NBN FUD: will Abbott ever learn?

NBN FUD: will Abbott ever learn?

Summary: Tony Abbott's budget reply speech has been lambasted for its lack of detail, and when it came to the NBN, Abbott still managed to slip in a prodigious number of mistakes.


I am, of course, not privy to the private conversations between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, but I would assume that at some point, over the past two and a bit years, Abbott would have sat Turnbull down and said something like, "Please, Mal, tell me what we're doing wrong with this National Broadband Network (NBN) thing, and why it cost us the election. Give me the facts, so I can correctly explain to the Australian people why it is a bad, bad idea".

And Turnbull would, in his capacity as Tony "I'm-no-Bill-Gates" Abbott's right-hand man on all things technology and communications related, sit his boss down and explain in careful, short words, what the NBN is actually all about.

Are Abbott's Liberals ignoring NBN facts — or trying to rewrite them? (Screenshot by David Braue/ZDNet Australia)

Turnbull would explain, how, you know: the industry is pushing for structural separation; why a fibre-to-the-node (FttN) policy will put — and keep — Abbott on his knees, before an historically recalcitrant Telstra; and the reality that NBN pricing has shown absolutely no threat of exploding in the real world, in the way it apparently explodes, over and over again, inside Abbott's head.

Clear and concise conversations like that have a way of helping people reset their bearings, brush off the cobwebs of old and outdated positions, filter out festering inaccuracies, and generally improve the perceived legitimacy of their arguments (don't forget late last year, when Turnbull apparently met with NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley, for a tête-à-tête discussion, and now, has spent this year in more practically minded public discourse).

Such absent conversations and tired fallacies have a way of sounding even more tired and inaccurate than ever. And it was for this reason, I suspect, that after reading Abbott's budget response last week, much of Australia's entire technology journalism community either moaned and popped a pair of Panadeine, or simply took the rest of the day off and went outside to engage in something more rewarding — for example, repeatedly hitting their heads with a large brick.

Abbott has shown prodigious skill in cramming masses of hysterical, prejudicial, dogmatic and entirely inaccurate FUD, into one or two sentences.

Whatever his other talents, when it comes to the NBN, Abbott has shown prodigious skill in cramming masses of hysterical, prejudicial, dogmatic and entirely inaccurate fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) into one or two sentences. His budget reply speech (watch it or read it) proved that despite millions of published words and thousands of carefully reasoned arguments, over several years, Abbott — and, by association, the entire Liberal Party — is still not above ignoring the facts in an attempt to make a good political point.

There were all the old nuggets, wrapped into just a couple of sentences: "Why spend $50 billion on a National Broadband Network, so customers can subsequently spend almost three times their current monthly fee, for speeds they might not need? Why dig up every street, when fibre to the node could, more swiftly and more affordably, deliver 21st-century broadband?"

Pick your FUD: the $50 billion price tag, to which Abbott clings to; the blatantly incorrect statement about the cost of NBN plans; his assumptions about whether or not people need NBN speeds; or the elephant in the room — Abbott's insinuation that Labor's NBN will involve digging up "every street".


Surely, at some point, Turnbull must have pointed out to Abbott that the reason the NBN has been delayed, in the first place, was that it was waiting to conclude its negotiations with Telstra, precisely so it would not have to dig up every street.

Surely, someone would have mentioned to Abbott that so far, the prices for NBN services are actually quite comparable with those of current ADSL and cable services.

Surely, someone would have told him that there are, actually, quite a lot of people who would welcome the speeds of the NBN, or even its lowest speed of 12Mbps, if they could only be guaranteed to get what they're paying for.

And surely, someone would have sat down for a heart-to-heart with Abbott about why the Telstra privatisation failed to deliver the kind of market that everybody in the industry has hoped for, over last 15 years.

None of this is new, and it's not the first time I have pointed it out (see my thoughts in July 2010). But you'd think that if the Coalition were interested in fighting fire with fire, Turnbull would surely have set Abbott straight on these, and other, issues, so he could impress upon the media and the public the effectiveness of his intelligent, well-informed arguments against Labor's NBN.

