Foes liken NBN to Nth Korea, want it anyway

Foes liken NBN to Nth Korea, want it anyway

Summary: Whinging Telstra shareholders followed Malcolm Turnbull's lead, showing no shame in comparing the government-driven separation of Telstra to authoritarian regimes where citizens have few rights and live in perpetual fear of starvation, torture, imprisonment and death. As hypocritical complaints mount over the latest NBN schedule, one wonders whether we could put some perspective back into the NBN debate — or have anti-NBN crusaders jumped the shark for good?


Those who frequent internet forums would be aware of Godwin's Law, which more or less says that once a debate degrades enough to the stage where one person calls another person a Nazi, any chance for meaningful debate has been lost. Foaming-at-the-mouth anti-National Broadband Network (NBN) types haven't invoked the Nazis yet, but they've come close with hysterical, incorrect and frankly offensive discourse that overstates the NBN's problems and makes a mockery of their new complaints that they're not getting broadband fast enough.

Malcolm Turnbull has led the way here; our jet-setting shadow communications minister has left no junket unturned this year searching for ways to discredit the NBN. He has told us that the Chinese think it represents too much government intervention (nudge nudge wink wink); that New Zealand is not only beating us in rugby but also knows how to build a broadband network for one tenth of the price; that our broadband makes Greece look thrifty; that Germany and the UK are out-engineering us; that South Korea has the right idea with its cable roll-out; and that Labor's NBN policy is something that you'd expect in dictatorships like Cuba or North Korea.

It's hard to imagine that starving, repressed and terrified citizens of personality cults in North Korea, Libya, Cuba and elsewhere would care about telecoms structural separation.
(Image by yeowatzup, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Many Telstra shareholders joined the chorus during their NBN Co vote this week, with spittle flying and egos bristling as a stream of angry attendees vented their spleens at being forced to sign up for a free pass that will bolster their dividends for years to come. Our government had become a "dictatorship" on par with Libya and Iraq, furious shareholders shouted before voting for the deal anyway.


NBN opponents may have their concerns, but blithely evoking far-away dictatorships fundamentally disrespects the very real problems that citizens in those countries face — and I'm not talking about the high cost of global roaming or the price of skinny double-strength caramel mochaccinos here.

I doubt whether residents of Libya, for example, would be too concerned about the methods by which until recently the Gadaffi-controlled telco Libya Telecom & Technology was to be structurally separated; they're far more concerned with ensuring that they have access to running water, and that their various body parts stay connected to each other as a debilitating civil war rages around them.

Evoking those countries trivialises the plight of desperate refugees that have fled them for reasons far more important than their dislike of domestic telecommunications policy..

I don't think that Cubans would worry about which model was used in the fanciful separation of ETECSA when they're too busy struggling to pay for their GSM mobile phones, analog televisions and government-crippled internet access to worry about the nuances of telecommunications competition. We may whinge about poor 4G coverage, but Cubans have no 3G services at all, and the country only shut down its analog mobile network in 2009.

And I really find it hard to believe that the citizens of Pyongyang, who face constant intellectual subjugation and slow death by starvation, would have much of an opinion either way about structural separation. This is a state so heavily militarised and authoritarian, remember, that millions have never even heard of the internet, that you need a licence to buy a TV or a radio, that only 10 per cent of premises have a telephone and that mobile phones were flat-out banned until 2009.

The governments of Libya, North Korea, Cuba or any other struggling second-world dictatorship would never even contemplate telecommunications separation — or, for that matter, any of the thousands of other basic human freedoms that Australians take for granted. The free and open discourse enabled by Australian democracy, which has made demonising the prime minister and her Cabinet a national pastime, would be met with arrests, torture, prison or summary execution.

Mentioning those countries in the context of a debate about telecommunications is an embarrassment worthy of Godwin's Law. It denigrates the cause of human rights, normalises xenophobia and trivialises the plight of millions of desperate refugees who have fled those countries for reasons far more important than their dislike of domestic telecommunications policy. And, given that it comes as Telstra shareholders are handed a government-funded fillip the likes of which has never been seen, it reflects a loss of perspective that is simply disgraceful.

But wait; it gets worse.

