NBN’s latest bizarre twist – Quigley decides to examine broadband options four years too late.
The CEO of NBN Co, Michael Quigley, has today proposed an inquiry into alternative technologies for very fast broadband to be carried out by the Communications Alliance, the peak telecommunications industry group.
This is the most bizarre twist yet in the debate over broadband policy. Even more bizarre because Mr Quigley has made the announcement without obtaining the agreement of the Communications Alliance to commission the inquiry.
For almost four years, ever since Labor’s $50 billion fibre to the premises NBN was announced in April 2009, the Coalition and many others have called for an independent, transparent review of the options for delivering fast broadband to all Australians. These calls were motivated by our concern that Labor had chosen the slowest and most expensive way of achieving such an upgrade.
We noted that Kevin Rudd had gone to the 2007 election pledging that no major infrastructure project would be funded by the Commonwealth without a rigorous cost benefit analysis and we urged Labor to honor that pledge with the NBN – the largest infrastructure project in our country’s history.
Throughout this period Mr Quigley and the Government repeatedly and scornfully dismissed such calls. And Labor’s NBN plodded onward, consuming vast amounts of taxpayers’ cash but providing broadband to only a tiny fraction of the 2 million or so Australian premises with inadequate service.
If the Government provides equity to NBN Co at the rate set out in the 2012-13 Budget, by June some $7.8 billion will be committed. NBN Co has entered into contracts that the MYEFO review of the Budget stated expose taxpayers to at least $2.8 billion in contingent liabilities. The amount spent on salaries alone at NBN Co is approaching $2 billion.
Yet despite all of this money NBN Co itself projects only 54,000 users will be connected to its fibre network by June 2013 – and few observers expect even that milestone to be achieved. As of December 2012 the number of users on the fibre network was only 10,400. Since the start of the ‘volume rollout’ more than eighteen months ago not a single household has been connected outside the Eastern States.
Now, just months from an election, Mr Quigley suddenly wants a review – but a hazily conceived and nebulous review on his terms and timing. This isn’t policy on the run; it’s policy chaos.
Mr Quigley must immediately provide answers to the following questions for his call to be taken with any seriousness:
Why has Mr Quigley rather than Senator Conroy announce the proposed inquiry?
Since when have such announcements been an matter for GBEs rather than the government of the day?
Who will determine the terms of reference, and what exactly is the inquiry’s objective?
How widely did Mr Quigley consult with the industry ahead of today’s call?
Why is the Communications Alliance, an industry lobby group, better placed to conduct this inquiry than independent bodies with economic expertise such as the Productivity Commission or Infrastructure Australia?
If the Communications Alliance declines to sponsor this inquiry, will Mr Quigley then request the Productivity Commission or Infrastructure Australia to conduct a formal, thorough inquiry into the various options for delivering very fast and affordable broadband to all Australians?
What role will prices for end users and value for money for taxpayers play in evaluating the alternatives?
Will NBN Co assist the inquiry by releasing all internal work its staff or consultants have performed on alternatives to the FTTP network, including any conclusions regarding the cost savings or lower end user prices that a switch to fibre to the node would generate?
Unless clear and credible answers are provided by NBN Co and the Government to all of these questions, Mr Quigley’s remarks today will be exposed for what they appear to be – a cheap stunt to distract attention from NBN Co’s appalling record in executing the rollout.