Hockey shtick: who's driving NBN policy?

Hockey shtick: who's driving NBN policy?

Summary: The level of National Broadband Network (NBN) policy schizophrenia within the Liberal Party never ceases to amaze.

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The level of National Broadband Network (NBN) policy schizophrenia within the Liberal Party never ceases to amaze. Since Malcolm Turnbull continually refuses to provide details of an official broadband policy, speculation about what the party might do with the NBN keeps coming thick and fast — and it seems to change daily, as one coalition MP or another jumps into the fray.

Depending on who you talk to, the Coalition's policy might be about:

  • Shutting down the project and diverting the funding (which the Liberals strangely insist is in the Budget, when it's not) to build more roads and magically balance our economy (Tony Abbott's policy)

  • Stopping the government from educating the public about the NBN policy that has already been approved and passed into law (Paul Fletcher's policy) — oh, and privatising everything

  • Using a mix of technologies to deliver at least 12Mbps to everyone, more or less, and allowing the private sector to pick up the slack (Malcolm Turnbull's policy).

These are, more or less, the visions that have been presented to us by three senior Liberal Party politicians in recent months. Turnbull is sitting on the fence; Abbott wants to drive his tractor through the NBN at high speed; and Fletcher wants to correct the spelling on the warning signs attached to it.

Now we have a fourth major Liberal Party voice in the discussion — and it's not pretty. From his answers to questions on Tasmanian radio about the NBN, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey apparently expects to sprout wings and fly over the debate under his own power.

Joe Hockey expects to sprout wings and fly over the debate under his own power.

This is the only conclusion that can be reached after Hockey sat with what I assume was a straight face (he was on radio, so it's hard to say for sure) and argued that 4G wireless networks are getting so good that they are a direct threat to the NBN. Why else, he said, would NBN Co have tried to stop Telstra from advertising it against fixed NBN services?

I won't go through the gory details of his argument here — I can't bear to ruin my week, let alone yours, with detailing his lamentable logic, other than to say that it involved the words "iPad", "4G", and "far superior". Reading through the coverage of his statements, I got as far as him mumbling something about the iPad not having a fibre-optic cable dragging behind it before my sensibilities literally collapsed.

I will say only this: the shadow treasurer appears to know very little about 4G; his public statements, like those of far too many other politicians, read like the transcript of a prolonged session of buzzword bingo.

If Hockey is such a strong believer in the power of 4G and his iPad, he should do what Turnbull refused to do when I dared him a year ago: shut off the fixed broadband connection at his home, set up a 4G router as his home's main phone and data service and live exclusively off that iPad for a month.

You'll know he's taken up that challenge when you see flying pigs dive bombing your hedgerow.

The thing about this is: I'm all for lively and spirited debate on any issue, but it needs to be honest debate. And what we've been getting from the Liberal Party, in different shapes and measures, is anything but. Statements like Hockey's ignore basically everything that is real and true about 4G, and focus on what he is painting as some magical technology that will fix everything.

Because he is a person of authority, Hockey is confident that uneducated voters will listen to him, rather than checking some esoteric telecoms news site to learn the reality of Australia's broadband situation (if you are in this category, I recommend you make yourself a three-course meal and sit down to read ABC journalist Nick Ross' voluminous and fact-filled discussion of why the entire industry knows the future is about fibre-attached Wi-Fi and not 4G).

So, while they may be able to pander to voters by hoping that the listening public won't fact check their positions, these politicians are doing themselves and the population a huge disservice. They are distorting the argument with their own ignorance of the issues — and setting unrealistic expectations that can only let people down when the vision of our broadband future that they're painting fails to materialise.

What is so remarkable is that all of these senior politicians can't seem to get their stories on the NBN straight — not one little bit. Abbott loves to talk about the dysfunctional Labor leadership, but the Liberals can't even get four senior politicians singing from the same hymnal. I've already lamented the apparent communication gap between Abbott and Turnbull, but things get worse with more people involved.

The tendency to add in more voices and opinions may keep the tech media wonderfully busy with fact checking, but it's perplexing many in the populace who look to their leaders (both aspiring and actual) to take informed, educated stances on key issues.

