Libs go through the NBN looking glass

Libs go through the NBN looking glass

Summary: Malcolm Turnbull's first official speech as shadow communications minister seemed to reverse coalition policy on two major points and suggested the party is either still finding its policy footing, or fragmenting as breakaway conservative pollies jump onto the fibre bandwagon.

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TOPICS: NBN, Broadband
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What a difference a few days make. This week has seen a dramatic softening of anti-NBN rhetoric on the part of the Liberals, who backed away from using blunt jabs to slam Labor's NBN, to grudgingly conceding that the NBN may well be good policy.

A properly conducted cost-benefit analysis (CBA) finding the NBN was viable would, Turnbull admitted, be "very, very persuasive" and "would really inform the debate". And, after what appears to have been a very informational meeting with Quigley, Turnbull even conceded that separating Telstra could be OK: "There is not an end to monopoly; there is simply an end to vertical integration," he said. "In response, we must recognise that if vertical integration is indeed the problem, then a structural or functional separation is the answer."

This is a stunning backflip for the Coalition and Turnbull, cognisant of this, tried to sneak it past the throng of journalists by claiming the Liberals remained supportive of telecommunications reform, as predecessor Tony Smith had made clear.

The thing is: a pre-election Smith didn't support the legislation entirely; he was very clear that the Coalition supported every principle of that legislation except the separation of Telstra. "We're not going to break up Telstra," Smith said in the much-vaunted Election Communication Forum 2010 just before the election (skip to 30:30 in this video). "Telstra was sold on a vertically integrated basis it was sold to shareholders in good faith... Our position on Telstra has been very clear."

Well, it's not any more. Turnbull has changed his posture in the debate somewhat and has significantly changed the flavour of the discussion around the NBN. He was still sceptical of Labor's plans — and he should be — but the CommsDay speech saw Turnbull clearly outline his case, back his arguments with nearly accurate figures and technical claims, and generally make a much better impression than he has done previously. The "Mars-like war dances" I labelled him as conducting, just a fortnight ago, have given way to a more carefully measured two-step that much better reflects the Opposition's need to be realistic about the situation.

The CommsDay speech saw Turnbull clearly outline his case, back his arguments with nearly accurate figures and technical claims, and generally make a much better impression than he has done previously.

Claims that Labor is framing public debate over the NBN as "a series of caricatures and false dichotomies" may have sent Stephen "spams and scams through the portal" Conroy scrambling for a dictionary, but Turnbull has clearly decided a more measured plan of resistance is going to serve his purpose better than FUD and scaremongering.

Yet as the week drew to a close, there were signs some Liberal Party types had taken the mantle of reform a bit too far. Brisbane's Liberal National Party mayor Campbell Newman, for one, has decided to push ahead with a Brisbane-wide fibre-to-the-sewer (FTTS) network that at once supports the premise behind Labor's fibre-based NBN architecture, threatens the NBN's primacy, supports the Liberals' private-sector philosophy, and degrades the Liberals' argument that fibre to the premises is a bet on the wrong horse.

Whatever the policy implications, the most important aspect of the Brisbane change is that, over the past week, conservative party-room politics seem to have given way to a new-found pragmatism around the NBN. Look at the claims by Victorian Shadow IT Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips, who said a state Liberal government would pick up the NBN and run with it if it's elected next month. "If Canberra wants to spend the money we're happy to take it," Rich-Phillips said.

And all this, without any call for a CBA. Huh?

Of course, the Victorian Liberals would have to say that a day after the current Labor government held the NBN as a shining gift and unveiled a $110 million ICT Action Plan in which ICT Minister John Lenders said the word "NBN" what seemed to be dozens of times.

After 18 months of baying for an NBN CBA and fiercely opposing the break-up of Telstra, it now seems to be acceptable Liberal Party policy to accept the NBN's inevitability, let the Commonwealth Government worry about paying for it and get on with figuring out ways to make the most of it.

All this seems to add up to a stunning turnaround in Liberal Party rhetoric. After 18 months of baying for an NBN CBA and fiercely opposing the break-up of Telstra, it now seems to be acceptable Liberal Party policy to accept the NBN's inevitability, let the Commonwealth Government worry about paying for it and get on with figuring out ways to make the most of it.

A CBA could very well follow once NBN Co releases its own internal CBA to the government, or maybe not. Either way, the week finished with a certain inevitability about the NBN that wasn't there a week ago. ACCC head Graeme Samuels has most recently come to the party, saying there is no need for a CBA at all when the public good is at stake.