As if it were possible, the situation got even more embarrassing this week for all involved, as knives were quickly drawn after new NBN roll-out plans showed that the network will not be completed by next year. Allegations of political bias flew thick and fast in this week's Senate Estimates hearing, where Liberal and Labor Senators spent hours attacking each other amidst allegations that Mike Quigley and Stephen Conroy had somehow conspired to pay back the Liberals for their constant attacks on the project and on Conroy.

Liberal policy requires that its members hate the NBN with a passion, but common sense drives its hypocritical representatives to complain loudly, and vent half-formed conspiracy theories, when their constituents are overlooked.

Paul Fletcher, who has lately taken on the generation of NBN FUD as a hobby, extended his run of misinformed press releases by rushing out yet another missive alleging that the NBN is "increasingly political" as evidenced by what he said was an obvious NBN Co bias towards Labor seats. "Every Tasmanian site — new or existing — is in a Labor or Independent electorate," Fletcher wrote.

The punch line to this joke is so funny and sad at the same time that I don't know whether Stephen Conroy was laughing or banging his head on the table when he delivered it. Because, of course, there are no Liberal electorates in Tasmania at all; the last Liberals were thrown out of the state in the 2007 election. Fletcher's supposed argument is nothing more than a modern version of the old where-do-they-bury-the-survivors joke.

If Labor was trying to win votes with the NBN, you'd think it would actually focus on marginal Coalition seats rather than only rewarding people who had already voted for the project.

Coming off as being equally silly is Victoria's Liberal Baillieu government — the same one, you may recall, that reversed the previous government's plan to boost NBN take-up by making the network an opt-out affair. State Technology Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips is now complaining that Victoria hasn't gotten its fair share, and wants Stephen Conroy to intervene to increase the percentage.

Imagine how that would go over: Conroy, who represents a Victorian electorate, would be keelhauled for giving preferential treatment to his own electorate, and the Coalition would beat its chest and rend its garments while crying out about NBN politics and demanding his resignation.

Even Labor MPs are whinging: Western Sydney representative Ed Husic, for one, hates that the new roll-out focuses on new housing estates and expanding existing NBN sites rather than servicing broadband-deprived suburbs in his electorate. Never mind that his electorate includes Doonside, one of the few areas to actually have NBN services, albeit in a greenfields site. Husic certainly wasn't complaining last month when he joined Conroy for a photo opportunity to trumpet the success of NBN Co in reaching the area.

Quigley, ever forbearing, was pressured by Senator Birmingham on the point, and argued that it was a red herring. I'd suggest that he's right — if Labor was trying to win votes with the NBN in the lead up to an election, you'd think it would actually prioritise marginal Coalition seats rather than only rewarding people who had already voted for the project.

Indeed, those alleging political favouritism fail to consider that if the government was to intentionally consider political affiliations — even to ensure that there's an even balance of Labor and Liberal seats — they would be playing the same breed of politics that they're being accused of doing already.

Ensuring that states get a number of sites proportional to their population, as Victoria's government is demanding, is equally problematic, because it would favour NSW and Victoria, leaving less-populous WA, NT, SA, ACT, Tasmania and northern Queensland waiting while heavily populated capital cities were wired up. Since one of the NBN's goals is to bring equitable access to the many markets that the private sector has ignored, stacking the deck in this way would be unacceptable.

Ultimately, everybody will enjoy the NBN and the benefits that it brings — even the Liberal voters and Telstra shareholders who slam the project in the name of Muammar Gaddafi, Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-il, but will happily collect dividends from the new opportunities that it gives Telstra. The hypocrisy is flying so thick and fast that perhaps someone should just call Julia Gillard a Nazi so that everybody can invoke Godwin's Law, write the one-eyed NBN haters out of the public debate altogether and just get on with it.

What do you think? Has opposition to the NBN simply jumped the shark? Or do we really have it as bad as they say?

Topics: NBN, Broadband, Government AU, Telcos, Telstra


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.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • The NBN agenda has been politically driven since day 1. The Rudd/Conroy concept was flawed from an engineering point of view, since before NBN Co was created. Burdened with impossible targets, unrealistic time frames, and fantasy budgets, the NBN Co cannot succeed.

    The NBN Co leaders were not selected for their experience in operating major telecommunications networks, but they came from vendors of telecom equipment. Their inability to run a competitive vendor selection and management process, is evidenced in their propensity for cosy non-competitive arrangements they've entered into at in every phase thus far. Costing us the opportunity for competitive supply of equipment and services.

