Nov 252010

It’s the morning after, and all through the main-stream media, amateur economists, journalists and telecommunications ‘experts’ are passing judgement on what is to all intents, a political bathplug.

I refer, of course, to the NBNco Business Plan Summary released by government yesterday as a salve to the angst created by Senator Xenophon’s apparent obstinacy in maybe-maybe not supporting the Telstra Structural Separation legislation. As a salve, it clearly worked a treat. As any cogent form of public disclosure, it’s an abject failure. The document does nothing more than paint a broad sketch of what the NBN might look like, if the ACCC and government don’t muck with what NBNco propose. Whether that structure has any mathematical & statistical basis in fact, we don’t and won’t know until after November 30 when ACCC hands down its assessment of the proposed Points of Interconnection structure. If Xenophon sees something worthwhile in the NBNco summary, I’d really like to know what it is, other than he managed to force the government to produce SOMETHING, as opposed to what they wanted to produce, which was NOTHING.
I read through the document last night, admittedly skimming some bits because they don’t say anything other than “trust us, we know best, and besides, we know you won’t dig this anyway”. As with any such document, it contains assumptions, as with any new business start-up, and calls for cost –v- benefit analysis are always valid when assessing a new business start-up. In my line of business, I need to ensure that monies lent can be repaid, regularly, and promptly. The simple fact that benefit determined as an off-shoot of public good cannot be accurately measured puts a lie to continual calls from coalition sources for a cost-v- benefit analysis. Something a banker like Malcolm Turnbull would be well aware of. Risk requires mitigants to be seen as beneficial and worth taking. The primary mitigant of the NBN scenario being what a fully functional FTTP network can provide to business, industry, health, education and the private user. In fact, the NBN Business Case Summary makes a solid case for superior delivery of streamed and recorded entertainment media which logically will exceed that offered by cable television, for example. That same technology will easily carry vision and voice telecommunications combined, enabling real-time medical interventions across great distances. It’s those simple benefits which cannot be determined in dollars and cents terms. To even attempt to do so draws the inevitable comparison to the proverbial piece of string.


NBN will be to future generations what copper wire is to us currently. A useful, somewhat restricted, seemingly vital set of infrastructure which could be improved by replacement with the next level of technology which we cannot envisage today. Its creation is the inevitable advancement of technological progress. Whether it cost $27b or $43b or $143b, the cost point is irrelevant. What is important is the service delivery. To remain competitive with the rest of a globalised society, we must make the move and there’s no point trying to save the odd billion here or there. NBN is an investment in my grandchildren’s futures and political game-playing over fringe claims and counter-claims stands in the way of that future. I really don’t give a damn what certain media outlets claim the PM did yesterday. Whether she “buckled”, “caved in” or simply addressed a political reality in a pragmatic manner makes absolutely no difference to me. What matters is the political bath tub has been plugged, the NBN remains afloat, the water is warm and we’re all in it now so let’s enjoy the experience and stop pissing in the water.

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