If a CBA is optional, Telstra can be separated, and fibre is a good thing — then it seems the Coalition is finally prepared to adjust its role not to agitating for its own NBN policy, but to providing robust checks and balances on a project that everybody else now feels is inevitable.

I wrote earlier this week that Turnbull should "stop trying to stop the NBN, and focus on making sure it's done correctly — rather than not done at all". They could certainly surprise us again, but as the week draws to a close it appears the Coalition has turned a very important corner that should lead to more productive debate and better transparency around the NBN than ever before.

What do you think? Are we seeing the new Liberal mentality here? Or was Turnbull just choosing words carefully for his big debut?

Topics: NBN, Broadband

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

49 comments
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  • As an NBN supporter, I hope the opposition are at last going to approach the NBN positively, rather than negatively.

    Of course the opposition will tend to oppose (they aren't called the opposition for nothing). However, there is a right and wrong way to oppose and up until now imo, there's was one built purely, as mentioned, on FUD and scaremongering, rather than "sound factual opposition".

    But the opposition will of course, have good ideas for the NBN, which if presented in the right fashion could/should be taken onboard. As such, thay may have more success in implementing their ideas and possible cost saving measures, in a bipartisan supportive role, than always being negative.

    It will also give their future concerns about the NBN more credence and us more faith in them in relation to the checks and balances, rather than us simply dismissing every word as more FUD.

    If they have changed tack - and seemed like it started when the recently said they wouldn't stubbornly dismantle the NBN, if they were to form government - I for one, as an NBN supporter, who has in the past voted coalition, but lately been disgusted by their tactics, congratulate them and welcome their input.

    Let's hope it also rubs off on their always negative/glass half empty supporters here, too!
    RS-ef540
  • It is now clear that the Australian people desire to have the NBN project proceed and for Senator Conroy's guidance of it to continue.

    The person who does not emerge from the debate with any credibility is Tony Abbott. His command to Malcolm Turnball to destroy the NBN was childish.

    It is to be hoped that with the Heads of Agreement with Telstra subjectively signed the NBN can quickly move ahead and deliver on Labor promises.
    sydneyla
  • Sorry Malcolm TURNBULL.
    sydneyla
  • I reiterate what I already wrote. Albeit, dispatching broadband down the sewer is not an option.

    "A breath of fresh air without the need to reinvent the telecommunications wheel at a very costly $43 billion in borrowings which we can ill afford in the current financial climate.

    It's an absolute shemozzle but fortunately it's in the open now and we are mature enough and have the technological talent to overcome and resolve the issue by leaving the process in the capable hands of those who know how to deal with it.

    " Turnbull said that if the vertical integration of Telstra (with both wholesale and retail arms) was the issue with Australia's telecommunications industry, then the solution was structural or functional separation".... Telstra seem to agree with such a course of action in the right spirit.

    " Turnbull believes a faster and quicker way for the nation to receive faster speeds if needed would be to provide Telstra and Optus with the investment certainty to upgrade their hybrid-fibre coaxial cable networks to the DOCSIS 3.0 standard — delivering 100Mbps to a third of Australian homes.".... Both these entities have poured billions of shareholder dollars to no avail so, rightly, they are owed this courtesy."

    Vasso Massonic
    2 days ago
    Vasso Massonic
  • They (Telstra and Optus) had their chance and refused to invest, so now they must play the game. Plus they will be compensated anyway,so...

    As for "Telstra agreeing in the right spirit" you are kidding...they have mounted a FUD campaign against governments, ACCC and everyone else, since 2005 and to attempted to cling to their monopoly integrated structure. There is no right spirit, they have only agreed because it is the beetre choice.

    As usual, it seems Telstra have moved on and now the coalition has moved on (even lala has moved on), but there's still one who just can't let it go, eh?
    RS-ef540
  • DB writes:
    "A properly conducted cost-benefit analysis (CBA) finding the NBN was viable would, Turnbull admitted, be "very, very persuasive" and "would really inform the debate"."

    So no change there then, because Turnbull knows we are not getting a properly conducted (CBA), the NBN rollout has started without it, he carefully chose the words 'properly conducted' for a reason DB.

    "If a CBA is optional, Telstra can be separated, and fibre is a good thing"

    What does that mean? - I have no idea what the existence of a CBA or not has to do with the separation of Telstra at all.

