FttN NBN will leave a bad taste in voters' mouths

FttN NBN will leave a bad taste in voters' mouths

Summary: Incoming Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is taking the Coalition's rout of Labor as a mandate for FttN. Yet, while Labor's implosion has empowered him to do pretty much what he wants, that doesn't mean Australians are going to like it.


As a youngster, my grandmother was forever trying to trick me into eating liver. She tried cooking liver with onion, liver with gravy, liver with mushrooms and gravy and onion. But when pleas of "it's good for you" failed to get me to open my mouth, promises of chocolate to follow invariably did the trick.

Yet, even though I sometimes ate it, I still hate the taste of liver. To this day, I have never willingly eaten it.

You'll learn to like the Coalition's NBN vision. No, really. Because it's good for you.
(Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Fotoos VanRobin)

A similar situation that now faces Australia as Malcolm Turnbull prepares to remove the word "opposition" from his title and begin administering death by a thousand cuts to Labor's fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout.

I am not convinced that the Coalition's pasting of the Labor government can be construed as a public vote against Labor's NBN — as much as an indictment of a disastrous government with which nearly every thinking Australian seemed just fed up — but you can bet your bottom dollar that an increasingly sanctimonious Turnbull will read it that way.

Consider his treatment of a massive online petition for him to reassess his position, ignoring the fact that its more than 200,000 signatures represent four times as many votes as he received in his own electorate of Wentworth.

This same Coalition government, which made a big noise out of its desire to get most government services online by 2017, has shown just how much it actually cares about online democracy by simply ignoring what is a rather large call to citizen action. Clearly, the Coalition's vision of online government is more about one-way service delivery than actually listening to the people.

Turnbull argues that the Coalition's policy was released early and discussed often as "one of the most prominent issues" (albeit one that the Liberal party hid from voters in its campaign materials).

This, of course, has led him to conclude that voters have given him the moral authority to eviscerate Labor's NBN. And while Turnbull could always do what many suggested was always his end game — by concluding that FttP is in fact the better alternative and could be done more cost effectively if it were just managed correctly (read: By Telstra) — I wouldn't hold my breath.

I am not convinced that the Coalition's pasting of the Labor government can be construed as a public vote against Labor's NBN, but you can bet your bottom dollar an increasingly sanctimonious Turnbull will read it that way. Consider his treatment of a massive online petition [whose] 200,000 signatures represent four times as many votes as Turnbull received in his own electorate of Wentworth.

Judging by what we've seen so far, his message remains quite clear: We may not like fibre to the node (FttN), but — chocolates or no chocolates — the Coalition is going to give it to us anyway.

But first, the recriminations. As Turnbull is sworn in to his new job, we can expect him to start dissecting the NBN rollout with the surgical and evidence-based precision he claimed he could not do from the opposition. His promise of a full review within 60 days seems hugely optimistic, but with a predetermined outcome and the report probably half-written already, it may be within Turnbull's grasp.

Of course, a properly conducted review would be carried out by an independent third party, and would likely take far longer than 60 days. But I don't think anybody is expecting real transparency during the process of unravelling Labor's NBN: Despite promising a "fully informed" ministry, Turnbull has already made it very clear what the outcome of any investigation will be.

After all, it will be his investigation. And in the Coalition's Star Chamber, the only conclusion will be that the current rollout is an unmitigated disaster that must be rescued in the name of economic probity and decency.

Don't get me wrong: It's not a bad thing that the existing NBN rollout be put under the microscope a bit — whatever your technological leanings, it's hard to deny that the project lurched ahead in such fits and starts this year, and was poisoned so much by Labor's pathetic infighting, that it would benefit from taking a step back.

A properly conducted review would be carried out by a totally independent third party, and would likely take far longer than 60 days. But Turnbull has already made it very clear what the outcome of any investigation will be. In the Coalition's Star Chamber, the only conclusion will be that the current rollout is an unmitigated disaster that must be rescued in the name of economic probity and decency.

By the time Anthony Albanese stepped in, the NBN effort had been battered and bruised so much that the departure of Mike Quigley was both inevitable and welcomed by those who felt it was simply time for new management at NBN Co. Indeed, at NBN Co and across the whole project, the election offers an invaluable inflection point to step back and air the whole thing out.

Many of the changes are preordained. For example, Turnbull has already indicated that he likes Telstra and Optus figurehead Ziggy Switkowski as the company's new head, which rightly brings with it flashbacks to an era when Telstra was left by the government to do basically whatever it wanted.

Turnbull, too, will be able to do basically whatever he wants to: with reluctant NBN advocate Anthony Albanese currently tied up fighting Bill Shorten for Labor party leadership, there is effectively no formal communications opposition in place and a paucity of potential candidates.

