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Thursday, 20 June 2019 10:58

NBN mess: Labor's sin compounded by Coalition's MTM

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The NBN marches on. The NBN marches on. Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

The Australian Labor Party's obsession with neo-liberal economics has doomed the national broadband network right from the time it set up a separate company, NBN Co, in 2009 to build a country-wide network that would be unfit for purpose. Thursday's patchwork approach by NBN Co to filling up the cracks is just the latest indication of this.

Any time there is a groundswell of complaints about the cost of NBN connections — either from telcos, both the entitled and unentitled ones, and the masses — the NBN Co, no doubt under pressure from the government, reacts and offers a figleaf to cover its nakedness that has long been exposed.

For the government, those complaints equate to votes and even though one election has been won, it is better not to squander any perceived goodwill. So, there will be some soothing talk and one should not be surprised if the new Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, himself, comes out and makes some soothing noises.

There was much talk by the former head of NBN Co, Bill Morrow, about average revenue per user going up to $52 and helping the beleaguered corporation to break even. That was an illusion then, and still is. Meanwhile the NBN Co occupies itself with doing everything but its core task – there is plenty of fluff on its blog if anyone cares to look.

All these reluctant consultations are too little and too late. Fibre was the only solution that anyone with the IQ of the common cockroach would have considered. And making the network public infrastrucure was mere common sense. But when it comes to providing infrastructure to the very people who pay for it, both sides of politics are loath to fork out.

Labor offered us its compromise – 93% of you will get fibre to the home, but you will have to pay through the nose so that we can balance the books. The Coalition was even more expert – they gave us copper and the infamous HFC, courtesy of Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, a man reputed to be overfull with knowledge of technology, but in reality a shell full of bluster.

One little digression: this month, I was informed by NBN Co that the sacred HFC which supplies an erratic broadband service to my residence will have three service windows of 80 hours each. Yes, three days plus in each case. The total downtime during each of those windows will be 150 minutes – but the whole exercise is like Chinese drip torture, because one has to wait in a state of suspended animation and hope that the expected outage does not happen during working hours.

An Ethernet cable is the only way to use what is supplied; try wireless and you are condemned to waiting for audio and video to sync as you try to load a video.

Thank you, Malcolm. I have seen far more outages in 20 months of using the NBN on HFC than I have seen in the 20 years before that, on both DSL and dial-up. For me, at least, that is a telling statistic.

Australia is one of the richer nations on the face of the earth and it has plenty of money to build a true next-generation network with taxpayer funds – if it is interested in doing so.

When it comes to doling out tens of billions to the Americans to buy fighter planes that cannot fight, every politician from the prime minister downwards will beam and vote yes. Exactly whom we are getting ready to fight is a mystery - unless we are preparing to donate the next lot of young Australians as cannon fodder for the various wars that Washington seems to be itching to start. We have already done so on numerous occasions and the evidence of PTSD among returned soldiers is evidence of that.

There is also plenty of cash when the prime minister wants to visit a mothballed refugee centre — nearly $200 million — as an election stunt. But broadband? Something that could contribute towards learning, research, next-generation industries, the start-up sector? Perish the very thought. We ain't got time for that new-fangled jazz; give us some water from the Murray that we can sell at a premium, instead.

And lest one forget, there's those submarines. Ninety billion dollars have been paid out to some big defence firm – and in return we will get a few jobs locally. That is an idea to be supported in all corners of the land. The military-industrial complex should not be allowed to lack any creature comforts.

Where public infrastructure is concerned, the mandarins act as though they are doing the natives some kind of favour and put hand in pocket with the greatest reluctance. The fact that this money belongs to those very natives, and not to the men and women in the Canberra bubble, is conveniently forgotten.

This writer doubts he will be around to see the next act in this crazy neo-liberal drama, the stage at which good ole Aussies are told, in true Republican style, that if they want fibre to the home, then they can get it on the morrow. The only, ahem, difficulty is that they will have to pay for it themselves.

After all, there ain't no socialist government in this country. Get yer broadband, yerself, cobber.

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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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