Election rant 2: NBN Co wrath

Election rant 2: NBN Co wrath

Summary: They say you should love the sinner and hate the sin, but Shadow Minister for Finance and Debt Reduction Andrew Robb seemed to hate just about everybody as he fronted the media with Tony Smith to announce the Coalition's long-awaited broadband policy.

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TOPICS: Government AU
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They say you should love the sinner and hate the sin, but Shadow Minister for Finance and Debt Reduction Andrew Robb seemed to hate just about everybody as he fronted the media with Tony Smith to announce the Coalition's long-awaited broadband policy.

Andrew Robb

Shadow Minister for Finance and Debt Reduction Andrew Robb is biting the "talentless" hands that will feed his party, before it has even been elected. (Credit: YouTube)

With a few acerbic, ill-considered comments he not only disparaged the careers and capabilities of the hundreds of people who are working hard to deliver the fibre NBN revolution, he also threatened to bring the Coalition's own broadband plan crashing down around his ears by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that may just come true.

Robb, you may recall, was the grumpy old Luddite who stood next to Smith in Toby Abbott's absence, arguing the Coalition's case for fiscal responsibility while ignoring questions about Abbott — and cutting off journalists when things got even a little bit heated, such as when one journalist mentioned the word "costings". Suddenly Tony Smith had to leave, Robb said, but both managed to stick around for many minutes' more worth of questions once the topic was changed. (The same thing happened when a journalist questioned the Coalition's reliance on the private sector to build its networks).

In an interesting turn, however, Robb, who also happens to chair the Liberal Party's Policy Development Committee, decided the press conference was an ideal time to launch a personal attack on NBN Co's team of hard-working engineers. Labelling the company "the usual stodgy, massive, bureaucratic, government-owned monopoly", he boldly proclaimed that the organisation was filled with "talentless" staff and would not attract "highly skilled, highly innovative, highly specialised talents ... these people value being part of an entrepreneurial creative industry and that is what we will seek to promote".

The mind boggles. Robb may have thought he was attacking a Labor party machine, but what he clearly had not considered was that he was actually taking on the same people his party will have to rely on to deliver the Coalition's own broadband vision. The party's own policy depends on it, right there in black and white (PDF): "By drawing on selected personnel and resources of the current NBN Co and telecommunications regulators such as ACMA and the ACCC ... it will take full advantage of the work done and expertise held by NBN Co ... its management will be required to prepare a new business plan for approval by the minister."

Robb seems to feel these technically minded types would not be attracted to building a world-class, nationwide fibre network ... but would stick around for an inevitable staff cull by the Liberals, followed by a mandate that they throw out their work to date and focus on building a significantly poorer, slower and less capable network. This is the equivalent of buying Google, firing half the staff and forcing them to write spam emails for a living.

Excuse me for a moment. Robb seems to feel these technically minded types would not be attracted to building a world-class, nationwide fibre network like they are already doing now, but that they would stick around for an inevitable staff cull by the Liberals, followed by a mandate that they throw out their work to date and focus on building a significantly poorer, slower and less capable network. This is the equivalent of buying Google, firing half the staff and forcing them to write spam emails for a living.

If Robb thought he was speaking sense, he should be ashamed of himself; he has let himself and his party sorely down by spelling out exactly the contempt with which he views all of them. Not only that, but if Robb had bothered to look beyond his own callous rhetoric, he would realise that NBN Co is currently home to pretty much the largest collection of telecommunications brains in the country.

I know this because I recently spent an inordinate amount of time learning about these people and their qualifications; the results are collated in our NBN Co files and do, if I may say so, make for interesting reading.

After all, the company is headed by a robust and rational Mike Quigley, who had a distinguished career at one of the world's largest telecommunications providers and took on the NBN Co appointment as an intellectual challenge more than out of any financial need. Steve Christian, head of network operations, ran Optus' networks business for years.

CTO Gary McLaren is a lawyer and engineer who headed the communications industry's engagement with NBN Co. CIO Claire Rawlins served as chief operating officer with major US telco Qwest. Jim Hassell, head of product development and sales director, ran major IT vendor Sun Microsystems for years. CFO Jean-Pascal Beaufret spent years managing France's entire tax system, for goodness' sake.

These are not lightweights by any sense of the word. In fact, NBN Co's senior executives have hundreds of years in senior positions at many of the world's leading telecommunications carriers and providers. These people know their technology, their regulation, their law more than just about anybody in the world — and I'd put my money on many of them against Robb in a financial battle of wits, too.

