NBN hearing descends into design sledging

NBN hearing descends into design sledging

Summary: Malcolm Turnbull has today used a public hearing into the National Broadband Network (NBN) to once again criticise the network's cost and objectives, lambasting the government and NBN Co's chief Mike Quigley.

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Malcolm Turnbull has today used a public hearing into the National Broadband Network (NBN) to once again criticise the network's cost and objectives, lambasting the government and NBN Co's chief Mike Quigley.

Turnbull took the swipe at the government and NBN Co via his blog after putting questions to a panel that included Quigley and Peter Harris, secretary of the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy.

Senator Doug Cameron asked Quigley and Harris whether or not there had been a recent analysis undertaken of different technologies — such as wireless — to power the government's NBN.

Quigley answered, "We looked at a range of technologies, but we haven't, however, done recently an extensive analysis."

Quigley did say, however, that NBN Co is very well aware of alternative and emerging technologies that could be used to speed up or optimise the NBN.

"We need to keep ourselves aware of other technologies," he said.

Turnbull, in a blog post entitled "Quigley makes it clear that NBN design all about politics", stirred the situation by writing:

In the NBN Joint Select Committee today, NBN chief executive Mike Quigley confirmed that he had been instructed by the Labor Government to deliver a broadband network that would deliver 100 megabits per second to at least 90 per cent of the population by fibre to the premises.

When I asked him if he had been asked whether there were any other technologies that could deliver 100 megabits per second, he said he had not been asked. I then queried if he had been asked whether 100 megabits per second was the appropriate bandwidth requirement for households, and he said that he had not been asked about that either — it was part of his brief.

In these answers, Mr Quigley has emphatically confirmed the Labor Government made no effort to determine the most cost-effective way of delivering a national broadband network, did not consider any alternative technologies to fibre (or re-using current networks) and did not investigate whether 100 megabits per second was an appropriate speed to target.

Harris sought to defend the network against Turnbull's sledging, saying that it is impossible for the public service to design a policy that suits both the agenda of a sitting government and the opposition.

"The [public sector] will advise the government of the day the benefits and risks [of plans] that the government chooses. You can't design policy for an alternative government as the public sector. You can only design policy for the government of the day.

"If you take that template and apply it to policy in the other areas, you end up with the public sector building policy to anticipate the democratic process. It's not plausible, and in my view it's dangerous for the public sector to design policy ... for a party that's not the government of the day," Harris said.

Labor MP Ed Husic also got on the front foot, asking the Productivity Commission later in the day how many of the Coalition's alternative national broadband plans had been submitted for a cost-benefit analysis.

"I have seen none," Mike Woods, deputy chairman of the Productivity Commission replied, which led to Husic posting the exchange on his Twitter page.

"Just asked Productivity Comm'n how many of the Coalition's 19 broadband plans were referred to it for "cost/benefit" analysis. Answer? None," the MP tweeted.

Meanwhile, Turnbull has agreed to take a meeting with Quigley so that the two can chew the fat over the network design, and build costs after Senator Cameron asked about the progress of talks between the two.

"Mr Turnbull raised, at the last hearing, the issue of technology choices. I think you offered him a briefing on tech choices, that hasn't been taken up?" Cameron asked.

Quigley answered in the negative before Turnbull hastily responded, "I'm very happy to sit down with you. At lunchtime!"

The hearing is set to continue until tomorrow.

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government AU, NBN

Luke Hopewell

About Luke Hopewell

A fresh recruit onto the tech journalism battlefield, Luke Hopewell is eager to see some action. After a tour of duty in the belly of the Telstra beast, he is keen to report big stories on the enterprise beat. Drawing on past experience in radio, print and magazine, he plans to ask all the tough questions you want answered.

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Talkback

18 comments
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  • Turnbull is sounding like such a carpet-bagger on this issue. Sigh. It must be tough when you're used to thinking that you're the smartest person in the room, to discover that actually you're not.
    Gwyntaglaw
  • Used to be one of the smartest! Now, just a self seeking set of jaws, progressive turned conservative.
    whitecrowman
  • Catholic set of jaws!
    whitecrowman
  • "Harris sought to defend the network against Turnbull's sledging, saying that it is impossible for the public service to design a policy that suits both the agenda of a sitting government and the opposition."
    Amazing and revealing statement indeed! And we, the taxpayers, thought that public servant's job was to serve the public! But Harris tells us in clear terms that he sees his job as the service to political masters - current and future!
    tom_matic
    • Amazing and revealing? What? Just exactly how do you think the chain of command works in the APS? Would it be the minister of that portfolio be the 'top dog'? Or do you think it's some sort of quasi oppsn. + current govt?

      He is exactly right in what he said here.
      Smithe-13f2c
  • Does any one on these pages think for a minute Turnbull may be right in thinking the NBN could be done better. And Turnbull may also be right insinuating the NBN is actually evolving instead of being planned and no one knows what it will cost or if it will ever serve its intended purpose before before new wireless technology renders it obsolete.
    GBE-71384
    • Perhaps you could identify this new wireless technology that renders fibre obsolete, and also indicate when it will be released.