We must also consider the possibility that Turnbull is saying nothing because he enjoys watching Abbott twisting in the wind; and who could blame him?

Seriously, though, I think we've all accepted that Abbott's not technically minded. But, surely, Abbott must have realised by now that the NBN is an important-enough election issue that he should be ready to engage in fact-filled debates, come next year. And surely, as a Rhodes scholar and would-be prime minister, he could take the time to do enough footwork to get some genuine facts about the roll-out, before throwing FUD around, left, right and centre, like an inebriated chef de partie throwing fettuccine against the wall to see if it's ready.

If Abbott cannot get his facts straight ... what does this say about his potential performance as PM?

No matter how much you marginalise the NBN as an issue of national importance — and there certainly are other critical issues facing our country — his ongoing refusal to bow to the weight of actual facts is a worrying sign of a broader political style that favours flash over sizzle, style over substance and political FUD over fact. If Abbott cannot, or will not, get his facts straight on the NBN, despite a wealth of information that would allow him to do so, what does this say about his potential performance as PM?

However, Abbott is not the only one trying to write his own version of the NBN truth. Paul Fletcher, Turnbull's heir apparent, appears to have been practicing his Jonathan Holmes swagger in front of the mirror, and started trying to school the media on how to properly cover the NBN.

Note to self: it is apparently not possible to write fairly about the NBN, without arguing that it is a steaming, stinking policy, and lacing one's coverage with judicious use of terms like "pink batts" and "white elephant". Fletcher's stream of invective against the straightforward, if non-acerbic, NBN report in The Sydney Morning Herald(not available online) and his bizarre decision to complain to the Australian Press Council (APC) about it, smacks of tit for tat, just months after the APC slapped rival paper The Daily Telegraph on the wrist for its inaccurate NBN coverage.

Most of the reasons for that finding relate to misleading statements about the NBN's price. Does this mean someone should, therefore, censure Abbott for his misleading statements in parliament? Or maybe they should just refer him to the government's new online portal for NBN education. Turnbull's press release, in response to the Budget, attacked the portal's $20 million cost as a tool for "more pro-NBN propaganda" — and yet, ironically, Turnbull's ongoing ignorance of NBN facts suggests that he might rightfully be one of its biggest users.

They say that it's not fair to have a battle of wits with an unarmed man, but when that man is jockeying for the most important political position in the country, it's hard to avoid. Over and over again, Tony Abbott has done with his NBN facts what Dan Quayle did with the English language. Given the near-universal condemnation of his budget reply, one would hope that Abbott will take a few minutes to sit down with Turnbull, and get some actual facts about the NBN. It would make the debate so much more interesting — and maybe, just maybe, force him to fight the election on issues where the truth really is as outrageous as he wants to believe.

What do you think? Do the facts particularly matter in this debate? Is there a reason Turnbull might not be schooling Abbott on the NBN? Or do you think Abbott, in fact, does have his facts straight?

Topics: Broadband, CXO, Government AU, NBN


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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  • Readers of this article should also read a similar article at Delimiter... http://delimiter.com.au/2012/05/14/is-abbott-consciously-lying-on-nbn-costs/

    BOTH of these articles are 'spot on' for the facts!
  • Abbott and Turnbull cant do anything but throw FUD. If they admitted that the NBN costs much less than $50billion, its a an excellebnt future proof solution, and importantly that prices wont rise for the consumer, etc, what else can they effectively score points against the govt on the NBN with? The NBN is popular in the public. As time progresses and the rollout reaches more and more people, those people will start singing the praises of the updated infrastructure. The cry of "Wheres ours!?" from those not on the current rollout schedule will get louder. It will get harder and harder for Abbott and Co to provide anything factual to try and shoot down the NBN. As we have seen, bit by bit, the FUD pillars they have stood on from the start have been removed by NBN Co and reality. Turnbull is already coming to that realisation I think with his recent announcement that NBN build contracts could stay in place. This is just another in a processing of subtle shifts from him that align him closer and closer to the current NBN. Abbott, though is a long way behind the eight ball in comprehending that his FUD is making him look more and more stupid. Fletcher just seems to be a loose cannon these days. Sadly, he will probably end up as comms minister if Abbott takes govt. Then we will see some truly scary "logic"
    • It is indeed a motley cast of characters with a broad range of... interesting... opinions. Turnbull's change of heart has been an epic and defining thread in this entire conversation – basically nothing the Coalition was saying about the NBN at the 2010 election is being said anymore.

