NBN Co CEO, Mike Quigley's speech: ACS Charles Todd Memorial Oration

It is an honour to be here today giving this Charles Todd Memorial Oration in the company of many of Australia’s telecommunications leaders.

When, many months ago, I accepted the invitation to speak here today little did I know that it would be just a few days before a Federal election, the outcome of which will have a profound impact on our industry.

But here I am, the CEO of the company charged with building the NBN, which as we all know has become rather a hot political issue. So, I was left with the question, what to do?

My conclusion was to take a deep breath and just tell it as I see it– without fear or favour. This is what I did just last week when we made the announcement that we would be providing a 1 Gb/s product.

We had been working on this for quite some time and I saw no reason not to follow our usual practice, which was to make the industry aware of our conclusions.

We are continuing to do this. So we released our Product Overview documents for our Fibre, Wireless and Satellite products yesterday.

Tomorrow we will be releasing a more detailed 80 page technical Product Description document for our Fibre product.

I was also conscious of my responsibility to try to ensure the public debate surrounding the NBN is as fact-based as is possible given the current circumstances. I came out of retirement for this project because I believe this is the right way to deliver a national broadband network for Australia.

So, I plan to use this speech to outline:

  • 1. why it’s better to invest $27 billion rather than spend $6 billion
  • 2. creating a monopoly helps competition
  • 3. why a ubiquitous broadband network isn’t just equitable, it’s essential for the delivery of social, economic and productivity benefits
  • 4. why wireless can’t, on its own, serve all our long term broadband needs but a combination of wireless and fibre can.

In fact there is an even more fundamental point I would like to address - the veritable elephant in the room, in fact, the “white elephant” in the room.

Some have claimed that the FTTP network would end up not being used because of the growing capability of mobile networks. But why then are some very large and very experienced commercial Telcos investing in fibre architectures, both FTTN and FTTP.

I am talking about some of the biggest Telcos in the world such as AT&T, Verizon and DT. They all have large mobile networks yet they have heavily invested in fibre access.

Even more interestingly, I heard just earlier this week, from a Chinese equipment vendor that China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator, is now looking at deploying FTTP.

Are all these Telcos wrong about the future of FTTP?

These are some interesting questions, but first I would like to return to decisions made 140 years ago to build the Overland Telegraph, which was supervised by Charles Todd.

The Overland Telegraph cost £480,000, equivalent to just under a $1 billion in today’s terms. The total cost was met entirely by the tax-payers of South Australia and was equivalent to 60% of the state’s annual budget.

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