Hackett's NBN challenge

Internode founder Simon Hackett has been a vocal participant in the NBN debate and he is now in a position at NBN Co to make a very real difference. But just how meaningful his contribution will be remains to be seen.

Internode founder Simon Hackett has been an active and vocal participant in the NBN debate since the project’s inception. His appointment to NBN Co’s board finally puts him in a position to make a very real difference in what sort of broadband network we end up with.

Just how meaningful his contribution will be remains to be seen.

Hackett’s position throughout the NBN process has been one steeped in pragmatism. This makes him a perfect fit for the Coalition’s refreshed NBN Co board given that Labor’s Fibre to the Premises (FttP) dream has now seemingly given way to Coalition’s Fibre to the Node (FttN) plan.

Telco analyst Paul Budde reckons Hackett will have a substantial role to play.

“I think he will have substantial influence as he is one the country’s recognised broadband experts,” Budde told Technology Spectator.

“He has great insights, is outspoken and doesn’t shy away from expressing his opinion, which in most cases in the past has made total sense,” he said.

Hackett’s no shrinking violet when it comes to opinions on the NBN nor the telco industry in general and he certainly had plenty to say about Telstra during his Internode days.

 

On the NBN front, Hackett was a vocal opponent of the stipulated Points of Interconnect (PoI) (NBN Co's point of disconnect) and the wholesale access pricing model put forward by Stephen Conroy (Conroy's costly NBN mistake)

 

Perhaps Hackett’s most compelling argument has been on optimising the rollout of the NBN (Optimising the NBN rollout).

 

He is convinced that the NBN can achieve its intended consumer and business aims, at a lower deployment cost, by cutting out extraneous hardware and software feature sets.

According to Hackett, the NBN doesn’t need a cost-benefit analysis, it needs a straight-up audit, followed by the elimination of the significant overheads to the original NBN plan, the inclusion of special Quality of Service (QoS) software, PSDN (telephone) requirements, and custom-designed 6 port NTU customer routers.

Hackett’s “Fibre-on-Copper budget” plan is clearly viable but it isn’t without its critics. RMIT’s Mark Gregory, a regular contributor to this publication, maintains that Hackett’s alternative may espouse a Fibre-to-the-Premises (FttP) NBN but it also dumbs down its quality significantly.

At the end, it all boils down to perspective. Hackett’s approach to the NBN is quite naturally that of someone who’s running an ISP – just build the fibre link and we’ll do the rest. That doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing quality or PSDN requirement, because as Hackett points out, there are cheaper and easier ways to engineer these solutions.

That sentiment is pretty close to Malcolm Turnbull’s playbook. As Electronic Frontiers Australia’s Dr Sean Rintel points out Hackett’s ideas about simplifying the NBN design are actually “in line with the Coalition’s fundamental libertarian-capitalist ideals.”

“Hackett's ideas allow for market-friendly solutions to keep costs down and genuine entrepreneurialism, but specifically do so without introducing the kind of potential for network inequalities that have been mooted about a free-for-all FTTN rollout,” Dr Rintel told Technology Spectator.

 

“Importantly, Hackett has already considered the wholesale and consumer cost barriers involved with the NBN rollout, which are linked to the Coalition's and other’s objections with the network.“

It’s a ringing endorsement and Dr Rintel isn’t alone in hoping that Hackett’s call for a solid fibre NBN that doesn’t waste time or money on extraneous aspects resonates across the NBN Co board.

That’s where things will get interesting because Hackett now sits alongside execs who until recently where on the other side of the fence. The flurry of former Telstra execs joining the NBN in various capacities does pose a very real threat that Hackett’s ideas could just be ignored.

He isn’t the sort who is easy to ignore and Hackett is soon going to get a chance to cross swords with the Telstra machine- once the re-negotiations commence.

For now, one can only hope that a talent like Hackett hasn’t been brought in to simply appease the geeks but actually provide valuable insight on getting more fibre to the home than nodes.

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