Second in cricket, but 41st in broadband!

As contractors are blighted with cost blowouts and with workers downing tools, even a change of government makes winning the Ashes look a surer bet than timely delivery of the NBN.

It’s been a good week for pedants, with news that two amateur songwriters have rewritten the song ‘Ironic’ by Alanis Morisette – a bugbear for nearly 20 years because none of the instances of ‘irony’ in it contained anything ironic at all.

So rather than sing “An old man turned ninety-eight/He won the lottery and died the next day” (unfortunate, but not ironic), singer-songwriting duo Eliza Hurwitz and Rachael Hurwitz now sing the "old man/turned 98/he won the lottery/and died the next day/from a severe paper-cut from his lottery ticket."

While we’re at it, here’s my contribution: “Isn’t it ironic when/you’ve seen a good NBN story online/but can’t download it/because your ADSL connection is rubbish”.

Yes, my residence (when I’m not in digs in Melbourne or Canberra) is around 300 metres from a Telstra exchange, but on occasion I can’t download a 300 kilobyte PDF file containing NBN tidbits. Admittedly, the copper pair to my house runs through a sheep paddock and is probably older than Farmer Joe’s WWII-issue underpants, but it’s still a little frustrating and more than a little ironic.

CommsDay, the newsletter in question, today reports the findings of the most recent Akamai ‘State of the internet’ survey and – once I’d downloaded it via my 4G mobile phone – the stats contained therein helped explain a lot.

The fact is, Australian internet is about as good as this year’s Ashes team. Perhaps worse.

Australia ranks 41st for average connection speeds (4.7Mbps) and 37th for averaged peak speeds (26.3 Mbps). And once again the Poms have thrashed us – the UK is 12th fastest in the world, with average speeds of 7.9 Mbps and average peak speeds of 36.6 Mbps.

For Australia, that’s unfortunate – though not, of course, ironic.

More ironic is that Malcolm Turnbull, the man instructed by Tony Abbott to ‘demolish the NBN’ is an even-money bet to be the man who builds it – assuming, that is, that Rudd goes to the polls soon and it’s an Abbott-Rudd contest, not a Turnbull-Rudd contest brought on by Rudd delaying the election too long.

The Turnbull plan, remember, states: “Our goal is for every household and business to have access to broadband with a download data rate of between 25 and 100 megabits per second by late 2016 ... Suburbs, regions, towns and business districts with the poorest services and greatest need for upgrades will receive first priority.”

That’s good news for yours truly. Good news too for Farmer Joe, who’ll no doubt get online and order some new GST-free smalls from abroad.

But will Turnbull be able to deliver that much broadband, that quickly? To leapfrog most of the developed world in just three years seems like a tall order.

The copper-pair based plan will be rolled out by contractors, just like the Conroy fibre-based plan. And according to The Australian today, those poor defenceless contractors miscalculated how much it would cost to install Conroy’s fibre network, and have had to squeeze sub-contractors so hard that many have downed tools.

Major contractor Service Stream is haemorrhaging money so fast that it’s put its shares into a trading halt while it counts the losses.

Are we to believe, then, that the overbearing Conroy, and outgoing CEO of NBN Co Mike Quigley bullied and berated these contractors so hard that they forget they were there to make a profit?

And can we likewise believe that a benevolent Turnbull, if part of the next government, will instruct NBN Co to offer much more attractive terms to contractors so that they actually get the job done?

One’s faith is tested by such promises. I, for one, will be happy if I can get a reliable average of 10 Mbps under the Coalition plan – putting my connection on a par with 20 per cent of UK homes.

All sides of politics, and the major contractors building the NBN, are becoming experts at over-promising and under-delivering. Chances are we’ll beat the Poms at cricket again before we catch up on broadband delivery. And no, that’s not ironic.    

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