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NBN: Turnbull is clear about what he wants, media is not Featured

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Within the Australian media community for the past three years there has been an ongoing mantra about Shadow Broadband Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his "real" views about the NBN. The trouble is that despite Mr Turnbull repeatedly spelling out a crystal clear vision of how the NBN would proceed under a Coalition Government, the media refuses to believe him.

 Last week a number of members of the iTWire team, including yours truly, attended an eye-opening address on the Sunshine Coast by Mr Turnbull to a room full of journalists about his views on broadband and the NBN.

Mr Turnbull was very clear about what he believes is the correct course for Australia's broadband future.

First, he believes that as much existing infrastructure should be left in place as possible, notwithstanding the bind the present Government has got itself into with Telstra over the shut-down of the HFC network.

Second, he believes that the NBN should focus on delivering a much lower cost ubiquitous FTTN network (estimated at about a quarter the cost of FTTH), with the option of allowing users to pay for the extra bit of fibre to their door.

Third, he believes that having a successful and affordable broadband infrastructure is contingent on having competing privately owned delivery networks, not a single government owned technology and infrastructure.

Finally, Mr Turnbull believes that under the present NBN rollout plan, many of us baby-boomers and perhaps quite a few Gen Xs will be dead by the time fibre reaches our doors.

What was perhaps the most incredible aspect of this conference was the attitude of some of the more influential members of the media toward Mr Turbull and his message - both during the media conference and afterward.

After being confronted by ABC journalist Nick Ross in what can only be described as an extraordinary five minute ideological argument over what true broadband means and the necessity of having fibre to the premises for telehealth applications, Mr Turnbull proceeded to give the room a much needed lesson.

Mr Turnbull demonstrated in no uncertain terms how much more he knew about broadband - from both a technological and market perspective - than all the journalists in the room put together.

During that demonstration, Mr Turnbull reminded the room about how the rest of the world was moving away from government-owned communications monopolies and toward the use of privately-owned competing technologies.

He suggested that in the case of broadband implementation Australian technology journalists were largely ignorant of what was going on in the rest of the world. That view was reinforced when one relatively high profile tech journalist demonstrated his ignorance of the existence of AT&T's U-verse FTTN network (that brought an incredulous smile to Mr Turnbull's face.)

Mr Turnbull also not so subtly reminded the room that he has been involved with a number of successful Internet startups (he was notably a chairman and early investor in Ozemail and a founder of WebCentral).

One would think that after all this, the message had finally got through to the media that Mr Turnbull has a very clear vision of what he believes the future strategy for the NBN should be. Not so!

As journalists do after such conferences, we often get into robust discussions among ourselves. On this particular occasion, this is the gist of a discussion that took place amongst a coterie of tech writers I was with:

"Mr Turnbull's a nice guy and he certainly knows what he's talking about. His problem is that he has to sell the Coalition's message on broadband and he doesn't believe it. He really believes the Government's strategy is correct but he can't say that."

Yes that's right dear readers. Mr Turnbull elucidated in the clearest and most credible terms possible what he thinks Australia's broadband strategy should be and why the present Goverenment's strategy is wrong yet the media refuses to accept that's what he really believes.

Welcome to the world of doublethink.


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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.