      Then I'll consider if Turnbull is right!
      omega-b9c3d
    • gbe, from my perspective, the majority of nbn supporters are only supporting because this is the best all round solution.

      so if turnbull had a better solution it would of course, be most welcome. but alas, all he has is a cheaper, greatly inferior, hodge podge solution.

      i repeat the nbn is not perfect (nothing is) but it's "far and away the best all round option for our nation, imo"...

      and the fact european governments are now eyeing off our idea and have already earmarked eur9.2B for high speed networks and are considering pumping up to eur220B into a eur270B network... shows we ((well we, meaning us apart from those like you))) ARE at the forefront...!

      http://www.itnews.com.au/News/277516,europe-changes-tune-on-broadband.aspx
      Beta-9f71a
      • Beta, and isn't it fascinating that the Europeans started reconsidering and having a closer look at what we are doing and the national benefits, AFTER Turnbull was over their doing his usual anti NBN rant. Considering they are now starting to follow our lead indicates they must have a poor opinion of Turnbull and his Party's acumen
        Abel Adamski
        • Both fascinating and laughable imo, Abel...

          Fascinating that Conroy for all his perceived flaws got it so right and has amassed the "right people" to build the "right network"... period.

          Laughable just how wrong the others (and their subservient puppets) have been, are, and will be if given the opportunity. After being found incorrect about "benefits to all Aussies", build cost, roi, future proofing (nothing is, but this is so far advanced to the alternatives, so..), CVC, lack of competition (there's already heaps of plans available via many RSP's to those lucky enough to be in the early roll out areas) all the opposition and naysayers had left was...

          "Ah, well, umm... well no one else anywhere else is doing what we are doing...

          Now what do you know. Isn't it great to be leaders again, instead of nodding dog followers...
          Beta-9f71a
  • tom_matic:
    "And we, the taxpayers, thought that public servant's job was to serve the public!"

    Are you suggesting then that the public service should just ignore the wishes of the peoples elected representatives and do what they believe the people might decide to do at some future date.

    Say what you want about carbon taxes but the NBN lead the party platform at two elections. Opinion polls still show clear support for it from the public.
    Should the coalition win the next election, it will be very much in spite of their position on the NBN, not because of it.
    Goresh
  • "Senator Doug Cameron asked Quigley and Harris whether or not there had been a recent analysis undertaken of different technologies — such as wireless — to power the government's NBN."

    Given that there have been no new recent technologies since the last review, what is the point?
    The NBN ALREADY incorporates the latest wireless technology, 4G LTE where it is cost effective to do so. Where wireless would be too expensive or technically impractical, they have opted for fibre.
    Goresh
  • GBE:
    "Does any one on these pages think for a minute Turnbull may be right in thinking the NBN could be done better."

    It may be possible for it to be done better, but the simple fact is that none of Turnbull's proferred options comes anywhere near it.

    "And Turnbull may also be right insinuating the NBN is actually evolving instead of being planned and no one knows what it will cost"

    Which is surely the better way to do things, learn from you mistakes rather than rigidly follow the plan regardless of how bad that turns out.
    Evolution gave us a human brain that planned the computer. How many "planned" computers can equal a human brain?

    "or if it will ever serve its intended purpose before before new wireless technology renders it obsolete."

    What new wireless technology do you think is going to make it obsolete?
    I suggest you familiarise yourself with Shannon's Law.
    It sets the absolute upper limit for data transmission over a given transmission medium.
    Wireless is already bumping up against Shannon's limit, fibre is barely scratching it's potential.
    Goresh
  • channel capacity = B x ln (1 + S/N)
    B is bandwidth of the channel in hertz
    S is the total received signal power over the bandwidth
    N is the total noise or interference power over the bandwidth, measured in watts

    This is an inviolable law of nature.

    Any talk of greater capacity on a channel is really an expression of belief in magic.
    But of course, coalition voters believe in magic puddings don't they?
    Goresh
  • The position of coalition candidates is very clear.
    1/ The NBN should be scrapped the moment the coalition comes to power
    2/ Labor must redouble their efforts to ensure that every coalition candidate's electorate has been connected before the next election.
    Goresh
  • The Opposition can barely figure out its own broadband policy and articulate it in a clear and coherent way; even if such things were in its brief – which they're not – how in the world is NBN Co supposed to even contemplate planning for a scenario that may or may not eventuate two years from now? Things change that quickly; a year ago, remember, the Coalition was against the separation of Telstra and still pushing for a wireless tower on every street corner.
    braue
  • In addition to following Abbott's orders to "Demolish the NBN" Turnbull favours the Big Business approach of doing it on the cheap & offering minimal product at maximum profit.
    Fierce competition among all ISPs on NBN's proposed level playing field does not suit his agenda at all.
    grump3
    • @grump3, you're forgetting that MT once had some experience with an ISP as a, now what was it again, merchant banker? Which apparently qualifies him as a design engineer for our national network.

      We've had about twenty years of the private enterprise approach, which, coupled with 'light touch regulation", has delivered SFA. As a result our comms scene is currently a national disgrace.
      anonymousI