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Australia has already given up on an all-fibre NBN

Forget waiting for the election: Judging by the rhetoric now coming from the highest levels, Labor has already lost the election and we should apparently start redecorating the NBN now. Let's hope the Coalition has more planned than just gutting NBN Co.

In one of the more tasteless literary exercises of the past decade, in 2007, OJ Simpson pushed a combined book-TV special entitled If I Did It, Here's How It Happened — flipping the proverbial bird to those who believed he was guilty of the 1994 murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, of which he was acquitted.

Why wait until the election? The NBN's naysayers are ready to redecorate now.
(Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 Simon A Eugster)

Controversy quickly saw the TV special cancelled and 400,000 copies of the book pulped. However, there seems to be no hope of a similar ban on the increasingly vitriolic public discourse around the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The project has veered from once-cautious optimism to a nihilistic sense of despair that is being stoked by an opposition party as relentless in its attacks on Labor and leader Julia Gillard as it has been ready to ignore the finer details of implementing its own NBN policy.

That the Coalition is already taking its September 14 victory for granted could not be clearer after recent revelations suggested that Malcolm Turnbull is already approaching candidates to replace current NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley once Tony Abbott takes power.

Such changes — just months after the did-he-just-say-that dramas around Quigley's support for a fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) and fibre-to-the-node (FttN) comparison, a disastrous subcontractor implosion , and an asbestos nightmare that has given Telstra a chokehold on the NBN rollout and put more nails into NBN Co's coffin — all contribute to the growing perception that Labor's NBN is done for.

Such changes — just months after Quigley's support for an FttP-FttN comparison, a disastrous subcontractor implosion, and an asbestos nightmare that has given Telstra a chokehold on the NBN rollout and put more nails into NBN Co's coffin — all contribute to the perception that Labor's NBN is done for.

Move on, nothing more to see here. All that is left is to write the eulogy — and, if the reports about early staff recruitment are to be believed, Malcolm Turnbull is already doing so. Perhaps it will be an addendum to his ongoing political strategy, which might as well be called If I Ran the NBN, Here's How It Would Happen.

Turnbull's sustained political assassination of the NBN, and of the Labor party that begat it, has spilled more ink than one cares to think about — and the effort to redirect NBN Co will be a story of biblical proportions. My poor fingers are aching just at the thought.

Yet, all that is still three months away; shouldn't NBN Co just keep on getting on with things for now? Apparently not: The fact that politicians have effectively started to look past the current NBN rollout is an enduring monument to the persuasive power of an avalanche of FUD, tainted with just the right amount of posturing, a disaffected electorate, and a whole lot of selective information.

Yet, one important thing has changed in recent months: Ideological moderates, like pro-NBN independent Rob Oakeshott, have also begun to qualify their support. This is most significantly reflected in the report of the parliamentary committee, which seems to charting new waters by calling for NBN Co to move well past its remit by actively exploring alternatives to the sitting government's policy.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Labor is still in power; shouldn't NBN Co, then, rightly just keep doing what it's doing up until beer o'clock on Friday, September 13?

The political buzzards are so eager for their NBN meal that they're already looking past the election and settling onto the bandwagon behind which Julia Gillard's political carcass is already being dragged.

Abbott, Turnbull, and everyone else due for a change of address come September are so eager to govern that they're not even waiting until they're elected to do so; one suspects that Kresta salespeople will be queued up outside Parliament House on election eve, measuring tapes in hand, ready to get stuck into the ex-Labor ministers' parliamentary offices the next day.

Yet, the changes they'll need to make are more than cosmetic — much more than big spending cuts with little regard for capability or long-term strategy. Critics may be calling for an early rethink of NBN Co's direction, but there are still so many unanswered questions that one wonders whether those same critics will take the time to think through the tougher parts of that change.

In successfully rallying the people to an upswell of discontent, the Coalition has set itself up for immensely tough scrutiny as it comes into office. And when that happens — is it even useful to say "if" anymore? — only then will it, or anybody else, be in a position to call for a change of direction for NBN Co. Let's all hope it's the right one.

What do you think? Is it too early to be giving up on the NBN? Have we held onto Labor's FttP dream for far too long already? And is it right to expect NBN Co to start moving on even while Labor is still in power?

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