NBN green-lit, but Labor on notice

NBN green-lit, but Labor on notice

Summary: Labor may argue that its victory today is a mandate for its NBN plan, but the photo-finish result means the NBN will proceed under a very different kind of scrutiny and with much higher expectations than before. If Labor can't improve its process and its game, the real test on the NBN may yet lie down the track.


It was clear from the moment Tony Windsor said the word "broadband", early in his speech, that both he and Rob Oakeshott were going to make the leap of faith and support Julia Gillard's government — and, importantly, its National Broadband Network strategy. Yet, as the hard work to shape the country's telecommunications future begins in earnest, it will be under the microscope.

After all, the nearly tied popular vote cannot really be read as a vote for or against the NBN and, as Bob Katter's list of his electorate's top-twenty priorities showed us, there are many Australians for whom the NBN didn't even rate a blip. Many more want an NBN, but would have sided with the Coalition's more fiscally conservative approach. For this massive group of people, the NBN roll-out will be background noise — for Labor to treat this result as a mandate and run with it, to the exclusion of other policies, would be a mistake.

Broadband may eventually have been the clincher for Oakshott and Windsor — and even Katter said he preferred Labor's plan — but as Windsor made clear, its roll-out will proceed within the context of a much more serious, defined commitment to narrowing the many gaps between city and rural people. They may have grudgingly green-lighted the NBN, but if by the next election Labor can't show real evidence that it's on the way to delivering the kind of life-changing healthcare, economic, education and social-equity services it has promised the NBN will deliver, it's going to struggle to make its case again.

In many ways, this was the best of outcomes — at least as far as telecommunications goes. We will, after all, get forward-looking infrastructure that, while expensive, will last Australia well into the future.

We will not have to suffer Labor's ridiculous and unnecessary internet filter, although I doubt that even this historic election will drive Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to do the right thing and resurrect the Coalition's more-reasonable NetAlert program.

And, most importantly, we will not have to sit by and watch as Tony Abbott's conservative market policy unleashes Telstra once again and forces the industry into a state of hibernation.

Yet with this decision comes great responsibility, and Labor needs to remember that. It may have survived this scare with a clear right to proceed with its plans, but it was a very, very close call. Simply railroading through legislation will become more difficult, given the potential for any of the independents to put up their hand and say "wait a second". Burying reports, delaying the release of documents and censoring what should be public information isn't going to go over well at all with the populace.

In short, Julia Gillard, Stephen Conroy and their peers need to thank their lucky stars and recommit themselves to an unprecedented openness of process, as well as a frank exchange with industry and technological leaders that could well give them the moral upper hand they would so desperately like to assert.

Having hung by her fingertips for a fortnight, Gillard may have come out of her assassination of Rudd with the upper hand, but now she must appease both her critics and her reluctant supporters. Unless the NBN and alterations to telcomunications legislation are run by the book and achieve the real-world change they promise to deliver, the next election could bear a worrying resemblance to the one the country has just suffered. And that, I think we can all agree, is something nobody needs.

What's your take? Did Gillard steal the NBN mandate from a divided public? Has justice been done given the Coalition's lacklustre plan? Was this really the "broadband election"? And what will you be watching out for as the NBN's gears start spinning once again?

Topics: Broadband, 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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  • Although I understand this is an opinion piece and not a professional journalistic article, I wonder how Zdnet can employ someone with such a narrow view as this writer. No reference to how a $43B project with no business case can be so important.
    The only think I can think of this writer comes from the old IT school where spending in IT is all that matter - if it is supported by a proven business case or not is just a small detail.
    Thank you, David, for this piece of disinformation, it is only less blog to follow.
  • As the Independents stressed, there is no mandate to Labor for anything, however Windsor's support will at very least ensure a particular focus on regional and rural broadband role-out.

    The way Windsor kept mentioning the broadband "opportunity" suggests that someone had done a job on him and quite possibly he's been mislead. Other than some power to Windsor and Co, there is no "opportunity" here. The 'do it once, do it right' is a nice credo, but hollow... very little if anything done under the Coalition proposal (or AAB NBN V3) would be wasted if it was found that further expansion was required. The fibre network laid would contribute towards any that may be required later.... any towers built for LTE wireless would also be used for mobile telephones services, the LTE cell equipment re-distributed to appropriate areas. Fibre to the premise could be added at any time in the future, particularly when a real need is identified for 1GB bandwidth in the home.

