Bill Morrow slams the door and kicks the dog as he prepares to log off from his dud NBN

By LAURIE PATTON | 29 April 2018

The head of the trouble-plagued NBN, Bill Morrow, is departing. And he’s finally come clean conceding that reusing Telstra’s ageing copper wires is creating major problems.

In a paper published by NBN Co last week, Morrow admits that fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) is causing lower speeds and more dropouts than the fibre that was originally being rolled out. He also acknowledges that there are too many dissatisfied NBN customers.

This is the man who abused parliamentary privilege to slander me for saying what he’s now admitting. Despite a reproach from members of the Senate Estimates committee he was fronting, Morrow refused to apologise, leading the committee to publish my repudiation of his false assertions. Ironically, I also noted my contention that FTTN was creating the very problems NBN Co is now facing.

Until late last year (2017), I was the executive of director Internet Australia . On IA’s behalf, I helped lead the campaign for #BetterBroadband. IA is a member-based group that includes many of the top broadband experts in the country. In a survey in 2015, 80 percent of the members who voted told us they didn’t think the copper-based FTTN option was good enough.

Eighteen months ago I met with Drew Clark when he was the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and told him exactly what Bill Morrow is now saying. He ignored my advice. Now he’s on the NBN Co board!

Fighting for a 21st Century broadband service has not been without its challenges. Last year The Australian published a series of false and defamatory articles attacking IA and me. I had no choice but to threaten to sue for defamation.

Part of the settlement involved The Australian publishing an article from me and appending it via a link to the earlier stories. It is even more apposite in the light of Mr Morrow’s belated confession.

What I pointed out back then, in December 2017, is the way we’re heading now, whoever is in office in 2020 will have to deal with our biggest ever national infrastructure debacle. NBN Co will owe the government about $19 billion, which it is having to borrow to complete the rollout and will have to fund an expensive replacement of FTTN. I also noted that the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on the NBN had recently published its first report following an extensive review of the rollout. The committee effectively called on the government to direct NBN Co to abandon FTTN.

NBN Co is apparently sticking to its hoary old argument that the current strategy has allowed a quicker and cheaper rollout. The evidence is to the contrary. In New Zealand, where they’ve stuck with fibre they’ve progressively reduced their per premises cost by about 50 percent. If we’d done the same we could have built the NBN for less than it will have cost once you add in the expense of replacing about 40 percent of the fixed line network that’s using FTTN. For my money, the project won’t be finished until everyone has reliable and fast Internet access. So when you include the time it will take to rip out and replace FTTN it will actually have taken longer to build the thing.

It seems even Mr Morrow is sick of defending the mess he’s created. He’s leaving NBN Co before the end of the year. It’s unclear, however, what efforts he has made to persuade the Government to dump the flawed multi-technology mix (MTM) strategy. The rumour is he couldn’t get the board to admit they’d made a mistake in adopting the MTM model. Who knows, Mr Morrow might tell us before he leaves if this is indeed true. At least that would allow him to save some face. It would also provide the Government with the opportunity to fix the mess he’s leaving behind.

(Laurie Patton was CEO / Executive Director of Internet Australia, the NFP peak body representing the interests of internet users from 2014-2017. This is a slightly amended version of an article that first ran in “Independent Australia”.)