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).
The reality is many families will struggle with inadequate telecommunications, especially those NBN customers with the FTTN (fibre-to-the node) service delivered over old copper wires.
To be fair to Mr Fletcher, the culprits who destroyed a nascent 21st Century broadband network – Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Mitch Fifield – have all gone offline, so to speak. They’ve left parliament and they left behind something smelling like what comes out of the wrong end of the elephant in the room.
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.
A report released by communications minister Paul Fletcher has confirmed that so-called ‘Internet piracy’ declined dramatically following the arrival of Netflix and other online streaming services – debunking the need for ‘site-blocking’ laws controversially introduced following a well-funded lobbying effort by local representatives of the Hollywood studios. In the same week NBN Co announced it is cutting in half its pricing for new connections to encourage reluctant consumers to sign up to its troubled broadband service.
What these two incidents suggest is we need politicians to engage more with industry experts when making technology-related policy decisions. We also need IT / telecommunications groups to do more to ensure the government of the day is well advised. And we need more mainstream media focus on keeping everyone better informed.
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.