehend my comment, you know you could have saved yourself a lot of time and trouble you bothered to read the whole paragraph, here it is again: the fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter how much it costs, it could cost 80 trillion, the number to look at is how much is the government contributing and that number is $27 billion. Understand now? I didn’t think so...




          "Why should anyone decide?"

          That is a question you have to ask Technogog, he says "make sure that the technology deployed is the right technology" so what is the "right technology"? Are you even paying attention to this conversation?




          "Destroying the copper network is clearly wasteful, and a loss of productivity."

          False.
          Hubert Cumberdale
          • Private companies have built fiber around the world much much cheaper than NBN could hope for, there is already enough proof around the world
            deteego
          • 93% coverage? I doubt it. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the economies of scope... oh wait fibre is the future thanks for confirming that.
            Hubert Cumberdale
    • Unfortunately a commercial decsion would never eventuate under the crap that the Libs left us. T$ was happy to let us plod along on aging copper. As for a social decision, I believe it WAS a social decision seeing as for many, the support for the NBN as fibre rather than something else is there. Most people who look at the NBN that I mix with look at it as a future tech. Might not be needed now, but from all projections, which the libs ignore 5 years beyond now (political expediency 101) says we will need more than the max 40 they will be willing to subsidize.

      I also love your bullship 80B figure. EVERY figure that isnt liberal backed says it will come in under 40b. The telstra rents etc are in the actual $ figure.
      Idryss-73380
    • You mention the additional 'load' of adding millions of NTU's onto the grid, but seem to forget;
      * Fiber will keep the data digital all the way, DSL converts it from digital to analog, then has to filter the crap out at the other end, then convert it back into analog - the MOD in MODem stands for Modulate.
      * The gain from removing millions of DSLAM's.
      Duideka-0e151
      • Yeah and for FTTH everyone has to have an installed power hungry ONT in the house that needs to convert the optical signal into electrical signal, as well as handing out batteries to everyone that need to be replaced/can't even be recycled

        So much for NBN being 'green'
        deteego
  • I agree with your observations on the Opera house, I am old enough to remember them and at the time I probably thought it was a waste of money. Boy was I wrong.
    However I am involved enough with Telstra and now the NBN to know that Australia could have rolled this out in a much more considered way and achieved the same or better outcome, faster and for a lot lower cost.
    This governments ability to manage large innovative programmes is very poor.
    The evidence is there already, Insulation scheme, Laptops for all students, education scheme.
    Technogog
    • “Australia could have rolled this out in a much more considered way and achieved the same or better outcome, faster and for a lot lower cost.

      Really? Tell us how. I genuinely want to know how. Just think if you tell enough people the word will eventually get to NBNco and they can modify the rollout and save Australian taxpayers much $$$. Words to note: “considered”, “same or better”, “faster” and “lower cost”. Go!


      “The evidence is there already, Insulation scheme, Laptops for all students, education scheme.”

      Now we are making some progress and getting to the real meat of the issue and that is coalition party voter copy/pastes comments from The Australian. Nothing else to see here.
      Hubert Cumberdale
  • ROFL @ Coonan, a minister who had no idea about her portfolio, who toed the party line until the 'Oh F***' moment, tried to pull a rabbit out the hat, and is now desperately seeking to validate and give some credibility and worth to her time in politics for when she decides to write her memoirs.
    A loser who didn't understand, had no knowledge, and was prepared to do whatever she was told.

    Good riddance.
    Tailgator
  • OPEL had an effective range of about 2km from the tower. That means LOTS of towers, in whose backyards, on land paid for by whom? Labor's detractors usually grudgingly admit that fibre to premises is certainly the best solution - they usually say "Rolls Royce" sooner or later - but that we can't afford it. Well, the cost of OPEL for the inadequate coverage it would have delivered are the reasons it was abandoned.

    It's all a bit like the DIDO vapourware announcement this month, really. If you check out the white paper, and remember this is all theory, it needs huge fibre pipes serving multiple towers at separations of about a hundred metres to deliver the claimed speeds. It uses the Google approach of getting heaps of high-powered servers to simultaneously process the request, and the quickest server in that moment sends its results to the user, while the others' efforts are wasted.

    Fibre to premises is the only future-proof solution. It has no speed limit. It is immune to floods, electrical interference, sunspot radiation, and covert surveillance. Spending $12 billion to lay fibre to almost every premises in the country, replacing copper that is already past its nominal in-ground life, is a great national project, and should have bipartisan support.
    umbria
  • Lol, she is against locking us into one technology, yet for OPEL's solution which was JUST wireless, and against the NBN which is Satelitte + Wireless + Fiber.

    AND she is responsible for the sale of Telstra?!?

    Yeah, let's listen to her.
    Duideka-0e151