      Like many, I wonder whether this is a sign that the Coalition simply won't bother trying to win the election on the NBN next year - they'll say "either way you'll get your NBN, but just look at all the other stuff Labor has done and it will be obvious which government you should pick." Supporting the NBN by omission would surely leave a bad taste in the mouths of Turnbull, Fletcher and Abbott – but stranger things have happened.
  • David Braue - thank you for writing another excellent article in regard to the absolute rubbish that is getting bandied about on the NBN. I wish that some in the mainstream media would do the same.
    Abbott gets a dream run, can say virtually anything he likes and it gets printed as fact. The mainstream media have abrogated their responsibility to deal with the facts and hold the purveyors of FUD to task.
    It always amuses me that the LNP are apparently so against the NBN but the LNP members of parliament are always the first to whinge when their electorate is not in the latest construction plan. Their hypocrisy is mind boggling.
    • No problem! :)

      You are 100% right – so much of this debate in mainstream media has simply involved parroting what the political leaders say, verbatim, in the name of reporting. And while that sort of thing does have a role, the lack of filtering is, as you say, mind boggling.

      Thankfully, however, I'm never short of things to write about! ;-)
  • The reason why Turnball isn't doing anything about Abbott, is it is the Cluesless, leading the Clueless http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/04/19/nbn_shoots_down_turnbulls_satellite/ - here is some of Turnball's "work" from earlier this year.
    Trekkie Dude
  • Havent you heard? Facts are just left-wing-bias.
  • David you have hit the nail on the head.

    If Abbott and Co can't be trusted to find out the facts and tell us the truth then they should never be allowed on the Government benches.

    Unfortunately their handling of the NBN is the same as many other things and it makes you wonder if they think that they are the only people entitled to be in government in this country.

    They seem to believe that Australian voters are uneducated mugs who will believe anything they say. All they seem to say though is NO to any proposal that isn't theirs and then try and justify it with FUD.

    If Abbott doesn't wake up he will find that the Australian voters aren't as stupid as he thinks and will be looking at another three years in oposition.
    • Dunno, so many still blindly believe anything a Lib pollie says , especially when the media echoes the same line and even adds more deception and misdirection. The public seems to believe the NBN is all about the home user who along with the taxpayer will be paying for it. Also that the taxpayer is paying for it out of our taxes and that that money could be diverted to pay for other urgent needs which never existed before Labor came to office , otherwise the brilliant Howard Costello government would have fixed them up. Why they even believe the stimulus packages were not necessary and that the GFC did not really affect us . Gullible.? maybe more naively trusting of the establishment. Consider Gina's legal and publicity issues, so little made of the fact it was really about tax avoidance by someone worth $17Billion. The fuss over the value to our economy of the minib sector, yet so little comment on the Reserve bank statement as to why the rate reduction, because minimal help, they bring in equipment, supplies and personnel from overseas. Yet the public still believes the right wing spin doctors
      Abel Adamski
  • It will not surprise me if Malcolm takes over the leadership just before the next election. He just has to keep feeding Tony more half truths (and blatant lies) and then he can say how Abbott the rabbit has very little understanding of any of the things he talks about. You can see now, how Turnbull is quietly realigning his position, making Abbott look evven more out of touch. There are a lot of things I dislike about the Labor Govt., but whilst the coalition keep trying to roll back the NBN, I will never vote for them!
    Why Knot
    • Yes.

      I also wonder how much of this intentional subterfuge is actually playing out as part of Turnbull's master plan. Given the rough ride he's had as shadow communications person and his habit of engaging in policy conversations way outside his portfolio, I'd be surprised if you weren't entirely right that he is looking beyond the comms ministry.

