Conroy calls NBN costings "bizarre maths"

At a broadband forum last week, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy called the per-house costing of Tasmania's optic fibre network "bizarre maths".
Written by Colin Ho, Contributor on

At a broadband forum last week, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy called the per-house costing of Tasmania's optic fibre network "bizarre maths".

ZDNet.com.au reported earlier this week that the initial phase of the roll-out would cost $38 million, which is equivalent to $7800 for each of the 5000 households it is due to connect. These figures were put to Conroy and Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett at a press conference.

"To take the backhaul and the backbone network and divide it into the initial amount of houses... it's just not bad maths, it's bizarre maths," Conroy said in a press conference, adding that the backhaul had multiple benefits and would reduce future wholesale broadband prices by 80 per cent.

ZDNet.com.au asked about the total cost of the roll-out, but Conroy and Bartlett did not confirm or provide an estimation of the project's cost.

"There are still some negotiations going on and as a Commonwealth we don't want to reveal what our envelope is because we want to quite obviously, get the best value from that envelope," said Conroy.

Bartlett said Tasmania will be the most connected place in the world by 2014 as he announced a contract with John Holland group to roll-out the network.

John Holland will deliver and install NBN Tasmania's backhaul cable as part of the first stage of the build, which will be completed within the first quarter of 2010. The initial steps of the roll-out will stretch from Port Latta to Smithton on Tasmania's north-west coast. Then the towns of George Town on the north coast and St Helens on the east coast will be connected. The final section will link outer Hobart suburb Midway Point to the lower east coast town of Tribunna.

Further jobs will be subcontracted to Tasmanian companies including GHD Tasmania, Russell Smith Electrical and Communications, Com Star Systems and Nu Energy.

"We believe we're more than just natural beauty, fine wines and pristine beaches... in the next 4 years ... we will be the most connected place in the planet — measured in optic fibre to the premises," Bartlett said.

Bartlett, a former IT consultant, used the online multiplayer videogame, Everquest, to describe his hopes for the National Broadband Network (NBN).

"Everquest is the kind of game that your spotty teenage boy is probably playing at home now that effectively allows you to run around a virtual world with a sword killing other people with swords, capturing their lands, their castles and their online assets," explained Bartlett, drawing his ideas from an academic document written about the game in 2001 by PhD student Edward Castronova from the University of Indiana.

Bartlett described how people became millionaires from the videogame by selling their virtual assets to other players and suggested similar possibilities for the state and national economy.

"I'm not proposing, Senator, an online games led recovery for Australia... although certainly there are opportunities there," Bartlett said, "[but] imagine the prospects for the future when you talk about the ubiquity or the size or the scope of the actual broadband that NBN will provide."

Bartlett expressed his frustrations with the media. "I'm always frustrated when journalists shove a microphone in your face and ask 'what's the take-up, what's the cost?" Bartlett said. "That's the equivalent of a journalist going to the Governor General in 1916 and asking... do you think this electricity thing is going to take off?"

Editorial standards