Comment: Does the NBN Matter?

By Michelle McAulay CC: BY-NC-SA
In 2007, broadband became a surprise election issue, culminating in the NBN some two years later.

Recently, I was asked to comment on the NBN and whether it would be a major election issue as it was in 2007.

Below is my response. This appeared in the Australian Financial Review on 5 March:
The NBN has been dragging on for so long that it will be difficult for it to “cut through the noise” at the next election.
If we look at the situation during the 2007 election, politicians such as John Howard and Senator Bill Heffernan really didn’t “get” broadband. Australians had suffered appalling broadband speeds and draconian download limits for so long that hearing politicians talk about broadband as a way to simply “download movies” was a case of a government with “no idea”.
Rudd was able to clearly blame the Howard years as an opportunity lost for the digital economy and to provide the NBN as an instant remedy.
However, once the policy became bogged down in the details, Australians became sick of hearing about the NBN and its outdated equipment (Tasmania), then a few years later, Armidale being connected – it was all a “big fizzer”. Some five years down the track and the Telstra agreement, arguably the whole point of the NBN, has only just been completed and the situation for broadband hasn’t changed for the majority of Australians who were suffering from “fraudband” back then.
Broadband is still an important issue, and whether Australians get the NBN or the Coalition’s version of high-speed broadband will be less important this election unless NBN Co performs a miracle and gets some major “runs on the board” very soon.
Otherwise, the major difference between 2007 and now is that in 2007, the government had no idea that things were so bad. The focus was all on selling Telstra, not on improving the appalling state of broadband in Australia.
Now that all politicians acknowledge that something needs to be done, I don’t think there is the same imperative that existed in 2007 to acknowledge how bad Australia was (and still is) performing in relation to the rest of the OECD (and even some poorer countries).
The lack of acknowledgement was the big issue. But with the NBN saga now just dragging on, recent events in politics will see broadband sitting in the background during the next election unless scrapping the NBN becomes a major budget issue.
 A follow-up article in the Australian Financial Review included my comments on 6 March.