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The Coalition’s resounding victory in Saturday’s election means a new look NBN. The move to FTTN has been widely discussed, but how important will it be in practice?

The Malcolm Turnbull version of the NBN has triumphed over the Stephen Conroy version. It will be fibre to the node, with free enterprise taking over from Government. The NBN may well be privatised, though not immediately.

David Kennedy, Telecoms Research Director at analyst group Ovum, believes the changes the Coalition will make to the NBN amount to a ‘revolution’.

“For NBN Co, we will see a distinction emerging between the construction of the network and the operation of the network. The new government remains committed to structural separation of the fixed access network, and NBN Co will certainly remain the NBN’s wholesale operator.

“The new government will need to make the re-orientation of the NBN project its top communications policy priority if it is to meet the ambitious rollout timetable it has set. The two key challenges are the renegotiation of the existing deal between Telstra and NBN Co to incorporate FTTN, and the restructuring of NBN Co management and strategy. Significant delays in either of these areas would make it impossible to meet its targets for the fixed network rollout.”

The kerfuffle on election eve over the on-again off-again Internet filter will almost certainly end up being a storm in a teacup. Paul Fletcher, the former Optus executive and re-elected member for the safe Sydney seat of Bradfield, has now been exposed as the author of that discredited policy. This means his influence will be limited – Turnbull has little time for ideologues. Neither, it must be said, has Abbott, whose policy gyrations expose him as a rank opportunist driven more by statist Catholic social conservatism than free enterprise.

One of the first decisions facing Turnbull will be who to install as the new head of the NBN. Mike Quigley announced his departure back in July, and has been a caretaker since then. The new Government will also likely take the broom to NBN Co’s board, which it sees stacked with Labor appointees.

Chair Siobhan McKenna has been criticised by Turnbull as having no communications experience, and you can bet Turnbull will want a board and  CEO he feels he can trust.

But it is unlikely Turnbull will rock the NBN boat too much. He will honour existing contracts. Many suspect him of secretly wanting a FTTH network, despite his continued protestations to the contrary. What is definitely the case is that he is passionate about implementing a network quickly and efficiently.

We have Turnbull to thank for the NBN’s continued existence. The Coalition’s avowed policy at one stage was to rip it all out. That never would have happened, but the very concept of the Government having anything at all to do with implementing a national broadband network was once anathema to many on the conservative side of politics.

Turnbull’s big argument has been that Labor’s NBN is too ambitious and too expensive, and is taking too long to implement. Delays, and problems such as the asbestos scare, have given him plenty of ammunition. His unproven and exaggerated claims of how much Labor’s model would eventually cost have become an article of faith for many of the NBN’s detractors.

The reality is that little will change. There will still be massive Government investment in broadband infrastructure. Many people will get FTTP. He will have a hybrid system that will gradually evolve to the Labor model in any case.

The next election is now just three years away. Labor knows that its NBN was more popular than the Coalition’s – indeed, it was a key reason why independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott supported the minority Labor Government. The debate over FTTP vs FTTN will still be going on at the 2016 election, and the technology will have evolved further, and the Turnbull model will be exhibit A.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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