Telstra, not gormless Libs, plaguing Conroy

Telstra, not gormless Libs, plaguing Conroy

Summary: Liberals' opposition to the NBN may have rallied opponents around a cry of fiscal responsibility, but Tony Abbott's continuing insistence the money be spent on roads shows he's not afraid of spending; he just doesn't like the NBN. But as the industry further distances itself from Liberals' tide of negativity, one big question remains: can Conroy clinch the deal and make Abbott's threats irrelevant?

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It wasn't too long ago that Stephen Conroy's internet filter plans deservedly bagged him the award for internet Villain of the Year. But with the filter on ice for now and 2011 most definitely the Year of the NBN, Conroy is getting accolades of a different sort even as he's now staring down the biggest challenge of his career.

That challenge, of course, is the completion of NBN Co's deal with Telstra, which has dragged on and on — it's even worse than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The latest signs from the NBN Co-Telstra negotiations suggest that chronic delays to the completion of the agreement are in fact the fault of the Coalition — whose determination to kill off the NBN at the first opportunity has led to some serious conversations about what happens to the duct-sharing deal if the Coalition wins power.


Eyes wide shut: The Liberals' pin-the-tail-on-the-policy approach to the NBN echoes desperate efforts by cigarette makers to discount plain packaging.
(Plain cigarette packaging image by D'Oh!, CC BY-SA 3.0)

It is stunning that, despite a total lack of coherent broadband policy, Tony Abbott's campaign of FUD has succeeded in holding up the NBN for so long. Abbott's own perspective on telecommunications is so utterly anachronistic that it's almost not worth commenting on anymore. Abbott hates the NBN with such a passion that he's confirmed yet again this week that his government would likely cancel NBN Co contracts worth billions, absorbing untold punitive damages, just to keep Australia's broadband in its current wanting state.

Abbott feels the money could be better spent on major roads, hospitals and the like — but all this proves is that he (or, perhaps, his speech writers) can add. Heck, give me $36 billion and I'd have no trouble buying a few Barrier Reef islands and building a string of secret lairs from which to hatch evil plans for world domination. I'd probably have enough left over for a swish boat, or 10, and I could spend $6 billion finishing the Pacific Highway duplication just for good measure (never mind that the Federal Government has already promised $1 billion for the project and NSW's Liberal government is refusingto chip in).

Or, we could just spend the whole lot buying swimming pools and slippery dips for every house in Australia.

Yep, there are loads of things you can do with that much money — but unless Abbott is willing to lay down detailed alternative telecoms policies and commit to billions in infrastructure spending on the roads and hospitals he so loves to talk about — he is just blowing so much hot air. Abbott is only playing the if-I-won-the-lottery game with a few more zeroes stuck on the end. Coupled with his blindfolded pin-the-tail-on-the-policy approach to our telecommunications future, the Liberals' overall position on broadband is becoming little more than a carnival sideshow.

It's the telecoms equivalent of the aimless cigarette industry, which has taken to trying to fight plain packaging laws by banging on about pirated cigarettes harming our children; (I will not, here, delve into the double irony that Abbott refuses to reject funding from tobacco companies whose products waste billions of dollars of the taxpayer money he claims to be protecting by opposing the NBN).

Unless he's prepared to announce inviolable election commitments to reallocate that funding to specific road and hospital projects, Abbott is only playing the if-I-won-the-lottery game with a few more zeroes stuck on the end.

Meanwhile, Conroy's bloody-minded determination to make the NBN happen seems to have gained the respect of many within the industry he manages. Optus CEO Paul O'Sullivan, for one, was effusive in his praise for Conroy during his CeBIT keynote speech, commending him as "the most reformist communications minister since competition was introduced in 1992".

"I applaud him for creating the wholesale [NBN] network," O'Sullivan added. "I applaud him for finally grasping the thistle and looking at a regulatory framework whereby the incumbent would go through a proper separation regime in parallel with leading OECD economies globally ... Our minister has done a great job of catching us up and getting over many of the delays of the last 15 to 20 years."