If Robb had bothered to look beyond his own callous rhetoric, he would realise that NBN Co is currently home to pretty much the largest collection of telecommunications brains in the country... Many of them interrupted perfectly excellent, rewarding careers to take up the challenge that NBN Co provided. Make no mistake about it: NBN Co is Australia's own Manhattan Project.

Even the NBN Co rank-and-file is mostly comprised of bright sparks — the people who have designed and run the fixed and mobile networks of Optus, Vodafone, Three and others over the past 20 years or so. Many of them interrupted perfectly excellent, rewarding careers to take up the challenge that NBN Co provided. Make no mistake about it: NBN Co is Australia's own Manhattan Project.

Robb's conclusion that these people are anything but "highly skilled, highly innovative, highly specialised talents" shows the depth of his ignorance — not only of NBN Co, but of his party's own policies. Given that he heads the committee that authors these policies, he should really resign from that position in disgrace; to front the media at the launch of a major policy, then show such utter disregard for the contents of that policy and the people it affects, is simply inexcusable.

He will not, of course, resign, but if this sort of angry diatribe indicates the Coalition's position towards NBN Co and reflects its communications philosophy, we cannot but question Robb's judgement and the fundamental premise of the party's policy.

We must also wonder exactly what would happen, should the Coalition win and show up at NBN Co's doorstep for a bout of team building. I cannot speak for Mike Quigley, of course, but if I were in his position, doing a job for free because I loved it, then being re-tasked to execute such a mind-bogglingly ordinary policy, I would be the first one out the door. I suspect he has better things to do than to waste his time building a retrograde, poorly-specified network with a shoestring budget and a derisive administrative philosophy that has already labelled its staff as incapable bludgers.

One suspects many others would also take a Coalition victory as their sign to find a more interesting challenge against which to apply themselves. This would certainly fulfil the Coalition's vision of a more streamlined NBN Co, but it would also ensure what I can only imagine would be a defeated culture of frustrated ex-innovators beaten down by a bureaucracy as stodgy and massive as anything Robb could have ever imagined.

This is the second in a series of election rants, one for each of the deadly sins and each of the seven days that are remaining until the election. The first was entitled "wireless greed". Renai LeMay plays the devil's advocate.

Topic: Government AU

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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41 comments
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  • " Make no mistake about it: NBN Co is Australia's own Manhattan Project."

    Hey that's really funny, you are joking of course, hey hang on a sec you're not it is repeated in the highlight box on the right hand side - sorry it's still really funny it has to be satire, "Australia's own Manhattan Project" - LOL.
    advocate-d95d7
  • Robert Oppenheimer, Ed Teller, Enrico Fermi et al. These men were giants in the world of Physics. Andrew Robb was wrong to insult the NBN staff but your over the top comparison to the Manhattan Project not only embarrasses you but them as well.

    Lets face it, far more intellectual property resides in the equipment the NBN Co will be installing - pretty much all of it designed and manufactured overseas if I'm not mistaken.
    SEN-ffa95
  • What nongs are the tech heads that want to spend aprx $2000 per person to supply the broadband, absolute craziness especially with Labor record of waste. Most people will not be using it because of the cost, what a wate of money. I can get faster internet now but am not going to update to a faster plan because of the cost.
    rntech-0e222
  • I'm with you guys; Lets leave the Telstra monopoly in place and stick with copper wires. Hey they dont rust, anyway I already have Telstra FTTH from when pay tv came in so I'm right Jack.
    jkikkert
  • We have a pioneering project, a willing government and people with vision and talent filling the team tasked with designing implementing it. We should be enthusiastically seizing the moment! What is it with a section of the Australian community who are afraid of progress and seem to be weighted down with tall poppy syndrome? It's just sad.
    redrover-fac06
  • "Australia's own Manhattan Project"

    I'm nominating you for the Ralph Magazine;**** of the Year" award for 2010. Breathtaking ignorance of three fields - the modern economy, technology and history - displayed in four words.
    PhilipC-1ce7f
  • Agree with nearly all of it - the NBNco staff know their stuff, and claims otherwise are ludacris.
    Duideka-0e151
  • Best part of the NBN is how it irritates the hell out of coalition nuftys.
    Priceless
    Lungy
  • It strikes me as highly concerning that no cost benefit analysis has been forthcoming from anywhere in the industry for the NBN. On the face of it the cost to taxpayers and the hideously expensive prices that the consumer will almost certainly face just to use it are guaranteed to to make the NBN a white elephant.
    If the NBN staff are so experienced, talented and aware of what they are doing I suggest they prepare a cost benefit analysis ASAP. Unfortunately these tens of billions of debt the ALP is promising for this is a lucrative gravy train for some.
    RodCF
  • That's not true, you have been fed false information.

