Petitions and twibbons won't save the NBN

I admire the enthusiasm of people signing a petition to save the fibre-to-the-premises NBN, but it's unlikely to go anywhere.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The fastest-growing Australian petition on Change.org indicates that people online are still really keen for Labor's fibre-to-the-premises National Broadband Network (NBN), but the Coalition is as likely to listen to an online petition on the NBN as it would one asking it to build a Death Star.

Following the Coalition's decisive election victory on Saturday, the NBN is one of the first major government projects that will be given an overhaul. However, it will take some time, around a year, before incoming Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be able to turn the NBN from a majority fibre-to-the-premises project into a majority fibre-to-the-node project.

Before that will take place, a number of audits and investigations will be conducted into NBN Co, and we will know well before next year whether the Coalition intends to proceed with its FttN network as promised before the election.

In line with my previous estimate about where NBN fans were in terms of their grieving process for the existing NBN project, we're still in the bargaining stage, with some suggesting that if an online petition was given to the new government, it would somehow be convinced to keep the project as it is.

I admire the initiative, and the passion that has obviously gone into it for it to have already surpassed 100,000 signatures in a matter of days, but if you want to measure the success that these sorts of online petitions have, you need only look at the petition that got the highest number of signatures before it.

Change.org said that the next biggest petition was a petition to boycott 2GB when right-wing broadcaster Alan Jones said that former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's recently deceased father had "died of shame" almost a year ago. Despite the ensuing furore and the calls for his dismissal, Jones remains on the air. Although 2GB temporarily suspended advertising on the station, and some advertisers left, Jones' show continues, and his audience share remains relatively stable.

That's hardly a resounding success.

Turnbull has responded to the petition, stating that the cost-benefit analysis will "finally be able to assess what this project is really going to cost in terms of time and dollars, and the relative trade-offs of differing approaches to delivering better broadband".

The key word in there is "cost". Despite committing to a very expensive paid-parental leave scheme before the election, the Coalition is unlikely to be convinced that pursuing what it perceives to be the most expensive option when it comes to broadband is the right idea, no matter how many signatures the petition gets.

If the public gets a say, or can be involved in the cost-benefit analysis process, that could potentially bring about change to the current proposal. But for now, all the petitions, twibbons, or any other attack sites in the world will not sway the Coalition into keeping the current NBN design.

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