    To achieve what Australia needs will take a generation, and will cost far more than is politically expedient to discuss. However, in the mean time, Australia is suffering from, and will pay for, the waste of paying Telstra and Optus to turn off their perfectly functioning infrastructure, and creating a step-function of demand for personnel and equipment that cannot be cost effectively provided.

    It is no wonder that people, particularly some among the telecommunications community, are frustrated and upset at the path that is being trod, seeming back to the days of the Post Master General, creating a monopoly over our telecommunications access infrastructure.
    • Nice ramble. I'll ignore most of it since it's just incorrect dribble, but the last paragraph gave me a chuckle.

      Perhaps you'd care to explain exactly what our current comms network is, if not a "monopoly over our telecommunications infrastructure"? With the exception of the 15% of people who had Optus string HFC past their house before they woke up to the billions of dollars they were wasting, perhaps you's care to demonstrate the thriving infrastructure competition that exists in Australia?
    • I think I'd add a nice quote from Optus that quite clearly explains their position on infrastructure competition:

      "People talk about letting infrastructure competition work. Maybe you should learn a lesson from history.

      "We have empirical evidence of what happened in the late nineties where Optus rolled out a pay TV network down streets in suburban Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

      "So for those that are very brave to ask - and this is always interesting when people tell other people how to spend their money - for those who are very brave to say we should let infrastructure competition continue, [I say] throw money into it.

      "We've certainly seen empirical evidence that that will not work and that's one of the main reasons we support the NBN."
  • A little balance in your story would be appreciated. As evidenced in this forum any post which is even slightly critical of the NBN is roundly critized, the poster demonised as a right wing fanatic or the devil's child.
    I think in recent times most people are accepting this NBN will rollout for the lenght of time this government stays in power and if it passes your door well, "come on in".
    Knowledge Expert
    • It would be against the national interest if the rollout did cease if the Coalition were elected to government. The people who accept this will know by then what they are missing out on if they don't already have access.

      The reason people against the NBN are considered extreme is they base their arguments on contradictions, ill informed information and non factual evidence. This may not make them extreme but refusing to compromise when being corrected does in my view. This article is correct in referencing Godwin's Law. Although usually the discussion doesn't end in hate filled words, it begins that way, especially on this site.

      I would welcome a discussion where people are genuinely interested in discussing the pro's and con's, but people on this site would agree that that is rare.
    • I for one would welcome well thought-out arguments against the NBN as something to be floated and discussed. But all the usual arguments are simply calls for industry stasis and typically don't stand up well to scrutiny, as regular readers would certainly appreciate. I don't think the point is to demonise NBN opponents, although there is always a bit of that in the forums, but to point out that their criticism is often more emotionally based than rationally.

      And, as I wrote above, the new arguments pulling the nudge-nudge-wink-wink card ("we all know China is terrible and even they hate the NBN" or "bloody Hell, Labor is going to make us worse than Greece") are not only equally ineffectual but take the debate somewhere I don't even think Malcolm Turnbull wants to take it. How is he going to explain innuendo like that if in three years he's PM and it's raised during sensitive talks with the Chinese premier?
    • @Doubt - It isn't posts that are critical of the NBN which are so soundly thrashed, it's the ones that clearly use FUD and outright lies to do so that are.
      David himself has had several critical comments about the NBN, and the discussion was excellent.
      But when posters like feilipu above start spouting invented situations, and state pure political hackery as facts, then people often reply with a fair degree of vitriol. I think that this is understandable, but opinions may vary...
      • My opinions are my own. I am not aligned to any political party.

        However, some open questions for discussion:

        Please provide the source of how Rudd/Conroy developed their $43 billion dollar plan?
        Who advised them? Where was the budgeting done?

        My suggestion: they needed to win a **** competition with former Telstra CEO.

        Please name anyone from the NBN Co management team who has been involved at CxO level in operating a telecommunications network with in excess of (say) 5,000,000 customers in their career?

        Check the annual report. Perhaps their search for a new COO will get some real experience.

        Please name any situation where the NBN Co decided to procure from multiple vendors?

        Facts: Alcatel Lucent has exclusive contract for access. Ericsson has exclusive contract for radio, and perhaps most worrying, Silcar has obtained an exclusive contract for construction (after the Head of Construction resigned).