His optimism was echoed by ex-Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett, who said "we got telecommunications wrong in this country 15 years ago with our deregulation model, and Conroy is doing absolutely the right thing in fixing that". Indeed, Conroy has become something of a folk hero in telecoms circles, this week taking out Global Telecoms Business magazine's award for "most significant personal contribution to telecommunications". And it's not the first award the senator has taken out for his NBN work; despite what the Opposition would have everybody believe, there must be something very good about the NBN.

Indeed, throughout the conference — which brought together thought leaders from every corner of Australia's IT industry — I heard from nobody who was seriously opposed to the project as a fundamental undertaking. I speak with a lot of vendors and suppliers and, while there are natural concerns about issues of cost and logistics, there seems to be a broad acceptance that — despite its logistical challenges — the NBN is a major step forward for our telecommunications infrastructure, and that it will shape the telecommunications industry's every move for the next 10 years and beyond.

So, if the overall direction of the NBN is all-systems-go, are the Liberals clinging to a morally correct opposition to the NBN, or just trashing the country's future in a sea of empty rhetoric and technological nihilism? Having been unable to derail the NBN directly, Abbott's Liberals have settled on a character assassination campaign trying to taint the project by association with Mike Quigley, who is being grilled over his position in Alcatel-Lucent, which was fined for offering bribes. Quigley may indeed have legitimate questions to answer when a hostile Senate Estimates committee convenes next week.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Turnbull continues to give ground on his fly-by-night anti-NBN campaign and is, philosophically, currently a hair's breadth from supporting it: he's now arguing that a fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) architecture is a better model and would deliver 60Mbps services. Turnbull's argument may be technically correct — iiNet pushed VDSL2 last-mile technology to 85Mbps back in 2008 — but he is hopelessly quiet on ideas about how a Liberal government would ensure access to Telstra's copper loop to make it happen, or how it would fix the parts of the network that are unsuitable for the technology. Reviewing Turnbull's string of anti-NBN arguments over the past 10 months is like looking at a whiteboard after a team brainstorm meeting — lots of scribblings, most with big red Xs through them.

If the government had offered to pay for installing Telstra pay-TV cable at every house in Australia for free 13 years ago, would there have been equal opposition?

The rest of the Liberal party isn't helping the situation: state representatives continue to rant against opt-out legislation as though it were a violation of Australians' civil rights to give them a free connection to a next-generation telecommunications network. If the government had offered to pay for installing Telstra pay-TV cable at every house in Australia for free 13 years ago, would there have been equal opposition?

Rubber, meet road. These issues go to the heart of what's wrong with the Liberals' anti-NBN campaign: while they're quite happy to blast the government at every turn, they've done precious little to bolster arguments about why the NBN is a bad thing. You know, other than that it's really expensive, and that Labor is building it. This stuff might have played well around election time, but growing momentum behind the actual NBN roll-out — and what seems by all accounts to be an increasingly positive, future-focused community excited about its possibilities — is making Abbott's contrarian Liberals seem more and more desperate every day.

The one-eyed pessimism has created a heavily politicised debate that has been is likely to cause major problems for the raving party faithful in the long term.

Fast-forward five years, and I'll bet tens of thousands of homeowners in NSW, Victoria and elsewhere will be spitting chips because they have to pay hundreds of dollars for NBN Co to install a connection that was previously offered to them for free — but which they rabidly refused because their Liberal party leaders told them to.

The situation is so bad that a former US presidential advisor on broadband policy warned continuing disagreement could end up costing Australia billions — not to mention delaying the NBN Co/Telstra agreement even more than it already has. These are the sorts of consequences the Liberals can expect from their ongoing blind opposition to the NBN, which may serve their own interests but can hardly be said to be serving the interests of their constituents.

The fact is that it's Telstra, and not the Liberals, that has proved to be Conroy's most powerful nemesis. Despite his early threats to block Telstra's access to 4G spectrum auctions and force its divestiture from Foxtel if it didn't separate, we now have a Telstra that's switching on 4G services; pushing Foxtel for an acquisition of Austar; stalled the NBN; and still has not taken one step towards separation.

Conroy is now staring down his biggest challenge to date: getting Telstra to sign the reportedly 2000-page contract on the dotted line so the NBN can start its roll-out apace. Reports suggest we are days away from a conclusion to this drama, and a signing date before the end of the fiscal year would seem a tidy resolution — as long as the negotiators don't collapse first.