    Hopefully the presence of the independents will now force some fiscal responsibility on Conroy (if he continues in the role) and a proper business case performed.... one that can be used that can be used to determine the baseline performance of the NBN, the NBN Co in building the network and Conroy's guesstimates. No doubt it would also contribute to the any future Liberal government's decision making process on whether to persist with the build, or halt it and outsource management.

    As for the previous dirty tricks.... it will also be interesting to see if NBN Co in some way tries to design the network roll-out such that it would stymie an attempt to halt the roll-out prior to completion.... would they be that sneaky?
  • nbraga....




    Perhaps David has other info like this, to determine from, and isn't gullible enough to simply have swallowed the coalition's NBN/$ FUD, as you have... speaking of disinformation and totally baseless disinformation!
  • For you too PhillIT



  • Big ticket items on Gillard's never, never national debt trail....... and ever growing:

    * NBN $43 billion

    * Gillard pledges $10bn for regions

    * $2.6 billion Parramatta to Epping rail link.

    $ 10 million Andrew Wilkie's gift
    Vasso Massonic
  • Mandate ? What mandate, thought the independants said very clearly... this aint no mandate...

    Have you seen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsgMt_qSfGM might be propaganda, but shows what wireless is capable of, and is a pity that the focus on developing mobile might now be compromised with the focus on fibre.
    will see
  • That's pretty flimsy evidence to argue that we should roll out wireless broadband as a national infrastructure project. It demonstrates one concurrent application running in metro areas.
    Wireless is complimentary to fixed line services. Presumably a bank / hospital / school (inc TAFE and Uni), which has a fixed address, wouldn't opt for a wireless service unless it had no other options.
  • That's a great video, but what would happen if two people on the site wanted to upload two streaming videos at the same time? And if they wanted to download information, or watch streaming TV feeds from their competitors, or run a concurrent Skype session with their producer back at the base, or... or... or...

    Wireless is a great technology and has its use, but that doesn't mean it can, or has to be, a replacement for fibre. The two really are different arguments, and IMHO the weakest NBN arguments are those that suggest fibre and wireless are mutually exclusive. They're not.

    The difference is that the wireless sector has shown itself capable of competing in a relatively healthy way: with three major operators rolling out infrastructure and speeds increasing steadily, the argument could well be made that things are in wireless as they should be. But this does not fix the massive damage that was done to the competitive fixed-line market during over a decade of poorly-managed competition that was predicated on the idea that the carriers would play fair and everybody would get good services. Telstra didn't play fair, and far too many Australians didn't get good services as a result.

    The government's NBN fibre intervention is about acknowledging the previous approach didn't work, then fixing the situation and pointing our national communications infrastructure towards the 21st century rather than backwards to the 20th. Nothing more, nothing less. And there is room for both fibre and wireless, wherever they're appropriate.
  • @nbraga: Thanks for your feedback but I'm not sure why you label it a 'narrow view'. The entire business and telecommunications industry has been screaming for effective government intervention for most of the 13 years I have been following this sector, and the NBN – and associated legislative changes – are recognised as the best chance this country has ever had to right the many wrongs of the Howard government's competition regime.

    Business case or no business case, the real cost to consider is the opportunity cost if we continue to do nothing -- and, in the process, saddle a sizeable percentage of our population with outdated and ineffective communications services that cut them out of the benefits modern communications can provide. To harp on about the cost like it's a sunk investment, is to ignore the very significant changes that have happened in our economy and business, educational, and even recreational lives over the past 15 years the internet has been in the common view. Think about how much the Internet – and the society it has enabled – has changed since 2002, and you can use that as a guide to what we can expect over the eight years during which the fibre NBN will be installed.