    Fibre is a good thing? - well yeah I think the likes of Telstra, Optus ,TransAct and Pipe Networks know that, they have been laying it for decades.

    This is what you base your assertion on the so called Liberals change of stance on the separation of Telstra?

    "In response, we must recognise that if vertical integration is indeed the problem, then a structural or functional separation is the answer."

    I read into that that Turnbull is yet to be convinced that vertical integration is a problem, so no change there either.

    'Libs go through the NBN looking glass' - nice leader but not much substance behind it though.
    advocate-d95d7
  • As one of the few who has supported broadband for many years it is pleasing to read that the debate over finances is drawing to a close. As I have commented many many times, we need to accept the government's own solution is to be built. Therefore we should now focus upon the implementation and perhaps education of those who do not understand the technologies and platforms which make up the Internet. It is that (the Internet) which we are all attempting to optimise for our own advantage. A broadband connection is just the plumbing.
    Blank Look
  • Sydney, nicely put.......
    Salami Chujillo
  • "It is now clear that the Australian people desire to have the NBN project proceed and for Senator Conroy's guidance of it to continue."

    They do - you know this how?
    advocate-d95d7
  • "it is pleasing to read that the debate over finances is drawing to a close"

    It is?- I thought it hadn't even started.

    "we need to accept the government's own solution is to be built."

    You can accept if you like, but leave out the 'we' bit.
    advocate-d95d7
  • Advocate you have a point, and a debatable one, when you question my statement that all Australians accept the NBN proposal. It is obvious that your good self cannot be included in my all encompassing arguement.

    I do know though that the NBN would be popular with most Australians if promised at a cost cheaper than present services. It remains to be seen if the massive roll-out can be achieved without huge cost over-runs, big problems and deliver cheaper prices.

    I do think that an Optic Fibre NBN network would be great but it will not be with-out debate and the possibility that the project, in the long run, was a project whose results could have been achieved more cheaply by other means.
    sydneyla
  • The problem with making sweeping statements about the acceptance of the NBN by the Australian people is the the vast majority of the Australian people have no idea what it means for them as a definable need, when the staggered letter arrives in the post from whoever is in Government at the time in the next 15 years stating the copper link is being cutoff and these are your options, that's when they might start thinking about it!

    Do I need this? - well maybe maybe not but you are getting it anyway so the thought process is moot.

    You also get a skewed viewpoint in tech forums like this, much of it a vested industry viewpoint, sure there is no doubt the NBN is supported, the fact that your small business/corporate wallet will get a benefit from it sure helps that viewpoint, especially when it is being built with no risk to your business in having to provide the infrastructure with taxpayer funding.

    As I keep saying if the industry was forced to make a contribution to the build based on their customers numbers the support would be more lukewarm, everybody loves a 'freebie'.
    advocate-d95d7
  • There it is advocate...

    Do "I" need this...this and political ideology (it's Labor initiated so its no good) is the crux of your entire argument. Perhaps your motto should be - "I am ok, **** everyone else".

    I too could could jump on the me me bandwagon, because I have ADSL2+ on offer from a selection of ISP's! But I can see the benefits of the NBN for those who are not as fortunate as me and for us "ALL" as a nation... now and particularly, in the future!

    I believe most (apart from a small number of naysaying puppets, with political and financial agendas) can clearly see the benefits too. Although a lot of those not so comms savvy, have swallowed the politcal FUD from the opposition and their minions...!

    So repeat after me, " NATIONAL Broadband Network" - it is national because it is for the entire nation... all of us!

    But frankly, I am most happy that you oppose the NBN advocate, because so far you have proven yourself, to have absoluetly no knowledge about comms.

    You told us Conroy had nothing to do with the ADSL2+ exchanges being switched on by Telstra. Which anyone with even the slightest comms knowledge knows Telstra only did so, because Conroy supplied them with a letter, as they refused to accept the ACCC's previous assurances.

    You wrongly refer to the original RFP for the National Broadband Network rollout, as the FTTN tender, simply because your precious Telstra put forward a (NON-COMPLIANT) FTTN bid and then argue Telstra's non-compliant bid was just as legal as the others compliant bids...

    Most recently you suggested that the Telstra HoA deal would increase costs. When the inital governmental media release clearly said it will "benefit taxpayers, as it will decrease the cost of the network build".

    But... even though corrected with factual information (and you now know you were wrong) you still won't admit it and even worse, you keep repeating the same disproved information.

