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NBN: govt doing everything but what is needed

As the hum of complaints about the NBN grew and grew, reaching a shrill pitch, it was only to be expected that the government would react; each NBN user represents at least one vote in its reckoning.

But the reaction is meaningless, made up of mostly useless gestures, placebos that may make people feel good but which do little to solve the actual problem.

The heart of the issue is that one is attempting to make a donkey run in the Melbourne Cup. While the race is on, it is impossible to deceive anyone. 

But the difference with the NBN is that this race is run on invisible tracks – only the man/woman/child at the end of a pipe knows exactly how slow and tortuous the experience is.

In response, we have the ACCC, that ever-officious body attempting to educate people so that they know what they are buying. That, it has decided, is the problem. Not the fact that people do not have money to buy any package that will yield faster speeds. 

If you know that you are eating stale bread, will it taste any better? Will all the ACCC's education make the populace able to better afford what they need? The short answer is no.

But then, seeing as this is the same organisation that grandiosely decided to have 121 points of interconnect, ensuring that only the big telcos could build in at all those intersections, keeping out all the medium- and smaller entities, why is anyone surprised that its gestures are useless?

No government intervention apart from a change in technology or a change in revenue raising will do any good. It is all a waste of time, a sop intended to keep people quiet, a strip of plaster placed over a gaping flesh wound.

The government is content to ride it out to the next poll with the minimum noise; after all, how long will the media keep highlighting the issues that the NBN faces? Australians are a stoic lot, inclined to make a noise in private, but rarely in public.

In NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow, the government has its perfect ally. This is a man who can wax eloquent about the future, a man, who like the Wodehousian character Stanley Featherstone Ukridge, has vision and the big broad flexible outlook.

Actually, one can't blame him: he has to do the bidding of his masters in Canberra.

But he refuses to look down and see the mess at his feet. Be it through the use of statistics or malapropism, Morrow can always spin his way through even the worst thicket. Some of his spin even goes beyond what the government has invented to explain the dual citizenship mess and the amazing rubbish that Finance Minister Matthias Cormann came up with yesterday to try and damn Opposition leader Bill Shorten.

Morrow has an out – he can skip the country next year when his 457 visa expires. With $3.3 million an annum, he will have a nice neat packet to spend his retirement in a land which is being made great again.

In the interim, talk about the NBN will pop up now and then. But it will not disturb Morrow and his mates and stop them from moving to a nice new plush office and consuming coffee by the gallon.

The poor suckers, better known as NBN consumers, will have to suck it up and wait for the buffering to stop. Maybe that will happen in 2035. By then many of us will be distant memories.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.


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