There is nobody in Labor better qualified to fight Turnbull on his changes to the NBN than Stephen Conroy. In Conroy's absence, whichever minister is appointed as Turnbull's counter will be coming off the back foot — so we can expect a wan and ineffectual opposition as Turnbull steamrolls the current NBN and brandishes his knife over the soft bellies of its politically exposed administrators.

Just what will emerge from the NBN review will of course be of great interest, and it may prove that things were as bad as Turnbull said — but once the finger pointing is done, Turnbull now faces the very real challenge of delivering everything he promised. And, onions or not, the whole process is likely to turn more than a few stomachs.

What do you think? Will Turnbull's ministry be as transparent and open as he has promised? Or will it be a vitriolic Star Chamber that ignores both the promise of FttP and the will of the many people who want it?

Topics: NBN, Broadband, Government AU, Telstra, Australia, Next Generation Networks


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • "predetermined outcome" of audit

    is due to cost overruns and delays in rollout that unavoidably shredded the already wafer-thin margin in the original NBN business case. No surprises to expect here but, of course, this says nothing about the financial viability of FTTN.
  • Awaiting the Freebies from telstra


    I await.......
  • To be fair

    Malcolm Turnbull received 51,000 first preference votes out of 86,000. The online partition is 245,000 out of 11 million voters.
    • Yes, but

      voting is compulsory. Signing an online petition is not. So, I'd suggest those that did go to that effort, generally really mean it.
  • Debt to Murdock

    Good article David. The arrogance of Mr Turnbull and the LNP is nauseating. The NBN (the FTTP version of course) is an infrastructure project that most of Australian’s want and believe is important for the future of our country. It is inevitable that the NBN network will need to be FTTP – if not to keep up with the data transfer rates of the rest of the world, then to replace the copper between the nodes and our homes that will eventually deteriorate to such a degree as to stop working completely.

    It seems Mr Turnbull and the LNP are intent on building a network that will eventually cost more than Labor’s plan, as we all know that it will be much more expensive to replace that oxidising copper between the nodes and our homes in the future than it would cost to replace it now (or over the next few years).

    Why are Mr Turnbull and the LNP so intent on building the world’s most inferior fibre optic network? I can only conclude that it is because Mr Murdock, who helped the LNP win the election by brainwashing a crucial portion of the electorate, doesn’t want any competition to his Foxtel network (as the non-Murdock media suggested before the election).
    • It is Murdoch, not Murdock

      and a few days before the election, almost all Fairfax newspapers (except The Age) turned their allegiance to the Coalition, too. After the election, The Age gave what was a veiled admission that it, too, should have supported Abbott and the Coalition. But, it's all Murdoch's fault . . . even though it wasn't his fault when his newspapers supported Labor at the 2007 and 2010 elections . . .
      • Biased media

        Opposing the ALP leadership doesn't assume support of the least popular opposition leader.
        They could have supported many other parties, including the Future Party or the Greens.

        Not accepting a minority government means the Australian media (& us) are not mature to accept that cooperation is the only progressive way.

        Due to a nonsense preferential system, we will be governed by a leader that has less than 30% acceptance (or direct vote, considering non participating/invalid & non informed is much less).
        The 'contract' will have to be terminated much sooner if he's not performing.

        The last election was 'referendum' on NBN.
        Australia is turning conservative (protecting the powerful), but the progressive conscience will grow from now on.

        Missing on the NBN opportunity is the biggest loss for our future. When we get it, we'll be able to realise our wasted time/effort.

        This petition is a reminder of the power of the Internet. We'll not stop here.
      • I'm sorry

        Newspapers not wanting to go against THE major news company in Australia and the federal government. Oh dear. That wouldn't have anything to do with saving reputation or profits would it?
      • Murdoch's Backflip

        Yes. He supported Labor back in 2007 when they proposed building FTTN, an inferior network that could never threaten, thus safeguarding his HFC investments.
        To His dismay Labor then switched to FTTH & the knives immediately came out including the command to his puppet to "Destroy the NBN"
        Once that failed thanks to the independent's, we've now settled for a compromising back to the future switch to the 2007 FTTN for our 2020 communications network.
        Long Live Foxtel!
  • Malcolm's electorate will be well served by 1Gbs Broadband

    Malcolm's electorate will have the highest proportion of households that get FTTH of any in the country. Which will be close to 98% (guess). He will not be interested in the rest of us. Nor will his constituents. "I am happy to roll out second rate speed to the rest of you" will be his cry.
  • GPON is anticompetitive

    GPON should not be built with government funding. Bitstream only access harms the competitive environment. It is also againts the EU guidelines, which did the analysis and found out that building only passive network infrastructure with point-to-point topology yields the greatest benefit to the society.

    It is then up to commercial providers to invest in the equipment and fiber technology of their choice, be it GPON, EPON, 1G ethernet, 10G ethernet. This way the users can choose the provider with better quality connection, while providers also compete who will introduce the greatest speeds sooner.