        Facts: DOCSIS HFC is capable of Gb/s (see Virgin Media in UK), and covers 2.2million homes, yet both Telstra and Optus networks will be turned off.
        • Facts: Virgin Media's HFC network is nothing at all like Optus or Telstra's. Virgin Media's network has essentially zero contention because everyone has their own cable run - Optus or Telstra has very high contention as hundreds, maybe even thousands in extreme cases all share the same cable run.
        • @ (non aligned) feilipu

          1. don't know, how did they develop the plan... please enter the magic words aeroplane and (ill get you started) ae******* and *****ope!

          regardless it's a great plan, imo. they must have fluked it eh, cool!

          2. quigley was of course coo of alcatel lucent, as for your strategically plucked 5m customers, who cares?

          take someone like john fletcher (not with nbn as far as i know, just an example), former ceo of brambles. then ceo of coles and also was a telstra director. my point, appointments aren't always as cut and dried as your loaded question and the best person isn't always the most obvious. to prove this, going by your criteria sol trujillo should be the nbn ceo!

          3. multiple vendors as follows...alcatel lucent, ericsson and silcar ;-)

          4. refer above

          ooh as for your not aligned, well you ought to be.
        • Let me see if I can answer to your satisfaction...

          "My opinions are my own. I am not aligned to any political party"

          Yet your first comment is highly politically directed, right down to calling it the "Rudd/Conroy concept".

          "Please provide the source of how Rudd/Conroy developed their $43 billion dollar plan? Who advised them? Where was the budgeting done?"

          The initial plan to advise them was:
          •John Wylie, Lazard Carnegie Wylie CEO.
          •Tony Mitchell, Allphones Chairman.
          •Laureate Professor Rod Tucker, University of Melbourne.
          •Professor Emeritus of Communications, Reg Coutts, University of Adelaide.
          •Tony Shaw, former Australian Communications Authority Chairman.
          •Dr Ken Henry AC, Treasury Secretary
          The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) provided advice on pricing and competition issues and deliver a written report to the Panel ...this began in March of 2008.
          There is a very long timeline of events at

          "Please name anyone from the NBN Co management team who has been involved at CxO level in operating a telecommunications network with in excess of (say) 5,000,000 customers in their career?"

          I should point out that they are just starting to build the network now. I would expect someone who understands network builds more than someone who is experienced in running an already built network.

          "DOCSIS HFC is capable of Gb/s"

          And fibre optics is capable of Pb/s...what's your point?

          "and covers 2.2million homes, yet both Telstra and Optus networks will be turned off"

          Because a competitive private enterprise based telecommunications backbone is 100% profit motivated, and deprives those in less financially viable areas of access to the 21st century. Our choice is either to subsidise private enterprise (which gets messy) or to just build the whole thing for everyone and keep it as fair as possible. Then the retailers can compete for value-add products as they should.
        • They don't need a retail telco CxO because NBN isn't a telco in the usual sense of the word. They don't have 5,000,000 customers and they never will. They will have maybe 100 customers.

          Right now, the NBN is primarily a construction company, and the management team and board is chock full of people with massive expertise in the fields of network design, construction and telecommunications hardware. Exactly what it needs to be. If you think the NBN exec is lacking experience for their task, I wonder what could possibly please you, because it's probably the most qualified management team for their field of any company in Australia.

          ....If you want a discussion based on facts, then you'd better get them right.

          As for procurement/contracting... I'd like to point out that when building a network that must operate seamlessly, it makes sense to choose a single vendor for certain parts of that network. It is standard industry practise to do so. It does not make any sense at all to choose multiple vendors if their equipment is more expensive or has compatibility issues, simple to be able to say "we're using multiple vendors".

          NBN have chose Ericsson exclusively for wireless, presumably because they offered the best equipment for the best price. You don't see Telstra splitting their 4G contracts between Ericsson and Siemens for example, and it would be equally ridiculous for NBN Co to do so. You might end up in a situation like Vodafail, with hardware, software and system issues creating havok. Imagine the headache if they'd split their contract between Ericsson LTE and WiMax for example. Imagine the extra costs associated with supporting two incompatible technologies.

          That said, the NBN has purchased many different components from different vendors. A-L for some optical gear, Nokia-Siemens for other gear. They have shared their fibre contracts between two vendors (Corning and Prysmian).