Turnbull may be the most to blame here, since he has repeatedly refused to speak about his party's preferred option in detail. He may naturally be wanting to keep his cards close to his chest until just before the election, and that's politically understandable — but he should also recognise that the public nature abhors an information vacuum.

In the absence of consistent, reliable facts, the public will simply ignore its elected decision makers and make up its own mind based on available facts. And if that public is properly informed, its conclusion about the NBN will have nothing to do with 4G.

Topics: Broadband, Government, Government AU, 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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Talkback

14 comments
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  • David, the problem is the public is not being informed.
    The ability to post comments and link to fact and tech oriented sites is now non existant in most cases in mainstream media. Even trying to post links and references to these sites in the rural press does not happen. The Public is being intentionally kept in the dark.
    I worry about Australia's future and the apparent orchestrated destruction of Democracy which is based on an informed vote. The mining boom will not last for much longer regardless of the pundits glib talk, then what for us??
    Abel Adamski
  • Well said Abel.

    It is the reason there are so many people are turning to their own blogs, to try and get the information out there. The problem is, while the media at large is spouting the Liberals various forms of baseless rubbish, the public at large see the BLOGS as the biased sources, NOT the media.

    It really is a very disturbing and hopeless situation. Our politicians should be ashamed. And the public should be disgusted....if they knew what they're supposed to be disgusted about...
    seven_tech
  • "Our politicians should be ashamed"

    As should a lot of main stream media outlets for their abysmal reporting on the NBN.


    "The Public is being intentionally kept in the dark."

    I think that it's mostly idiot moron journalists that wouldn't know the difference between Cat6 cable and a fibre cable that are writing BS articles that should be labeled as opinion pieces because they lack any facts and are full of ill informed opinions.

    Although there is one news paper in particular that has been trashing the NBN for political reasons, the rest are just full of lazy know nothing num nuts journalists that can't be bothered to check their stories to separate fact from fiction.

    I think, I hope, the lack of comments from anti NBN idiots that have frequented this site who have posted ill informed negative comments on NBN articles is a sign that maybe some people who were previously opposed to the NBN are actually getting it and see the NBN as a good thing rather than a waste of money.

    Unfortunately a lot of politicians, journalists and the general public are so dumb they don't know they are dumb, AKA the Dunning-Kruger effect.
    Jingles-8366c
  • Oh David how you ALP/NBN philes do love to sock it to the coalition. Of course it's true that the bulk of the great unwashed public (myself included) do not have the benefit of your technical education. There was a time that a good Jesuit education was the benchmark but, sadly, no longer. Yes we are dumb but here are a few facts we do know and understand:

    1. The current ALP federal government has been an unmitigated disaster on so many levels that to attempt to list its blunders would take far too long.

    2. It (the ALP) is heading for a Queensland style wipe-out in the next federal election.

    3. The NBN as it is currently rolling out is going to take 35 years to complete and cost God only knows what.

    4. While 4G or 5/6/7G may not be the whole answer those technologies will turn up in the next few years and a lot of the population will be very happy with them. Certainly a lot sooner than it will take to roll out fibre cable to 93% of Australian households.

    5. So enjoy Julia, Stephen and Quigley for the next 12 months or so because you ain't going to have them much longer....

    6. So David keep going to the party meetings and don't forget your red tie. The workers flag shall redder be..........
    Brianab
    • Brianab,

      You forgot to mention the government is I L L E G I T E M A T E. Therefore whatever they are doing is bad and must be stopped. Time to send in the army.
      johnnyringo-86db9
  • Brianab,
    A more pertinent "fact":
    7. Publishers, newspapers, magazines, TV & radio as well as retailers are all concerned at the present impact the internet is having on their investments & income streams. They can see their demise being accelerated by the NBN so it's no wonder the Conservatives & Big-End of town are desperately spreading FUD to enable Abbott to honour his directive to Turnbull: "Kill the NBN!"
    grump3
  • LOL Brian...

    Coming from someone who told us (the bleedin' obvious) previously, that he is a proud Liberal Party sheep (woops member), that is hypocrisy beyond compare...