Once that signing happens and the NBN roll-out starts in earnest, consensus — even, by some reports, from Turnbull — is that the project will be all but unstoppable. And for all their empty rhetoric, the Liberals may eventually need to consider accepting that despite their efforts, their job is no longer to stop the NBN but to see that it's done correctly. And that, for all the love Conroy has been feeling recently, will be his biggest legacy.

What do you think? Can Conroy and NBN Co drag Telstra over the line? And will there come a time when even Tony Abbott's Liberals have to concede NBN defeat?

Topics: Broadband, Government AU, NBN

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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  • I really don’t understand what Abbott and his zoo crew are trying prove with their stalling tactics, they are just delaying the inevitable, the only thing they will really achieve is pissing off more voters. Sure they will try to blame this all on the labour party but I have a feeling it will most likely backfire.

    Turnbull now says their patchwork scheme will achieve 50mbits symmetrical with FTTN (that thread was epic btw) but of course not much is else is specified, as long as a few people get it in the magic circle they will have achieved their goal and voters will love them... except for the ones outside the magic circle which is the majority.
    Hubert Cumberdale
    • Sadly HC, from my perspective, inevitable or not...the tactic from the opposition seems to be, stall, stall, stall and by the next election come out and say, look at how inept this government is, it's been 6 years since Rudd promised us this wonder NBN, but they have delivered little...

      Yes it is low, but that is politics 2011 and watch the Alan Jones disciples lap it up.
      Rizz-cd230
      • Alan Jones is often correct in his attacks on the more ludicrous things politicians promote. But his listeners will indeed be fuming when they realise his table-thumping on the NBN was misguided, and their lemming-like refusal of a fully subsidised fibre connection will now cost them $300. Fortunately, the majority of his listeners are in Sydney, which will not be connected for a few years. Their envy at the tales from their fibred country cousins should be enough to snap them out of their anti-Labor-NBN stupor.
        anonymous
  • David, mostly good points (except for the silly Telstra attack) but you miss the writing that is on the wall. If the Labor Government crashes and Turnbull takes over from Conroy certainly the NBN will go ahead but with sensible changes.

    The Liberals will be looking for a PPP consortium which will give the poor Australian taxpayer a break. Perhaps Optus (Singtel) could be encouraged to invest with Telstra to form an Optus, Telstra Government ownership of the NBN.

    Whatever happens Kevin Rudd and Senator Conroy must receive recognition as the founder coordinators of the NBN which if the build is achieved in a reasonable time and budget will be well received by all Australians.
    sydneyla
    • Sensible changes?

      You mean changes that aide Telstra and thus your shares...ffs!
      Rizz-cd230
      • You mean aid, not aide. First you misuse apolitical and now this. Might I suggest www.1-language.com/englishcourse/index.htm
        mwil19-a34f7
        • LOL... I see my meaningful comments have reduced you to your lot in life "meaningless troll"! Well done, you have now reached your full potential and graduated.

          But rather ironic you crying about one being personal... think about it! Anyway...

          I believe you are correct, an aide is a helper not to help, per se`, my faux pas...

          See it's not hard to admit and had I been wrong with apolitical I would have done likewise. Alas you were wrong but unlike me, not man enough to man-up .

          So speaking of which, meaningless troll..

          Might I suggest... did you mean "may I suggest"...? And where's your question mark?

          Gee little trolls who live in glass houses!

          When you want to to again receive a comms lesson tiger, return, until then, go sit in the dunces corner...!
          Rizz-cd230
    • "poor Australian taxpayer a break"

      Imagine taxpayers paying all those monies and then the Government not doing anything, if I was a taxpayer I'd be pretty mad and asking WTF am I paying taxes for when these politician beasts don’t bother building stuff... oh wait I am a taxpayer and I am asking that question, oh look it seems to have already been answered too. Who came up with this genius FTTH plan? oh wait that was me! You can thank me now or thank me when it's finished if you like.
      Hubert Cumberdale
  • Very good article, well written, thanks, David. I suspect Telstra is up to its legendary stalling tactics again, delaying the rollout of the NBN for as long as possible so it can maximise its profits from the existing infrastructure. This is no different to what it has been doing for many, many years.

