In years to come Malcolm Turnbull will be remembered as the communications minister who, under an instruction from then prime minister Tony Abbott, ‘demolished’ Labor’s 21st Century National Broadband Network. But another prominent politician had earlier inflicted enduring damage to any nascent aim of becoming an innovation nation and set us back in an emerging digitally enabled world. Are we heading towards a repeat of this mistake in telecommunications policy?
This week’s capitulation – that’s what it is – by communications minister Paul Fletcher sets us on a course that hopefully will see Australia start moving in the right direction again as we head further into a digitally-enabled future. It’s a welcomed move, but we’d be wise to take a close look at the detail in his National Press Club address before getting too excited.
Today we have finally reached the much-vaunted date on which the Government said it would have completed the rollout of the trouble-plagued National Broadband Network. Despite widespread industry expectations a media blitz by communications minister Paul Fletcher has so far not materialised. No ribbon cuttings and no skywriter plane spelling out “Mission Accomplished” as some jokingly predicted (see postscript).
As we deal with COVID-19 people are being required to work from home. Students are doing their lessons online. Telehealth is becoming more common. All this will change the way we use the Internet forever.
In this article I’m focussing on a specific event which has highlighted a ‘digital divide’. But the problem goes well beyond the current situation. Access to the online world is denied to too many individuals and groups, including those living in remote areas, people with disabilities, Indigenous Australians and people from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Access to technology and ‘digital literacy‘ are two of the most critical issues confronting us in the digitally-enabled 21st Century. But to begin with Australia needs #BetterBroadband!
The creation of the Commission can be viewed in one of two ways. Either he’s put together a group of highly accomplished individuals who are “doing their bit for the country”, to quote Mr Morrison, and they’ll deliver great ideas and practical plans. Or, it’s a classic example of ‘pass the parcel’ and henceforth the government will be able to say they just did what they were advised to do.
You know the tune, so let’s all sing along: Oh dear, what can the matter be?
Or, if you prefer AC/DC, “Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap”. As we approach the NBN’s nominal completion date of June this year the decision to dump 21st Century fibre and cobble something together using old copper wires and run-down Pay TV cables has left too many Australians humming a very sad tune.
The release this week of the latest financial report from NBN Co underscores what a debacle we have on our hands.
To quote veteran IT journalist Sam Varghese,“NBN Co’s latest attempt to put lipstick on a pig – the animal in this case being the network it is building and the make-up in question being speed – goes one step further than the ‘alternative facts’ which its former chief executive, Bill Morrow, used to dish out”.
The spin doctors at NBN Co are understandably annoyed at media reports reminding people that Australia has dropped from 30th to around 60th in global broadband speed rankings. So they came up with a novel solution. They made up their own numbers. The trouble is nobody in the IT world seems to believe them.
Earlier in the week Telstra chair, John Mullen, conceded the company must accept some of the blame for our flawed National Broadband Network due to its ‘recalcitrance’ back in 2007/2008 when it submitted a petulant bid that didn’t meet the requirements of the government tender to build a nationwide network. However, he then went on to attack the project, in particular drawing attention to NBN Co’s decision to compete more activley in the so-called ‘enterprise’ market – the provision of wholesale rather than retail products.
It’s all very well, if not ironic, for Mr Mullen to complain about a company offering a competitive service but let’s not forget that one of the biggest impediments to NBN Co’s financial performance, and thus its overall success, is the extremely generous terms of the deal the Coalition did with Telstra when Malcolm Turnbull followed Tony Abbott’s instruction to ‘destroy’ the NBN and opted to buy access to Telstra’s old copper wire network and its ageing Pay-TV cables.
In my view, NBN Co ought to consider renegotiating the deal with Telstra over access to their ‘pits and pipes’ and in return agree not to compete in the enterprise market. And Telstra should repair the damage it caused by negotiating in good faith – for Australia’s sake.
Communications minister Paul Fletcher today spoke at an industry conference and outdid his Coalition predecessors in an extraordinary attempt to defend the beleaguered National Broadband Network. These are just some of the comments he made to an incredulous audience of IT professionals who know so much more than he does.
Internet access is now the most complained about telco service in Australia, according to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s latest report. The state of our trouble-plagued NBN continues to see consumers heading to the authorities in the faint hope their broadband problems can be fixed. Alas, the future remains bleak for millions of NBN Co customers until the Government abandons a flawed set of technologies largely incapable of delivering 21st Century speeds and a reliable service.
Back in December 2016 I attended a dinner at which then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, was one of the other guests. Toward the end of the evening Mr Turnbull beckoned me to join him in conversation.
Not missing an opportunity I told him that his NBN was in big trouble. Actually, I used far more colourful language to describe this fetid project. However, I also said that there was a solution that should be adopted ASAP. “I need to know about this. Come and see me”, was the then PM’s response.