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Thursday, 05 September 2019 07:46

In 2030, the NBN build will still be incomplete

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In 2030, the NBN build will still be incomplete Pixabay

Going by the details in the recently released NBN Co corporate plan for 2020-23, one would not be surprised if work was still proceeding on the Australian national broadband network beyond 2030.

A completion date of June 2020 had been bandied around quite a bit prior to the release of this plan, but it is now clear that three years after that date, there will be plenty of work still pending for completion of the network in its current form.

By 2023 there will still be no solution to the speed problems faced by those who have been given connections via fibre to the node. This means further plans, further talk among the so-called "stakeholders" and further procrastination.

All of which leads one to conclude that it will take more than another decade before the NBN is finally considered a finished project.

One should not be overly surprised by the lack of any good news in the 2020-23 plan; when companies, private or public, decide to release corporate plans or indeed any major document on a Friday afternoon, it is for one reason: there is bad news on the way and the company has no way to avoid releasing it, so the avenue of least attention is used.

As a government-owned company, NBN Co has to release results and other documents at specified intervals. It has no good news story to tell, and so it slipped the details out on a Friday afternoon.

One is reluctant to blame the officials at NBN Co for the mess that the network has become; they were given a brief in 2013 and asked to work according to it. The spin they indulge in, however, could be toned down and they could be a bit more direct when questioned.

The plan has some notable lacunae; for example, there is no indication when users who are connected to the NBN via HFC will have full use of the cable. At the moment, it is shared with Foxtel, something which brings its own share of problems.

There is no consideration of bandwidth needed for various tasks, something that has been brought into focus after New Zealand telco Spark had to change its plans for streaming Rugby World Cup games due to the slower broadband in rural areas.

The focus of the NBN Co during its lifetime has been on balancing the books, something it says it can achieve by generating average revenue per user of $52. This has reached $46 in the latest full-year results, which means there is still a fair way to go before the red ink disappears.

In this endeavour, the NBN Co has no choice because the neoliberal reasoning behind the Federal Government's investment calls for the company to become profitable and return all the money that has been invested in it. That broadband is now an essential service like water, electricity and gas, has never entered into government thinking.

The government, no doubt, would like to sell the company as soon as it can, but apart from Telstra no other firm in the sector has shown the slightest interest. Paul Fletcher, the new communications minister and a former Optus executive, has ruled out any sale to Telstra.

How this comedy of errors will ultimately end is anybody's guess; given the reluctance of the government to write down the value of the network and its tight-fistedness when it comes to investing in infrastructure that is beneficial to the public, anyone who can predict things with any certainty would have to rank with Nostradamus.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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