Nov 222010

I’ve not, until today, written anything in regard to the National Broadband Network or the shrill conservative outcries for justification of the purported $43b to be spent in it’s construction & delivery.

Simple reference to the NBNco website FAQs link dispells 99% of all the currently circulating myths, if those rhetorically opposing the roll-out were to take a look. For example, The government obligation by way of equity is limited to $26b, not $43b. The latter figure arises from the presumed total cost of the network from go to whoa. $18b is intended to be sourced from NBNco’s own revenues, and from the private debt market at the appropriate time.
The myth surrounding the yet to be publically released business plan can only be classified as such, until such time as the business plan becomes public. That government has chosen not to release that plan before the end of the current parliamentary sitting may not be a good look politically, but apart from that, there exists no other proof that the projected roll-out timetable and budgets are not as originally intended. That a supposed monopoly is feared will exist is simply so much hot air from anti-government nay-sayers, when for decades this country operated just fine thank you under the auspices of a monopoly communications provider called the PostMaster General, then Telecom. I think it’s also fair to comment that privatisation, and subsequent opening up of Telstra to free-market forces has been the achilles heel of the provider from a services and and customer relations perspective. In short, we never had it so good, when we owned Telstra wholly & solely.
Will a government owned, partially privately funded monopoly communications provider service the 21st century communications demands of a growing and diverse nation like Australia? Well, simply put, the PMG did it since federation and no-one complained about what the copper wire roll-out and continuous telephone exchange upgrading process must have cost. The changeover to cross-bar technology in the 1960’s was one I recall, as a lad being shown through the Camp Hill telephone exchange as this process was undertaken. 8 or 9, 12 foot tall racks of wiring points and linkages, one for each telephone connection under the exchange’s control, gradually changed over to the flashing lights & almost silent multiple cross-over switch frames of half the size & three times the complexity. I know a little about that process as my Dad worked for the PMG/Telecom for 44 years, retiring in 1988. The exchange he worked at was continually being upgraded as technology progressed, but that process was never subject to the minute scrutiny anti-government nay-sayers claim the NBN must undergo. It simply happened because people wanted telephones and the ability to dial long-distance directly. Technology has moved forward in the proverbial leaps and bounds since the advent of the copper-wire telephone system, and way beyond the once limited 2400 baud data transmission available through modem protocols of the 1970’s.
Back in the day of the PMG, a wholly government owned & operated public service instrumentality, doubtless business plans were required just as they are today. However, I seriously doubt free-market oriented cost-benefit analyses were demanded given that every action and purpose of the instrumentality was directed at the national interest. Communications. NBNco is exactly the same today, as the PMG was in 1950. A government-owned public service instrumentality, yet anti-government nay-sayers demand free-market cost-benefit analysis of NBNco, before it engages private debt provisions or retail service providers.
At the end of the day, there is no rational objection to government being the primary driver to the most comprehensive telecommunications change this country has ever seen since federation. The only reason we see such an outcry from anti-government forces is due simply to the need for coalition politics to be seen to be doing something, so it opposes government at every turn. Opposition for the sake of opposition. In the case of NBNco, the national interest outweighs any talk of so-called commerciality. There is no commerciality in connection with NBNco at present, and won’t be until NBNco need to begin raising its own caapital requirements. That time would be a good three years away at this stage. Amusingly, it’s ironic when one considers the symbiotic relationship which exists between Telstra and NBNco during this initial roll-out stage. Telstra is paying the bills, the government is providing the equity capital. Telstra wholesale will cease to exist, but will it in reality, when that wholesale function will simply devolve to NBNco. The question needs to be asked, what is really going to change from an ownership perspective. The people are retaining, or rather recovering the wholsesale provider they lost under Howard. How NBNco functions into the future can only be revealed by the future. For the present, NBNco is merely replacing the Telstra wholesale monopoly with the public interest as the core responsibility.

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