Can We Have A Little Truth Please?

Whether you believe in the National Broadband Network (NBN) project or not, it is fair to say that it has created a lot of discussion and political discourse, particularly in recent months.

The Federal Opposition has vowed to stop the project should they win the 2013 Federal Election, with many seeing this as a good thing, and many seeing it as a bad thing.

They try and justify this position in many ways, mainly with “it’s too expensive”, but also with “the government are doing it wrong”, and “they are pork-barrelling” towards their own interests.

If they are going to attack the project on these factors, you’d want to hope their facts back up their case.

In recent weeks, they’ve shown that not only do their facts fall down heavily, in many instances, they don’t even know what they are talking about.

In late March, NBN Co released its three-year rollout plan for the fibre portion of the network, detailing how 3.5 million premises will have work commenced or completed in their areas over the next three years.

Inevitably, there were many people who were happy their local areas were included, and many people disappointed when their area was not included. The unfortunate fact is that with a project of this magnitude, not everyone can be first in line, and some people will have to wait.

Liberal MP Andrew Laming went on a ferocious and ill-informed rage on Twitter over the areas selected in the Brisbane region within the three-year plans. He accuses the ALP of “pork-barrelling” the rollout into ALP-held seats, commenting to The Australian newspaper:

“The cold, hard reality in Brisbane is that households in Labor seats are eight times more likely to get the NBN than those in Coalition seats. Worse, the odds are around 50 per cent better if your Labor MP is a minister. This is a save-the-political-furniture strategy. They are not targeting marginal seats here. They are just trying to survive.”

He also bleated on Twitter – amongst other ill-informed comments:

“Not just NBN pork barrelling for Labor in Qld, but the bigger Labor man you are, the more fibre you get.”

Laming accuses the government, via the NBN Co developed rollout plan, of carefully selecting Point of Interconnect (POI) locations to suit ALP political interests. At first glance, as suggested by his tweet above, that there might be some basis to such an assertion.

The problem with his assertion however, is that the Government did not choose the POI locations.

The initial plan was for 14 POIs, as supported by the government and NBN Co, but ACCC intervention eventually saw the number of POIs increased to 120, and later to 121. The ACCC also stipulated the location of the POIs, based on the existing fibre backhaul infrastructure within Australia:

“The revised list represents the agreed number and location of initial POI to the NBN. It follows a public confirmation process into the 120 initial POI that was developed by NBN Co in consultation with the ACCC and published in December last year.”

“The availability of competing fibre infrastructure was a key element of the ACCC’s competition criteria. The ACCC has therefore also released today information about the number of competing fibre infrastructure owners across the country.”

Far from pork-barrelling, the ALP had little or no influence on the chosen POI locations, as it was based on the location of existing fibre, layed out over the years, based on market needs.

The network is being built out from these logical central network locations. For the record, the POI locations in the Brisbane area are Ipswich, Woolloongabba, Goodna, Aspley, Bundamba, Camp Hill, Petrie, Slacks Creek, Salisbury, Eight Mile Plains and Chermside.

If you built in outer locations first, there would be nothing to connect those locations to. It would be like building the middle 30 kilometres of a 90 kilometre road first – those 30 kilometres would be useless, as you can’t get onto it.

Further, the majority of the metropolitan Brisbane area is covered by ALP seats, so even if you spread the rollout in a perfectly even fashion across the region, you’re still going to be covering mainly ALP-held seats.

All of Laming’s claims simply appear to be wrong and ill-considered, and made for no other reason than to create some anti-NBN noise. Others have examined the claims also, and drawn similar conclusions.

During a hearing convened by the joint parlimentary committee overseeing the rollout of the NBN on April 16th 2012, opposition communications spokesperson, Malcolm Turnbull tried to nail NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley down on the recently signed contracts to build and launch two Ka-band satellites to cover the final three percent of the population not reached by the fibre and wireless components of the network.

A somewhat tense conversation ensued between Turnbull and Quigley, in which Turnbull tried to enforce the notion that NBN Co was taking a massive risk in ordering the satellites, and thereby committing $660M towards them, without the process to confirm orbital slots for satellites being complete.

Quigley shot his arguments down at every turn, explaining that there was almost no risk at all, and that the current status of the process was quite normal three years out from a planned launch date. Even so, Turnbull tweeted a few minutes later:

“#nbn. Quigley & Gvt happy to take risk of building and launching $660 million satellites without having the orbital slot allocated.”

Quigley promptly retorted:

“Chair, I have just noticed that we have had a tweet from Mr Turnbull who says, ‘Quigley and the government happy to take risk of building and launching $660 million satellites without having the orbital slots allocated.’ I thought that, just five minutes ago, I had made it absolutely and abundantly clear that we did not say we would be launching without the orbital slots.”

In the days following, the ITU, the United Nations body tasked with the management of orbital slots also shot down Turnbull’s assertion that there was a massive risk being taken:

“The ITU statement refutes utterly the suggestion that NBN Co is taking ‘highly unusual risks’ by signing contracts to build and launch satellites ‘without securing their orbital parking spots first’. Anyone suggesting otherwise either does not understand the process or is being disingenuous.”

Turnbull was just wrong, and still refuses to admit it, making even more noise about it on his personal blog, despite being shown to be completely wrong. He clearly knows very little about what he was trying to catch Quigley out on.

Of course, even Turnbull admitted as much, stating to Mr Quigley “so you know a lot more
about it than, I guess, any of the rest of us”.

At least he got that bit right.

I have recently spoken on other reasons not to believe the Coalition in regards to their position on the NBN.

They have even tried to claim that areas outside of the fibre footprint, which currently enjoy ADSL2+ speeds higher than the 12Mbps stipulated for the wireless and satellite portions of the network, would be worse off, since some people in those areas would be enjoying higher speeds on ADSL2+.

This of course is wrong too.

Turnbull in particular – as the man who would be in charge of what happens should the Coalition win the next election – should have a better idea of what he is talking about than he has been showing of late. He has copped it from many directions.

And rightly so – if you’re hoping to form the next government, it would be nice to have you know what the hell you’re on about.

Once again, the Coalition have shown that they don’t.

  • SimonReidy

    Excellent piece Michael. Obviously I’m in full agreement. Turnbull is at the centre of this fiasco and its so disappointing to see him blatantly lie or support misleading anti-NBN propaganda that right wing media spews out on a daily basis. And of course offer no credible or costed alternative broadband plan whatsoever.

    The NBN has been a massive discussion point in Tasmania amongst friends and colleagues lately. We feel like we’re entitled to this network, just as every other Australia should. Perhaps more so, because of our disconnection from the mainland, and the fact that we’re always thought of last with everything else. This is the first time Tasmania has ever got *anything* first and it has the potential to bridge a digital divide giving regional customers speeds as fast as capital cities currently enjoy with dying technology like ADSL2 (which much of Tas still cannot access).

    Its a very scary time given the current political climate, with so much uncertainty now surrounding the NBN’s future. Let’s hope as the NBN grows and becomes more entrenched, that the Coalition start to come round, and support it at least at some level. We can’t afford another mess with Telstra, and for a Coalition government to sit on their hands arguing about a new broadband plan while the rest of the world migrates to fibre.

  • Great piece… could I add a petty comment though with your indulgence? The small white type on black background is bloody awful to read. Maye experiment with a couple of differently contrasting colours? 

    • Thanks for the feedback – I’m working on a new theme for the site when I get the chance. I hadn’t considered a major change to the colour scheme, but I’ll keep it in mind…

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