    Why?

    So going by your 3/3 - 100% incorrect statements so far, please keep saying the NBN is no good and will be a flop, so you can keep that perfect record and make it 4/4...

    But again if (unlike you) the coalition want to stop the FUD and put forward their ideas for a bipartisan NBN approach great...
    RS-ef540
  • I have already responded to your so called '3 times you got it wrong rubbish' in the pertinent discussions to the article concerned, but you know that then ignore it exists and pretend you are the 'winner' - whatever makes you happy, but it is a complete fantasy of your own making.
    advocate-d95d7
  • No you haven't (rationally) responded..! Plus, feel free to hide behind the "pertinent discussions excuse" too... yawn!

    You have denied the ADSL2+ scenario, regardless of the facts! Didn't (well hadn't - perhaps now that the thread has come and gone you snuck back, lol) respond to a number of comments re: the RFP URL and just brushed the URL outlining HoA savings as spin...!

    Rest assured, there is no "winner" in my eyes, there is either simple opinions/views, factual information or non-factual information - either accidentally or purposely supplied (i.e. FUD).

    Remember I posted simple opinions a few weeks back, about ADSL2+ and RFP. It was you who interjected, claiming I was wrong! So don’t sob now that I have conclusively demonstrated you incorrect, and doubly incorrect, for ironically sticking your nose in, when you didn’t know…!

    The type of info supplied gives the poster credibility or no credibility. I have supplied credible factual URLs to prove my claims; you have supplied incorrect, incoherent FUD.
    Just to, reiterate, here are those URLs I supplied again.

    ADSL2+ : - http://apcmag.com/breaking_telstra_flicks_the_switch_on_adsl2_at_900_exchanges.htm

    RFP for a NBN: - http://www.minister.dbcde.gov.au/media/media_releases/2008/023

    HoA:- http://www.minister.dbcde.gov.au/media/media_releases/2010/060

    Just accept that this info is credible and move on.

    However I can see by your comment that by you believing there is a winner/loser here, you will never do so, as you would therefore have to admit to being the loser. Rest assured, like there isn't a winner there isn't a loser either...It's simply that you were incorrect, as I have been before, too.

    Difference is, I am simply man enough to admit when I am wrong, actually thank the person who has brought the facts to my attention, learn and move on...!
    RS-ef540
  • Hi advocate, yes i also share the view that these forums are skewed towards the ICT industry perspective. It is also clear most in the "industry" favours high speed broadband. That is the cause of much angst, as anyone offering a counter view will be jumped upon with great vigour by those who may feel someone could convince the government to not roll out its planned NBN.
    My view these days is a pragmatic acceptance that in the next three years or as long as the present government is in power that the NBN will be rolled out. It will reach a point of no return at some stage when it would not matter which party forms the government.
    So my thoughts were as expressed earlier, let now focus on the issues concerning how indivduals, organisations connect to the NBN. Because unless most connections are made at the high speeds available and internal premise cabling is at the same capability then the money would have been wasted.
    Blank Look
  • Perhaps Abbott was jetlagged from a lack of sleep when he told Turnbull to take that approach.
    Just wondering if Campbell Newman has undertaken a CBA, or is he using BCC rates regardless? Hypocrites, the lot of 'em.
    nathand80
  • To the good people against the NBN: We can nit pick about all the particulars of the NBN forever.

    All I ask is consider that this infrastracture will be still used in 50 years time! Who cares about a Cost Benefit Analysis when you have 50 years of ROI to consider...

    People probably had this same debate when they were considering installing copper across the country. Some people probably thought their morse code was just fine...

    P.S not trying to incite any angst or what not...
    syberfish
  • It's amazing how just providing a URL is all that is required according to you to provide 'credible evidence', especially if it has the words 'Minister' and 'DBCDE' in the title, like as if it is 'enshrined in stone' never to be disagreed with, it's funny how Conroy's Department that he heads up agrees with the NBN policy - who would have ever thought!
    advocate-d95d7
  • Interesting point of view, a few questions for you, what '50 years of ROI' have you got in mind here, is it a actual figure or is just saying the term ROI and 50 years and who cares about a CBA sufficient?

    Some more utter rubbish about the telegraph, morse code and the direct comparison to the NBN rollout, it's unbelievable.

    You obviously think the Government of today and how it works, the economy, taxation, tax funded projects, the amount of private industry and Australia's population is exactly the same as it was in 1872.
    advocate-d95d7