    For the record I am pro NBN not pro any political party and people like you, who wish to **** this country's future up because you are unable t think for yourself and need a political party to do it for you, disgust me...
    Beta-9f71a
  • Who's driving whirlpool.net.au?
    I can't find any evidence Simon J Wright exists.

    How can someone who does not exist be sued?
    anonymous
  • "Oh David how you ALP/NBN philes do love to sock it to the coalition."

    To be fair they are idiots. Just consider their almost non existent broadband policy. It is sub standard.

    "Of course it's true that the bulk of the great unwashed public (myself included) do not have the benefit of your technical education."

    The first step is admitting you have a problem. +1

    "There was a time that a good Jesuit education was the benchmark but, sadly, no longer."

    Oh dear, a religious nutjob. I should have known. -10

    "1. The current ALP federal government has been an unmitigated disaster on so many levels that to attempt to list its blunders would take far too long."

    False. That is your ill-informed perception of it.


    "2. It (the ALP) is heading for a Queensland style wipe-out in the next federal election."

    Awesome. So should the NBN be stopped today because you believe this will happen in the future???


    "4. While 4G or 5/6/7G may not be the whole answer those technologies will turn up in the next few years and a lot of the population will be very happy with them."

    Great. Those people can be happy with a faster fixed line connection at home too.


    "5. So enjoy Julia, Stephen and Quigley for the next 12 months or so because you ain't going to have them much longer...."

    Oh noes, more political bile. Brian you sound rather bitter about this NBN but let me just say most of us in favour of the NBN don’t really give a **** about who is in power we only care if the NBN is built or not, we are not politically or emotionally motivated like you seem to be. You really should tell your coalition clown chums to get a clue because even if they do win the next election it will come back to bite them in the **** if they do not continue the NBN as planned.


    "6. So David keep going to the party meetings and don't forget your red tie. The workers flag shall redder be.........."

    Translation: boo hoo hoo, whaaaa whaaaa whaaaaaaaaaaa..........
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • The problem is that people will believe him when he says it. Just look at the jokers on news.com.au who comment still spouting '$50 billion' as the cost of the NBN, 'wireless is the future just because' or 'fibre optic is already obsolete then' on a story about how scientists are making fibre optic even faster. The level of intelligence of Australian voters unfortunately does not seem to be that high when it comes to making a judgemental opinion on something
    CUFCfan616
  • Really, Brian? You're really going to get all sarky at Mr Braue about his "technical education"?

    I should blooming well hope that Mr Braue has some sort of "technical education". He writes for a TECH PUBLICATION.

    Your point 4 includes the Micawberish formulation that multiple consecutive generations of advanced technologies "will turn up in the next few years". How nice of them. We'll keep the welcome light on. But in the meantime, the NBN will actually be here, and yes, generations of technologies will also progress through the current 100Mbps to 1Gbps (in 2013) and 10Gbps (most likely by the end of the decade).

    These are technologies that are possible now - not the product of magical thinking.
    Gwyntaglaw
  • Another gigantic waste of money by an incompetent government. It should have been left to private enterprise who would have done it for much less money.
    smithy7
    • LOL you fool

      Q. Previous to the NBN commenced being built, what did you precious "private enterprise" (ie Hell$tra) do in the past 10 years that improved broadband?

      A. Absolutely nothing. That is why we are sutck in a copper hell....

      How bout you read a few things before spouting Liebral party mumbo jumbo..
      GENIII
  • Wireless is not the solution

    I think everyone who is advocating wireless (especially 3G/4G) as an answer or replacement for fiber-optic or fixed-lines is ill-informed. Wireless simply cannot get the speeds and suffers from terrible congestion that you simply cannot get around.
    In simple terms, this is because anything you transmit on a given frequency is heard by everyone in your area and means that nobody else can talk/transmit at the same time. You can start using more frequencies, but there are only a limited number and it is my understanding we are already reaching this limit.
    A fiber-optic cable effectively gives you your personal, direct link which you can use all of the time, and doesn't suffer from all the interference and other issues (because of nearby buildings etc.) which plague wireless.
    jellybean1