    Abbott, of course, is of no help. Although he pretends to be saving the country money by trying to cancel the NBN, he is actually doing the opposite. He is delaying the project, thereby depriving the country from enjoying the many benefits the NBN will bring to Australian society in the areas of health, education, business, communication and quality of life.

    Conroy has copped a lot of flak in the past, mainly about his proposed introduction of an internet filter. I think that flak was well deserved. On the other hand, he has steadfastly pursued his dream of building a high-quality telecommunications network that will be available to all Australians, wherever they may live. He and Mike Quigley will be heroes in my book if they can pull this off to its conclusion.

    Abbott and Turnbull have done nothing to give us Aussies the first-class network we deserve. Instead of giving positive suggestions as to how to make the NBN better, all they have so far managed to do is oppose, oppose. Personally, I am sick of it and so are many others. I have voted Liberal in the past, but will never do so again while the NBN is being opposed. This infrastructure is so essential for our future as a nation that it is just too important to be ignored or opposed.
    ozimarco
    • Blindly, ideologically opposing the NBN is one thing, but the mud-slinging at Quigley is another even lower ploy, imo!
      Rizz-cd230
  • What a load of self interest.
    Of course the IT industry wants the NBN but the liberals are right and the everyday mums and dads do not see the NBN except for it being an overbloated internet service.
    We are crying out for better services but the internet is just not up there unless you are some geek who sits all day in front of the computer.
    Will the NBN improve my life nope.Will it feed me nope.Will it improve my standard of living nope.
    The list gos on the 40 billion plus can be better spent on something that really is worthwhile and improves our lives.
    But hey its Labor baby so what can one expect.
    midcoast-a9112
    • “the everyday mums and dads do not see the NBN except for it being an overbloated internet service.”

      If the "everyday mums and dads" see the NBN that way then they are wrong just like you and the Liberal party.

      "Will the NBN improve my life nope."

      The government is not responsible for your personal miseries, call Lifeline 131114

      "Will it feed me nope."

      The government is not responsible for your grocery shopping. Learn how to manage your money.

      "Will it improve my standard of living nope."

      Actually that is one thing it will do even if you personally don’t use it.

      "the 40 billion plus can be better spent on something that really is worthwhile and improves our lives."

      Tell us what it is then.
      Hubert Cumberdale
      • Everyday mums and dads are the ones you have to convince.Most only browse a few web pages and do emails and lots are using smartphones and wireless to do it.
        The governent i agree is not responsible for my grocery shopping but 40billion can help a lot to raise my standard of living if i was a pensioner.
        Why would it raise my standard of living all i can see is more of a excuse to do nothing except sit in front of a comp and do nothing.

        $40 billion would pay for a rise in pensions fix the teeth build better roads more hospitals but i guess you do not need if you sit in front of a comp all day.
        The bottom line is its a waste of money and also i have noticed if you are out of the zone you are either stuck on wireless or satelite or if you have money you can get a quote for the fibre i noticed today.
        So if you are out of the zone you are classed as not the same as in the city very unfair to me i thought it was being bulit to benafit everyone.
        So if wireless and satelite is good enough for someone out of the zone why is it not good enough for someone in the zones.
        midcoast-a9112
        • "Everyday mums and dads are the ones you have to convince."

          You know exactly what these "mums and dads" are thinking?




          "Most only browse a few web pages and do emails and lots are using smartphones and wireless to do it."

          Got a source to backup this claim or are you just taking Turnbulls word for it?




          "but 40billion can help a lot to raise my standard of living if i was a pensioner."

          By not building the NBN?



          "Why would it raise my standard of living all i can see is more of a excuse to do nothing except sit in front of a comp and do nothing."

          It's not all about you and your depressed attitude sitting in front of a computer doing nothing all day long. Seriously call the number.



          "$40 billion would pay for a rise in pensions"

          You've done the maths on this one I assume? How much of a rise?



          "fix the teeth"

          Whose teeth? What are you talking about? Do you have dentures? Are you talking about Medicare covering dental? Are you speaking metaphorically? What? Talk some sense man!



          "build better roads"

          State issue.



          "more hospitals"

          State issue.