    Firstly, you don't have a choice to use it or not as the old copper will be ripped up and deactivated.

    Secondly, fiber plans operating in Tasmania at current start at ZERO DOLLARS PER MONTH. You get charged $2/GB it runs at 1 Mbit/s above the THEORETICAL MAXIMUM speed of ADSL2+ - IE: absolute best you can get on copper at current, let alone the average.

    It also has home phone for, you guessed it, $0 per month, you get charged for your calls only.

    Are you getting cheaper than $2/month for 25Mbps internet with home phone included? If so, please point to me where.

    There will ofcourse be cheaper high usage plans, 240GB for $99 is being offered and will probably be even cheaper when ISP's the likes of TPG get on board (TPG don't have a presense in Tas at current, so have not released NBN plans)

    Please stop saying the NBN will cost customers more. If it did, nearly all the ISP's would not be rejoicing over the NBN.
    Duideka-0e151
  • What?

    You are talking about HFC Cable and not copper.

    You are lucky to have access to that, many don't.

    However, Telstra HFC will be removed as the NBN is laid out, as there is no reason to keep a more expensive and inferiour technology in operation.
    Duideka-0e151
  • (:p)
    jkikkert
  • I heard also they were also working a on a cure for cancer and a solution for global warming.
    advocate-d95d7
  • The key difference with the HFC rollout is that the taxpayer didn't have to pay for it, it was concentrated in the high population areas of our biggest capital cities and Telstra and Optus STILL lost money on it.

    Never mind the $43 billion NBN network won't make any money either, so in reality they are the same.
    advocate-d95d7
  • The only reason the NBN Tasmania pilot looks cheap is that the taxpayer is subsidising the actual cost, 'zero dollars per month' it doesn't come wrapped up as a gift with a big red ribbon better than that, best not charge the Tasmanian pilot customers a reasonable fee based on the current industry standards otherwise no one would be interested.

    The ISP's are rejoicing over the NBN because they don't have to pay the NBNCo what it actually costs based on industry standards of a commercially viable ROI, it is based on the taxpayer funded sinkhole principle where there more it loses the more taxpayer funds are pumped in so the Labor Government doesn't lose face.

    ISP's couldn't give a stuff if the NBN rollout bleeds millions, they make their margin regardless thank you very much.
    advocate-d95d7
  • We do have some physics purists in the audience -- wonderful! Fair enough -- if the comparison with the Manhattan Project offends anybody's sensibilities, let's call NBN Co the government's own Ocean's 11. The point is that these are talented people, brought together to leverage their strengths to deliver a significant and world-changing outcome. Anybody who has sat in on one of NBN Co's technical briefings would find it hard to argue with that.

    I might also mention that, in the same appearance in which he stood up and slandered the people of NBN Co, Andrew Robb also had to apologise for misplacing a decimal point in one of the financial-related press releases he had just released. http://bit.ly/cVSFEj. You know, just sayin'.
    braue
  • Advoate, didn't know the liberals worked on weekends ? This is a Nation building infrastructure like the Snowy and Harbor Bridge. Did they do a business plan for the coat hanger ? NO . Howard had no idea about the inter-google thing and has passed his ideas to the new idiots in the coal alition. the tax from the rich miners would pay for this in about 2-3 years. We had 12 years of doing nothing, china started laying fibre in 2001, its future proof , the fibre once layed, only needs the bits at the ends to be upgraded in the future,as costs come down . Like the 100 to 1000 boxes have become cheaper. This means that no matter how far u are away from the exchange , it will be the same speed, great for the bush and outer suburbs.
    breadvanner
  • The tax payer is subsidising building the network, not the monthly costs.
    Duideka-0e151
  • Actually they did.

    Telstra got the funds to build the HFC network from the funds generated by the copper network they bought from the government at a reduced cost.

    Why do you think it wont make any money?!?

    9.1 million people have internet, times that by $10 a month each and that's $91m per month made, a billion per year.....

    (right now everyone pays $30 line rental each)
    Duideka-0e151
  • Adding to that, the reason Optus and Telstra lost money on it was because you had to sell your kidneys to pay for it, until recently it wasnt worth the time of day - even now tho, DSL is still far better value.
    Duideka-0e151