NBN is 'visionary', congratulations: Wu

NBN is 'visionary', congratulations: Wu

Summary: The National Broadband Network (NBN) is a "visionary" project and Australia should be congratulated, according to the author of a history of large-scale communications technologies. The challenge will be in the execution, he said.


The National Broadband Network (NBN) is a "visionary" project and Australia should be congratulated, according to the author of a history of large-scale communications technologies. The challenge will be in the execution, he said.

"I think it's a daring and fantastic plan, and yes, if it works out the way it's supposed to I think it'll be fantastic and will set a model for the rest of the world," said Tim Wu, US-based telecommunications policy advocate and author of The Master Switch: The rise and fall of information empires. "I think the countries that go forward with these kinds of things are going to have the advantage in the 21st century."

"It'll make Australia famous for something other than your athletes and Ned Kelly," he said.

Speaking on this week's Patch Monday podcast, Wu dismissed concerns that spending billions of government dollars on a centrally controlled network went against free market principles and was out of proportion with US spending.

"Give me a break! You see America, it's all talk here, because I mean how many hundreds of billions does the American Government spend on roads? The military infrastructure built by the United States is massive. The truth is, the United States spends enormous monies on public infrastructure. They just spend it in ways that are different from other countries, and spend comparatively little on communications for reasons that are completely mysterious to me," he said.

Wu believes the success of the NBN will depend on the enthusiasm and competence of the people involved.

"A government-run centralised network, whatever, can be fantastic if the people running it are fantastic... A private network can be fantastic if the company running it is any good. If the company running it is an incompetent monopolist who has no interest in the internet it's going to be terrible."

Wu said one reason broadband had been slow to take off in the US was that the companies involved "really aren't into it".

"Cable companies are about television. Phone companies, they didn't like the internet, it kind of came out of nowhere. And so they're not native-born internet companies, they're sort of begrudgingly doing this because it's a certain alternative service and they're always a little nervous it'll take over in a way they won't control," said Wu. "It actually has taken over."

Tim Wu is speaking at the Digital Directions 2011 conference in Sydney on 3 March.

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government AU, Telcos, NBN


Stilgherrian is a freelance journalist, commentator and podcaster interested in big-picture internet issues, especially security, cybercrime and hoovering up bulldust.

He studied computing science and linguistics before a wide-ranging media career and a stint at running an IT business. He can write iptables firewall rules, set a rabbit trap, clear a jam in an IBM model 026 card punch and mix a mean whiskey sour.

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  • It certainly is visionary, I first came up with a FTTH plan in 1996 back then people called me crazy. Well from all the anti-NBN comments here we know who the crazy ones really are...
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • Let's not get carried away to the tune of Fifty Billion big ones. It could be visionary, but depends on how one looks at it. after all, it's also defined as:

    \Vi"sion*a*ry\, n.; pl. {Visionaries}.

    1. One whose imagination is disturbed; one who sees visions
    or phantoms.

    2. One whose imagination overpowers his reason and controls
    his judgment; an unpractical schemer; one who builds
    castles in the air; a daydreamer.

    Let's also ponder at what the man in the street thinks of it.

    Vasso Massonic
  • What makes you think The Australian has any credibility, apart from it's obvious motives?
  • You just described the NWAT crowd to a tee!

    And please explain the $50B you keep quoting, using some factual basis?

    As for your URL, had you actually read the whole thing you'd find they were just as many areas who wanted the NBN. In typical me, me fashion (you'd know all about that eh) the areas quoting as not wanting it, already had decent comms...
  • Wow, you lost all credibility when you referenced an article by the Australian...
  • http://www.malcolmturnbull.com.au/blogs/reserve-bank-governor-calls-for-cost-benefit-analysis-into-nbn/
    Vasso Massonic
  • Dictionary definition failure by vasso.

    "7. a person of unusually keen foresight."


    Anyone surprised that someone against the NBN is limiting themsleves to just two options? I'm not. Thanks for stopping by Vasso.
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • The article did not make the news, it merely reported the news. Also, it portrays both sides of the coin. Which is as it should be.
    Vasso Massonic
  • Hubert, I did write.... "it's also defined as"

    Moreover, as a substantial Telstra shareholder If the NBN does not proceed it would be detrimental to my investment BUT is insignificant to the national loss if the challenge of its execution fails.

    if it does
    Vasso Massonic
  • Gee the Australian and Malcolm Turnbull.com are your sources...WOW.

    Remember the good old days when to fight the noble Telstra cause [sic] against those leeches [sic] you used to also post URLs to NWAT as your undeniable proof...LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Yes of course you did, but come on we know you are being deliberately selective here. I wont go as far to say you have an agenda like certain other posters or newspapers but sometimes one wonders.
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • I will because he does...!
  • I appreciate your comment. I do have an agenda. The well being of my children, grandchildren any my grand child.
    Vasso Massonic
  • Oh cool...

    So when does this kick in and the TLS share driven GREED end?
  • wow, an obviously pro-NBN opinion piece by someone with a vested interest in government investment in telecommunications. Anyone who disagrees with it will be attacked by pro-NBN zealots, especially if they use opinion pieces, even if they have some research behind them.

    This happens every time NBN is mentioned here now.

    Can't wait for Tony to win the next election.
  • Yes but what about the topic?

    A topic which was a big thumbs up (along with the mandatory warnings of course) from a universally recognised comms expert.

    A topic conveniently overlooked by the above TLS share driven FUDster, who instead opted for an wayward article in the Australian...LOL and you, gumbor.

    Is this of no interest to him, you or dare I say, the anti-NBN zealots?

    Enjoy your wait, in the mean time let's hope poor old Tony's head can stop wobbling uncontrollably!
  • I doubt Tony will ever become a PM
  • You have got to be kidding me.. NBN is like a fraction of the budget for health. You are bring your grandchildren out on this issues? If anything, NBN is going to benefit them rather than making them pay!

    You would need to worry about your grandchildren if we were building wireless today. because the copper wireless NEEDS to be changed either now or in the future!
  • You don't seem to know the cost and drama of deploying the NBN project over a decade with a diminishing customer base.



    I do worry.
    Vasso Massonic
  • http://delimiter.com.au/2011/02/14/the-nbn-will-not-kill-your-%E2%80%9Cway-of-life%E2%80%9D/

    Look! I can link articles from one source too! Aren't I clever.