Government tries to solve NBN puzzle with more government

Who knew back in 1901 that by giving the Commonwealth the power to deal with “Postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and other like services”, we’d be in this mess 110 years later?

In October last year, NBN Co and government officials briefed Gungahlin residents on the local NBN rollout, but they had very little to say. Most people wanted to know the big things: Who will get access to it? Where will it be deployed? When will this happen? How much will it cost? Instead, NBN Co rattled on about sharing the future via the NBN, to think of the possibilities, and not dwell on the facts.

Approaching a year later, and with NBN’s Gungahlin rollout imminent, the big questions still haven’t been answered by NBN Co or the federal government. The release of the House of Representatives standing committee on infrastructure and communications report yesterday had this to say about the communications problem:
To date, much of Australia’s public debate around the NBN has focussed on relatively narrow issues such as pricing structures, technology options and governance issues. During the inquiry, the Committee perceived a growing appetite for a broader public discourse around what benefits the NBN could enable across Australia’s economy and society (Chapter 10, p, 245).
Rather than fix the problem, the “Labor-dominated” committee has found, after fluffing off any arguments which challenge the very design of the NBN governance model, that the solution is to talk more about the benefits of the NBN.

Citizens still want to know the big questions about NBN: Who will get access to it? Where will it be deployed? When will this happen? How much will it cost? None of these questions have been answered. Citizens are still treated with contempt and asked to “imagine the possibilities”.

Australia’s communications industries have always suffered from politics. Since the early days, we’ve been told how fabulous our communications infrastructure is when clearly we haven’t stacked up well against other advanced economies.

The only way to fix the NBN’s woes is to get the industry out of the hands of politicians and let it deal with market demand – it really is that easy.

The litmus test to check when the politicians are further enough away from the industry is just as easy: when a telecoms company CFO resigns, the event won’t even raise Malcolm Turnbull's eyebrow. In the meantime, government is the problem, not the solution.

Photograph: Copyright © 2007 Michael de Percy, taken in Canberra, 16 April 2007