          "The bottom line is its a waste of money"

          False.



          "So if you are out of the zone you are classed as not the same as in the city very unfair to me i thought it was being bulit to benafit everyone."

          So one minute you say it's an excuse to "sit in front of a comp and do nothing" and "its a waste of money" but then you think it's unfair that there is a 7% that wont get FTTH? You realise that if it was 100% FTTH then it would cost more and there would be more "waste" right?



          "So if wireless and satelite is good enough for someone out of the zone why is it not good enough for someone in the zones."

          So this is what it's all about, you are in that 7% and think that if you don’t get FTTH then no one else should either.
          Hubert Cumberdale
          • You know exactly what these "mums and dads" are thinking?
            Show me the links that " mums and dads' fully support the NBN

            Got a source to backup this claim or are you just taking Turnbulls word for it?
            Its true just ask most parents what do you do on the internet and the answer is there.
            Do you have the links claiming they do not and that instead of working and raising kids they sit all day playing games or watching porn.

            By not building the NBN
            Whats the NBN going to do to help a pensioner who cannnot hardly afford to live let alone have the internet

            It's not all about you and your depressed attitude sitting in front of a computer doing nothing all day long. Seriously call the number.
            So its opkay to sit in front of a comp all day and prentending you hav e a life.No wonder they class internet addiction as a mental illness.
            Whose teeth? What are you talking about? Do you have dentures? Are you talking about Medicare covering dental? Are you speaking metaphorically? What? Talk some sense man!
            So its okay to spend 40 billion on the internet and use the excuse we have no money to fix low income earners teeth by having no dental scheme in place.

            "build better roads"

            State issue.
            Last time i looked the federal government gives grants to states to bulid better roads.So i guess the internet highway could be classed as a road

            So one minute you say it's an excuse to "sit in front of a comp and do nothing" and "its a waste of money" but then you think it's unfair that there is a 7% that wont get FTTH? You realise that if it was 100% FTTH then it would cost more and there would be more "waste" right?
            In other words its okay to waste for 40 billion on the internet buit its not okay to spend a couple of billion more so everyone can have the same benefit of the so called future internet.


            So this is what it's all about, you are in that 7% and think that if you don’t get FTTH then no one else should either.
            Not really the point is if its good enough for someone out on the fringes to have wireless then why is it not suitable for the city.One set of standards for the city and a lower quality for out in the bush is it.
            Oh BTW you only have to be in a small town of under a thousand you miss out.How fair is that and what makes it even worse even if you are just outside the limits and the cable actually still passes by you still do not get it.
            So small towns are out as well.Not to fair to me> i already see NBN is sending out letters for someone to get a quote if you are out of the area.I actually thought the NBN was going to be for everyone and the Billions were suppose to cover it.
            So in the NBN 40 billion plus if you are out of the zones you still have to fork out your own money to get fibre.
            In other words you are paying taxes so others can get fibre but if you are out of the loop you have to fork out your own money.How fair is that.
            midcoast-a9112
          • "Show me the links that " mums and dads' fully support the NBN "

            Show me the links that "mums and dads" DONT support the NBN. See I can do that too, you brought them up not me, it is up to YOU to back up your claim not me.




            "Its true just ask most parents what do you do on the internet and the answer is there."

            Once again got a source to backup this claim or are you just taking Turnbulls word for it?



            "Do you have the links claiming they do not and that instead of working and raising kids they sit all day playing games or watching porn."

            You can no longer be taken seriously in this debate.




            "Whats the NBN going to do to help a pensioner who cannnot hardly afford to live let alone have the internet"

            How is not building the NBN going to help them?




            "So its opkay to sit in front of a comp all day and prentending you hav e a life.No wonder they class internet addiction as a mental illness."

            Is this what you think the internet is all about? Why are YOU on the internet now? You must have a mental illness, get help dude.




            "So its okay to spend 40 billion on the internet and use the excuse we have no money to fix low income earners teeth by having no dental scheme in place."

            Who said we can’t do both?



            "Last time i looked the federal government gives grants to states to bulid better roads.So i guess the internet highway could be classed as a road "

            So what? It’s still the states responsibility how they spend that money, if you have a problem with it take it up with them.



