Home Industry Telecoms & NBN Former NBN chief intervenes in election to slam Coalition’s broadband plan

Former NBN chief intervenes in election to slam Coalition’s broadband plan

The founding chief executive of NBN Co, Mike Quigley, has intervened in the last two weeks of the federal election, slamming the Coalition for making a “huge miscalculation” with the network’s use of copper access technologies.

Quigley ended what has been a low-profile retirement since 2013 with a strident attack on Wednesday on the Coalition, with his comments that the Coalition’s betting of tens of billions of taxpayers dollars on a multi-technology mix (MTM) rollout, and the NBN’s use of copper, was a “colossal mistake”.

The ex-boss of the NBN resigned in 2013 ahead of the election of the Abbott government and, in one of his only public comments since, says to spend billions of dollars to build a major piece of national infrastructure that “just about meets demand today”, but doesn’t allow for any significant growth in that demand over the next 10 or 20 years, without large upgrade costs - “is incredibly short-sighted”.

Quigley launched his broadside in an address to an audience of around 200 industry figures at the University of Melbourne on Wednesday organised by the university's Melbourne Networked Society Institute (MNSI) with the Telecommunications Association, TelSoc.

And, Quigley was unequivocal about what he says is the “only technology” — fibre to the premises (FttP)  Australia should have to deliver its NBN.

Quigley is in apparent support of Labor’s original plan for the delivery of a fibre network, and told his audience that the plan to deliver FttP to 93% of the population would have cost $45 billion – considerably less than the estimates of $64 billion to $94 billion.

“Forty-five billion is still the correct peak funding cost if the project (FTTP) had been allowed to continue," he said.

“To believe that the original FttP deployment would have required a peak funding of somewhere between $64bn and $94bn you have to make totally unrealistic assumptions about take-up rates and ARPUs, assumptions that have proven to be wrong.

“You have to distort per premise capex numbers, and finally you have to ignore the improvements in technology that are driving down FttP costs, increasing productivity and reducing FttP build times everywhere else in the world.

“Given the complexity of all of this information it is little wonder that it is very difficult for the average person, or even the media, to sort out fact from fiction concerning the peak funding costs for the original FttP-based NBN.

“But what is clear is that every forecast regarding the NBN that the Coalition has made, for which there is now data, whether for their own MTM or for the original FTTP plan - every one of them has been wrong.”

Quigley’s major beef is the Coalition’s decision to roll out a multi-technology mix (MTM) broadband network based on copper, rather than the original FttP-based NBN.

“It is such a pity that so much time and effort has been spent on trying to discredit and destroy the original FttP-based NBN.

“And equally a pity that the Coalition has put their faith in what has turned out to be a short-sighted, expensive and backward looking MTM based on copper.

“The nation is going to be bearing the consequences of those decisions for years to come in higher costs and poorer performance in an area that is critical to its long-term future.”   

“So, why is it important that we all understand the true picture regarding the original FttP-based NBN?” asks Quigley.

“Unless the reality regarding FttP is known and understood, decisions will continue to be made about the NBN which are based on faulty information.”

Despite his criticisms, according to Quigley it is not too late to change the current direction of the NBN, but that change would need to be made in a controlled and managed way so that the project is not subject to another major disruption.

Asked by iTWire what changes to the NBN rollout he expected the Coalition, if returned to government, or Labor, if elected on 2 July, would make to satisfy his and the industry’s demands for a full FttP network — not a fibre to the node (FttN) network  Quigley is not overly enthusiastic.

“I expect the current government (Coalition) to continue to do what they are doing now, they’re so invested in it. They will maybe do less FTTN and use FTTPdb but that’s not a trivial technology, but they’re likely to do that.”

With Labor, Quigley says he expects them to do “what is logical” – to phase down the FttN and do more FttP and retain the HFC plan. “They have no choice other than to do that,” he stresses.

And, on Labor’s stated commitment to halt the rollout of FttN and start deploying full fibre to 40% of premises, Quigley says he doesn’t expect the transition will make a difference to the costs or the timing of the NBN completion – and ongoing maintenance and upgrade costs will be lower.

Quigley says that, compared to the original FttP-based NBN, Australia is on the way to a “much poorer performing” broadband network with a mix of FttP, FttN, and other technologies, entailing increased long-term costs and completion at about the same time as the original project would have been completed.

“Around the world, the direction in which new builds of fixed broadband networks are headed has become clear. The world is increasingly moving towards FttP. As a consequence, advances are being made in FttP technology that make it cheaper and easier to deploy.

“These developments, which have taken place in the last few years, have only reinforced the rationale for basing Australia’s NBN on FttP."

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).