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Once called the most incompetent Telecommunications Minister ever to hold the office by iiNet chief executive Michael Malone, Senator Stephen Conroy is once again in the news for all the wrong reasons. This time the issue is the hopelessly behind schedule fibre rollout of the National Broadband Network.

Broadband Minister Conroy has lurched from egg on the face issue to pie in the face issue since he has held the portfolio. Having already got the media offside with his doomed media reform legislation, he now has to contend with the inescapable reality that he has no chance of coming close to delivering on his broadband rollout promises.

There is no escaping the fact that the promised target of 286,000 homes being passed by NBN fibre by 30 June 2013 is not within a bull's roar of being met. The figure is more likely to be less than half that number, according to most pundits.

NBN Co which is fond of issuing regular media releases each time it awards a new $1 billion contract for fibre rollout, such as the $334 million one with a further two options announced last week by Visionstream, has refused to answer questions from the media, such as the AFR, about whether it will meet its target. Based on that alone, it's safe to assume that it won't even come close.

For its part, NBN Co is blaming the whole mess on its contractors for non performance.

However, NBN Co is not the only stakeholder refusing to answer the important questions. The person at where the buck stops, Senator Conroy, is playing dumb on the issue, saying he is trying to get more information on where NBN Co is up to.

And naturally, when a senior Minister of the Government fails to deliver so badly on the biggest project in the country this century, his political opponents are going to have a field day.

Being a member of the upper house Senator Conroy escapes the worst tongue lashings during question time from the likes of Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. However, Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham gave Conroy little breathing space, asking him whether NBN Co would meet its seeming impossible rollout targets by 30 June - an answer that Conroy was unable and unwilling to give.

However, Senator Conroy is not only getting heat from the hostile opposition. NBN champion, Greens Senator Scott Ludlum has now expressed serious doubts about the handling of the rollout and clearly believes that the rollout schedule is in serious trouble.

For Senator Conroy, this is yet another cockroach in the ointment he didn't need. During his time in office, he has lurched from controversy to controversy.

First, it was his zealous attempt to force mandatory filtering on ISPs, which was closely connected to and followed by the failed AFACT prosecution of Australia's third largest broadband provider iiNet.

Senator Conroy's infamously inappropriate public remarks at a CommsDay conference while the court case was still in process implying the guilt of iiNet made headline news and raised speculation that iiNet could possibly take legal action. What's more, iiNet ending up winning the case.

More recently, we have had this attempt to rush through Parliament hastily prepared media legislation, which accurately or not, is being widely perceived among other things as an attempt to muzzle the free press.

Now we have the Senator's main raison d'être and biggest election selling point going sour and being turned as a weapon against him. Needless to say, these are not happy times for Senator Stephen Conroy and he'll need all skills as a political survivor to turn what is fast becoming an NBN rollout debacle around.

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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.

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