    FTTN will be a boon, since it is easier upgraded to a more competitive point-to-point topology, which allows local loop unbundling!
    • The EU, despite their faults

      Has some of the best competition legislation in the world: one of the few to acknowledge the undeniable benefits of competitive markets over the alternatives.

      Layer one competition their goal, not of any interest to Labor and their already abusive NBNCo monopoly.

      Steady evolution, infrastructure & retail competition, focus on cost & speed of delivery all sensible policies.
      Richard Flude
      • EU Guidelines for the application of State aid rules

        Here is the full text of "EU Guidelines for the application of State aid rules in relation to the rapid deployment of broadband networks" - http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2013:025:0001:0026:EN:PDF

        Paragraph 80a (Wholesale access): The subsidised network must therefore offer access under fair and non-discriminatory conditions to all operators who request it and will provide them with the possibility of effective and full unbundling. Moreover, third-party operators must have access to passive and not only active network infrastructure. Apart from bitstream access and unbundled access to the local loop and sub-loop, the access obligation should therefore also include the right to use ducts and poles, dark fibre or street cabinets

        Footnote 118: At this stage of market development, a point-to-point topology can be effectively unbundled. If the selected bidder rolls out a point-to-multipoint topology network, it shall have a clear obligation to provide effective unbundling via wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) as soon as the access is standardised and commercially available. Until WDM unbundling becomes effective, the selected bidder shall be required to provide access seekers with a virtual unbundling product, as close as possible to physical unbundling.

        From Footnote 103: It should be noted that at this stage of market development, a point-to-point topology are more conducive for long-term competition in comparison with point-to-multipoint topology.

        Paragraph 80b (Fair and non-discriminatory treatment): The subsidised infrastructure must enable the provision of competitive and affordable services to end-users by competing operators. Where the network operator is vertically integrated, adequate safeguards must be put in place to prevent any conflict of interest, undue discrimination towards access seekers or content providers and any other hidden indirect advantages. In the same vein, the award criteria should contain the provision that bidders proposing a wholesale-only model, a passive-only model or both shall receive additional points.

        Bidders for state aid for building Next Generation Access (NGA) networks receive additional points for:
        - a point-to-point topology (which is more conducive for long-term competition)
        - a wholesale-only model (operator of government subsidised network does not compete its clients, which are retail ISPs)
        - a passive-only model (active equipment, its procurement, funding and upgrades are in the domain of ISPs). They perform an upgrade (only for a specific paying customer) to a 10GPON, a WDP-PON or a 1G or 10G ethernet in a day. No need to wait half a decade to offer 10G speeds to customers, who are willing to pay for them (no deadweight loss).

        Australia should adopt a more competitive subsidised national network model - for the long term benefit of .au!
      • Yes competition can work

        BUT NOT when Telstra owns the infrastructure. Say what you will Richard, but we do NOT have the competition capabilities of other countries as Telstra owns and runs the copper. You're always waffling on about NBNCo being a monopoly yet you ignore the monopoly that's been sitting in your face the last 30 years.

        It's fair to say we're in this predicament because of Telstra's monopoly in the first place!!!
    • Ummm....you do realise FTTN uses Bitstream too??

      Seriously- read the Coalition's policy. There policy can ONLY be delivered by an FTTN Bitstream.

      There will be no unbundling of infrastructure. It is far too expensive and far too small a market for that to work. Turnbull would be crucified if he tried.

      So, unfortunately, no matter what you want, you're going to get Bitstream. Except now instead of having a Bitstream that gives the speed you order, you get to play Nodelotto! Yay!
  • Turnbull's NBN won't work in rural areas and for me.

    As long as the old copper lines and in my case 2km of aluminium wires remain they will be the bottle neck for speed. I have theoretically ADSB-2 but can only receive 1/3 of the advertised speed. Signal to noise ratio is 6.5dB (about half of what Telstra sets as minimum quality standard). But explain that once to politicians - they are just technical dumbies.
    Chris Hostettler
  • FTTN

    What makes you think that we will even get FTTN? The audit will show that the gov't can't afford any sort of NBN. NBNCo will be privatised and anyone will be able to get FTTH if they are prepared to pay the full cost + profit margin to the private provider.
    • Especially

      When Mal is pushing in on who the next CEO will be and head of the board... ex Telstra execs from what I've read so far
  • Liberal Ideology

    Liberal Party ideology is that government has no business providing telecoms (including broadband) to the public, the market should supply. User pays, whatever it costs + profit margin. Once privatised Turnbull will be very keen on FTTH as long as he makes money from it.
  • Actually...

    Whilst your sentiment might ring true for your readers most of whom are in the IT industry or similar, but I'm not convinced the the majority of Australians really feel that strongly about the issue.