Time to end the NBN spin cycle

It’s critically important that NBN Co is allowed to continue the rollout without the shackles of ideological persuasion, dubious timelines and an opacity that emboldens its many critics.

The Communication Minister Malcolm Turnbull gave a speech recently at the inaugural Ovum 2020 Summit and, whether you listened to the speech or read the transcript later, there was a distinct touch of deja vu.

It's been more than a year since the last Federal election, and one might have assumed that Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull would have taken the opportunity to inform the telecommunications industry of the hurdles that Telstra has asked the government to jump on the renegotiated agreement with NBN Co and how the NBN Co is now primed to ramp up the process in 2015 to ensure that the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout and upgrade is completed before the end of the decade.

But instead, the minister spent valuable minutes misinterpreting telecommunications history in the UK, justifying why “superfast” (it’s really superslow compared to FTTP) broadband is what Australia needs, talking up the hand-picked Vertigan panel’s call for infrastructure competition and the immediate disaggregation of NBN Co and then talking down when this should happen. All the while, reminding us all how fortunate we are to have a government that has put in place the “right framework for the NBN”.

Was it really Turnbull behind the microphone or the former communications minister Stephen Conroy flogging an ideological line that most of us are well and truly tired of hearing? Have we become so immune to political speak that we politely clap when a politician finishes talking and ignore the reality-twisting fantasy that we have just had to sit through?

It’s rather tiresome to hear about the NBN from politicians when you all really want is the facts on what is happening from NBN Co. Sure the politicians tell NBN Co what to do, but perhaps it’s time for the political interference and micro-management to end.

NBN transition almost complete

The Coalition government has nearly completed transitioning the NBN away from Labor’s ambitious plan to replace the existing fixed access networks with a Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) network and the introduction of new fixed wireless and satellite access networks to the more subdued integration and upgrade of the existing Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) networks and copper access network (CAN). The new fixed wireless and satellite access networks will continue to be expanded.

The undertaking by NBN Co to make the transition and complete the renegotiation of key agreements with Telstra and Optus is a substantial one. There has been an added financial and personnel cost for NBN Co in the past year and this is what makes rolling out the NBN a challenge that unfolds daily for the new team at NBN Co.

Having said that, there are a lot of positives to be found, especially when NBN Co gets an opportunity to address the demand for information on the rollout and how business and customers are utilising the NBN.

The NBN rollout has been proceeding, in one form or another, for the last four years and in this time NBN Co and its construction partners have made great strides in engineering by reducing the time and cost of FTTP, fixed wireless and FTTN/B deployment and by introducing new operational and business systems, that have already been seen to reduce cost and time overheads when dealing with wholesale customers, vendors and government agencies.

It’s critically important that NBN Co is allowed to continue that process without the shackles of ideological persuasion, dubious timelines and an opacity that emboldens its many critics. And there’s no shortage of them on the ground.

Turnbull slips into the Conroy trap

The government needs to step back from micro-managing NBN Co and making day-to-day management and operational announcements at industry events. All this does is confirm the view that the government has something to hide and can’t trust NBN Co to be open and transparent because the information available to NBN Co might shed light on just how good or bad the Coalition’s NBN plan is for Australia.

NBN Co needs to be free to engage more openly with local communities, vendors and wholesale customers as the number of complaints about transitioning onto the NBN has risen sharply in the past year and this trend needs to be reversed. But how can NBN Co do this without the Minister’s approval and direct involvement in everything that NBN Co does?

The same complaint was levelled against Conroy and it appears that Turnbull has fallen into the same trap.

Without the need to apply political spin to what is happening, NBN Co would be in a position to provide technical and operational information such as the average cost per FTTP, FTTN, HFC, fixed wireless and satellite connection as each region is completed and the engineering achievements made by its workforce during the rollout, including the valuable contribution made by vendors working to provide improvements to the technologies and systems being deployed.

On several occasions over the past four years, NBN Co has been able to release videos that highlight achievements and provide a valuable insight into how residential and small business customers are now benefiting from being connected to the NBN. However, on each occasion the positives have been tarnished by the political circus surrounding the event.

It’s time for the government to step back and let NBN Co get on with the job, and this includes being open and transparent, building a closer relationship with wholesale customers, vendors and, most importantly, with Australian communities.

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