            "In other words its okay to waste for 40 billion on the internet buit its not okay to spend a couple of billion more so everyone can have the same benefit of the so called future internet."

            So you are fine with "wasting" 100 billion but not 40 billion? You actually support the NBN but only if it covers 100% with FTTH not 93%?




            "Not really the point is if its good enough for someone out on the fringes to have wireless then why is it not suitable for the city.One set of standards for the city and a lower quality for out in the bush is it."

            That is the point, if you want fibre and are in that 7% there is a possibility that you will get it eventually but it isn’t going to happen without that 93%.




            "Oh BTW you only have to be in a small town of under a thousand you miss out.How fair is that and what makes it even worse even if you are just outside the limits and the cable actually still passes by you still do not get it."

            Dude make up your mind do you A) Want the government to build a 100% FTTH network costing even more than 40 billion "wasting" more money or B) a 100% wireless network that costs less and doesn’t "waste" money?



            “I actually thought the NBN was going to be for everyone and the Billions were suppose to cover it.”

            The billions cover a 93% FTTH network plus satellite & fixed wireless for the remainder, this hasn’t changed, you obviously haven’t been paying attention all of this information was released ages ago.


            "So in the NBN 40 billion plus if you are out of the zones you still have to fork out your own money to get fibre."

            NBNco only ever promised a 93% FTTH footprint, if people outside want to take up the offer that is their choice (some small towns are already planning to do so) This is proof that people do want and support the NBN making your earlier claims NULL and VOID.
            Hubert Cumberdale
          • There really is no debate anymore since the NBN is going to happen.So its going to be need heaven to sit all day and in the end suffer from some mental illness.
            The NBN is a waste of money but what can one expect from this labor government.
            Even if I supplied links would it stop the NBN not a chance.
            As for your other question I only use the net occasionally and my life does not revolve around it.
            People in small towns will have no choice but to take up the offer or have to be prepared to have a sub standard service.
            So your argument is null and void as the fact is smaller towns according to the NBN are not worth the effort to be supplied the full benefits of the NBN.
            Why should you city folk have a high standard of internet for nothing while smaller towns have to band together and pay for the privilege.
            Conroy said the NBN is for everyone well that's a lie as some even though they pay the same taxes as the city folk are not deemed worthy.
            midcoast-a9112
          • "So its going to be need heaven to sit all day and in the end suffer from some mental illness."

            What???

            "The NBN is a waste of money"

            False.

            "Even if I supplied links would it stop the NBN not a chance."

            I'm asking you to supply links or a source to back up your claim not to stop the NBN.

            "So your argument is null and void"

            Actually it isn’t and just repeating my lines word for word doesn’t make it so...

            "smaller towns according to the NBN are not worth the effort to be supplied the full benefits of the NBN."

            Smaller towns were only ever promised fixed wireless, we've been over this, were you not paying attention when the NBN was announced? Why didn’t you say something back then? Why the noise now? Why complain about the "40 billion" price tag when you know it will cost more to cover those towns?


            "Why should you city folk have a high standard of internet for nothing while smaller towns have to band together and pay for the privilege."

            Perhaps you should do some research. The NBN is actually a network with FTTH covering 93% of premises in Australia, this includes regional areas (which I live in btw) and is not restricted to cities, that was actually one of the reasons why the NBN was conceived; to better serve country areas.

            "Conroy said the NBN is for everyone well that's a lie"

            Conroy didn't lie. The NBN will cover 100% of Australia with FTTH, fixed wireless and satellite...

            “as some even though they pay the same taxes as the city folk are not deemed worthy."

            So we are back to the cost issue, the coalition say 93% FTTH is too much, you say it is too little and should be 100% FTTH but you also say $40 billion is a waste and want the government to spend maybe $100 billion to cover the other 7% that wont initially get fibre. There is only one solution for you I’m afraid.
            Hubert Cumberdale
      • Everyday mums & dads didn't want an electricity grid. Or a telephone. Or, likely, a railway network. But thank goodness some boffins advising the government(s) of the(those) day(s) had the foresight to make an INFORMED decision.
        www.SeeknBuy.com.au
  • FFS, political leaning to the side...even I realise the NBN will be great for Australia!!!
    VillageIdiot-9b40e