    The numbers are flexible and rather indistinct at this point, but the many social and progressive benefits that the fibre NBN will provide are very real. And while we're discussing business cases, perhaps you could share your understanding of the hard business case behind the proposed parental leave schemes, which in Abbott's case would have cost us $8b over the next two years alone.

    At least the NBN will inject billions into the Australian economy. In the meantime, I'm sure the Coalition will provide important checks and balances that will hopefully ensure the rollout proceeds as effectively as possible. From that sense, this was the best possible election result: the NBN can proceed, but Labor knows the entire country is looking over its shoulder to make sure it's not only done, but done right.

    And you should know that I'll be there with them: I've never been afraid of calling Labor out on its bad policies, and if they screw up the NBN this "narrow view" journalist will be there calling them on it again and again. But if their worst crime is having an ambitious vision for the future, perhaps we need to give them another term to make good – and prove beyond a doubt that fibre really is as bad as the Coalition, with its equally narrow view, wants us to believe. Or maybe, even, that it was the right approach all along.
  • Your comment:

    "But this does not fix the massive damage that was done to the competitive fixed-line market during over a decade of poorly-managed competition that was predicated on the idea that the carriers would play fair and everybody would get good services. Telstra didn't play fair, and far too many Australians didn't get good services as a result."

    First of all a bit of a history lesson is required here about the fixed line market and the so called 'decade of poorly manged competition' and where the blame actually lies here.

    The first real attempts at a fixed line alternative rollout was the Optus and Telstra HFC build, now stopped, what you see is what you get, but it has been given a new lease of life with Telstra and now Optus upgrading the network to support higher speed and flogging it with full on hyperbole, keeping in mind the cable run passes most of Australia's higher density biggest capital city suburbs, and it still lost money, even with Pay TV, whether they can help make it pay with the new higher speeds time will tell.
    Many residences already have high-speed cable BB running in their street and have elected NOT to take it, the fact that HFC cable is not rip roaring success is glossed over, because the NBN will be err 'different', what they really mean is there will not be any choice.
    It will be very easy spin to point out the success of the NBN but then you forget there will be no choice so yeah 'it's a success'.

    There have been two notable attempts at a fibre rollout, the first was the FTTN tender in 2007, notable because of the creation of the G9 consortium (remember them?) led by Optus, everyone was really gung ho with that one including the ACCC, "hey we have real alternative to Telstra" - yeah right, sure you do.

    Then that very same ACCC knocked back the G9 proposal (oh dear!) and Telstra was playing hard to get and it all got too hard and fizzed out, and then Coalition Govt pulled the plug on it, that was followed by a fleeting moment in the sun of the infrastructure rollout called OPEL once again headed by Optus, it got a lot of flack at the time, Howard lost the election and Conroy canceled it as fast as he could.
    OPEL was mainly all about wireless and Optus was right behind it being the main player and proponent, funny how they are now supporting the fixed line FTTH and not wireless anymore, but then I guess time is great healer, especially when you don't have to put your hand in your pocket eh?

    Next we had the Rudd/Conroy first attempt the FTTN tender, it turned into a farce and was canceled and the NBN FTTH rabbit was pulled out of the hat.

    So we are at attempt No 4 the most expensive in a litany of failures at a fixed line replacement for Telstra copper, the NBN, history indicates a not very healthy future, in the meantime wireless BB competition is booming, fixed line revenue is falling and the likes of Telstra and Optus are both looking at the NBN rollout breathing a collective sigh of relief it has nothing to do with them as they keep adding wireless data SIO's as fast as their IT systems and networks can handle the influx.
    When the NBN is built Telstra can decommission their copper flog off all the real estate their exchanges are sitting on queue up at the ACCC complaining about NBN access and pricing with every other ISP and make a killing.

    Thank you taxpayer thank you ball boys.
  • Vasso, TLS = $2.85, i recomend sell.

    Stop being to narrow minded mate, the NBN is an investment for the forceeable future. It's well worth it's $26B price, not $43B as you said. Who would have thought that we have microwaves, tvs, computers...after the electricity grid was built back in the days. I can imagine myself teleporting from Aust to the US via the NBN one day, how's that for a killer app hey?
    Salami Chujillo