NBNwatch: It's all hopelessly politicised

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NBNwatch: It's all hopelessly politicised

The joint standing committee’s report reveals the core of the NBN's problems.

The most incredible part of the Joint Standing Committee’s report on the NBN is not how obvious most of the recommendations (backed by Labor and the Greens) are, but how ridiculous the dissenting portion of it is by the government. Most of the 25 recommendations listed at the beginning of the report make sense, such as prioritising FTTC over FTTN, forcing more transparency out of NBN and strengthening the role of the TIO.

The subsequent reasons for dissent are ideological at best and out of touch at worst.

It’s not necessarily surprising of course – we know that the Coalition has very little idea how to improve the NBN situation outside of requesting reports to ignore and doing nothing. Each part of the report is backed up by submissions and expert testimony, detailing the reasons behind the recommendations. It also highlights a few of the commonly disputed facts, such as that the NBN hasn’t updated its cost estimates for FTTP since 2013 (it’s cheaper), or that FTTN doesn’t have an effective upgrade path (it does)

The other problem is that the rest of the report is largely an overwrought discussion about almost every NBN argument of the past few years. There is almost no agreement from both sides on any serious recommendation included in the report – the Coalition effectively thinks how it's handling the situation is fine and the opposition thinks it is not. FTTC is a perfect example of this – when it was originally put in front of the NBN Board it was rejected as not being able to fit into the original budget. But the budget has already been exceeded – and the replacement cost will still likely be forced on NBN post-2020 anyway.

The dissenting report also makes some silly claims – saying the handwringing over global speeds would be “worse” since FTTP would take longer to deploy, and saying that it’s perfectly fine that 30% of users aren’t likely to even get 100mbps over the medium term. But simply regurgitating election promises as justification for ignoring most of the recommendations is pretty awful leadership – not every policy is perfect and interim modification is important. The NBN is a significantly different beast than it was last election or the one before it.

The other factor is that the recommendations aren’t anywhere near as politically sensitive as they could have been. Labor’s NBN election campaign promise was to basically replace FTTN with FTTC and this is also, consequently, the primary recommendation of the report. It would be marginally more expensive but, importantly, is not a call to remove the MTM nor is it a revision back to FTTP. It retains NBN’s ability to use a handful of technologies but advises removing the one that is most likely to limit user choice and create a two-speed economy when it comes to digital advantage.

The other recommendations, such as pushing for performance ratings and RSP ratings, as well as forcing NBN to provide the full range of speed as per availability rather than the current 25/50mbps arbitrary limit are simply common sense. But since the NBN is still and will forever be a political football, it seems that until a change of government occurs little is likely to change when it comes to the status quo. NBN might take some internal liberties when it comes to FTTC rollout and letting, shock horror, people know what fixed speeds they should be receiving.

But the complaints process, the status of faults both related to pre- and post-rollout, and the multitude of other well discussed issues also contained in the report – that desperately need action and attention from consumer and telecom regulatory agencies – will be passed over until the next report.

Since the government dumped this report on the Friday “Trash Pile”, it’s unlikely anything is going to come of it.

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