          Contrary to your supposed "fact", Silcar does NOT have the exclusive contract for fibre rollout.

          They have the contract for NSW, QLD and ACT brownfields.
          Syntheo has the contract for WA brownfields
          Transfield for VIC brownfields
          Conneq is doing TAS brownfields
          Fujitsu have the contract for nationwide greenfields,

          The contracts for SA and NT brownfields have not yet been signed (although strong rumours are giving SA to ETSA).

          So there you have 5 contractors for the rollout, with two yet to be signed.

          What Duideka wrote about HFC in the UK is correct. There is no way on earth that our old HFC networks could deliver anywhere near 1Gbps without throwing a few $billion at them. Good luck getting Optus to do that.

          On top of this, there is not a single HFC net in the World that is offered in a wholesale open access framework, because HFC tech does not lend itself to that. So if the HFC nets were to remain they would be vertical only, locking out every other ISP in those areas. Or would you like to find someone stupid enough to build a fourth competing network in those areas? (copper pairs + TelHFC + OptHFC + ???) No company would be so stupid.
          • "They don't need a retail telco CxO because NBN isn't a telco in the usual sense of the word. They don't have 5,000,000 customers and they never will. They will have maybe 100 customers"

            Excellent point...It is easy to forget that this is a wholesale-only venture. Employing a retail-experienced officer might not be a very good idea...
          • viditor and haztechdad... great posts (as opposed to my questionably facetious/p*** take post...).

            thanks, most informative/interesting indeed.
        • Hey, I can assist here.... They could, in line with your wishes, hire Sol Trujillo as CEO. He has run a 5,000,000 user network and was a fabulous success.

          The Telstra shareprice certainly went places.

          Sadly down the toilet.

          He was into open markets. (open as in surgery, with knife in hand...)

          As long as had them by the cajones and could squeeze to his hearts content...

          He was anti-monopoly.

          Unless it was Telstra.

          He did great things with servcie levels and support.

          As long as you could speak Hindi or were selling call centres in Bangladesh...

          Yep mate, CEOs of big telcos are just what we needed to build the NBN. Why hire someone who has been involved in the building of big telco networks for years and years when you are building a big telco network??

          Just aint logical, is it??
  • "Jumped the shark"...mate Fonzie has got lockjaw from holding that pose for so long.
    And re: Feilipu's "comments", he obviously doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story...very much like the opposition it seems.

    I'm glad someone pointed out what had me choking on my cornflakes...namely the complete barefaced hyprocisy of the Opposition!

    And agree with Haztechdad's commentary
  • Malcolm Turnbull is always talking crap, he also suggests that the NZ broadband network is far cheaper, it really isn't, work it out per capita and it's essentially the same - actually slightly more expensive given the AUDNZD has dropped a little :)

    Even the South Korean network costs more when you consider they are spending OTTOMH $24b to 'upgrade' a existing 100Mbps FTTH network o_O
  • i work in the industry of telecommunications and fibre, it will be great to have the fibre rolled out as it will create so many jobs in the contracting industry, BUT the only thing is that customers will need to have there houses wired to the standards for the fibre to work 100% that also creates more work but the customer will be paying in excess of 500 dollars for the typical wiring i would say that is worst case scenario, but with the carbon tax and pricing of business going up, who is going to afford it, besides the filthy rich??? an average householder is struggling now where are they going to pull the money out of to get there house wired? its a win win situation for the companies doing the labour for the fibre but a lose win situation for the customer!
    • "customers will need to have there houses wired to the standards for the fibre to work 100%"

      One of 2 things appears to be true. Either you are making a whole bunch of this up and generating FUD, or your "work in the industry of telecommunications and fibre" is as the guy who gets the coffee and answers the phone, cause you sure don't understand the inductry...

      There is no difference in wiring the house for fibre as there is for ADSL or cable. Anyone who tells you different is lying to you...
    • Umm, home wireless using the latest Wireless N Technology runs at over 300mb/s It's a little unreliable in my house but i can consistently connect at over 120mb/s thus I don't know why anyone needs the wire their home. I'm quite sure most people will not unless they really need security and reliability ie. some businesses.
      In most cases wireless that already exists far exceeds the fastest currently planned speeds.
      In the future when they upgrade to 1000mb/s then we might have an issue but im sure local home wireless technology will keep up :-)