      If during his leadership run Turnbull turns around and says "look how Abbott couldn't even get his facts right around the NBN even though I kept trying to tell him otherwise" I will literally wet myself from laughter. Man, would that be a fun column to write.
  • > Surely, someone would have mentioned to Abbott that so far, the prices for NBN services are actually quite comparable with those of current ADSL and cable services.

    Prices for actual services will (almost certainly) decline, but at a rate significantly less than the uptake of faster services / downloading more. It is clearly not well understood that NBNCo's stated aim in the NBNCo Corporate Plan is to increase Average Revenue Per User (ARPU). That is to on average they plan to have people pay more for their internet connection.

    Plans for AVC pricing are outlined on page 101:
    * 1000/400Mbps falls from $150 to $90, while the average speed grows from 30Mbps to 230Mbps.
    * Price falls by 40% while average speed grows by 760%

    Plans for CVC pricing are outlined on page 103:
    * Starts at $20Mbps/Month when the average data usage is 30GB/Month and falls to $8Mbps/Month when the average data usage is 540GB/month.
    * Price falls by 2.5 times, while the average data usage grows by 18 times = growth in revenue from CVC of 720% when accounting for price falls.'

    Alan Kohler in Now that's a broadband business plan that NBNCo plan to raise ARPU from the current $33-$34 (page 110-111) to $52. If 50% are connecting at 12/1Mbps ($25/month) (page 118), then the other 50% are going to need to pay significantly more.
    • $52 gets you line rental and 5GB of ADSL from Telstra now, Mat. Plus call costs.

      So, of course most people will pay more than $52. They already pay about twice that, and many pay three times, for far less than they will get from fibre to 93%.
      • Don't know about you but that's not what i'm on. Got a very nice deal of $30 for internet which at the time gave me 50GB on and 50GB off, these days it's been upgraded (for free) to 100GB on & 100 GB off... Whilst i don't use the full downloads every month, there are times when i used to come close to the 50GB limit.

        So the fact is for those customers who seek good deals now, it does certainly look like they'll be paying more for the "right" of internet access. Whilst that mightn't seem like a crime, remember that many struggling low income families & people from low socio-economic backgrounds can generally only afford such plans. An increase in costs to these people could in some cases (not all) be enough cause for them to abandon a home internet connection, and as we're constantly told, this will come as a massive disadvantage to their future earnings, health and education.

        Nice to see labor kick it's heartland like it manages to do time and time again.
        • So you get 100GB for $30 including the phone line at 12Mbps all the time?
          Amazing...I always thought that $52 was a minimum including the phone line...
        • AWY exaggerating like his master... LOL

          But if you think the NBN is expensive (which it is NOT - nice FUD) just wait until no, no I dunno Tony hands it all over to Telstra and we return to "premium prices"...

          Seriously AWY, stop the lies.
      • Umbria is talking about retail costs which include GST. When NBNCo discuss ARPU they are talking about wholesale costs excluding GST. To arrive at retail prices, RSP costs and GST need to be added to NBNCo's ARPU figure.
    • Mathew, your framing of this issue is tendentious, to say the least.

      An increase in ARPU will not come about because NBNCo "gouges" customers or otherwise forces them to pay more against their will.

      It will come about by NBNCo offering a superior product that many customers are willing to pay more for. Those who don't want or need a higher speed, higher capacity service won't have to pay for it.

      Here's a comparison: TV set prices. You could make the argument that the cost of a brand new 55-inch LED TV is higher than a bog standard 34 inch box that I bought eight years ago because companies are just gouging for extra profits. But that ignores the fact that you are getting a FAR SUPERIOR PRODUCT - and consumers have been more than willing to pay more for a far better TV. You can still get cheap
    • Matt keeps repeating the plans from years ago and over a year before the Telstra deal was signed. I think the financial situation has changed a bit since then...
      • Matty boy is on fire over at Delimiter, replaying the same old tired bullsh!t, yawn!