CeBIT 2010: NBN cost not an issue

Industry figures argue the NBN is good value at any price

The cost of the National Broadband Network (NBN) has been played down by industry players despite Federal Opposition, and some industry concerns, around the high price-tag of the national infrastructure project.

Speaking at CeBIT 2010, NICTA CEO Dr David Skellern said whatever the cost, the NBN was worth pursuing.

"Was $42 billion dollars spent on a handout at Christmas a good way to spend $42 billion? We spend a lot of money on all sorts of things I think are not very worthwhile," he said. "...Whatever [the NBN] comes in at, my belief is it's worth doing. I don't know how you'd get 100 per cent coverage if you didn't have the sort of network that is being planned.

"If you believe connectivity is going to be important in the future... then the cost of [the NBN] is what it is going to cost."

Dr Ian Oppermann, director at the CSIRO ICT Centre, said the cost of the NBN should be made in comparison with building other national infrastructure projects.

"Is it cost effective to build roads in remote parts of Australia? You wouldn't get a lot of road for $43 billion, but roads carry physical goods and you get services as a consequence. With the NBN you will get services and it's a part of the overall infratsructure of Australia," he said.

"In terms of broadband access today there is only something like 15 per cent of people who have access to take up broadband today. Move outside of the urban cities and you very rapidly run out of broadband services."

Alan Noble, engineering director at Google A/NZ said the NBN was cost-effective when compare to other infrastructure projects in Australia's history.

"If you look at other big investments from the last century and the one before, the construction of the overland telegraph from Adelaide to Darwin was a much bigger investment for the then very, very poor colony of South Australia, as a percentage of that colony's GDP" he said. "The same would be true of building the trans-continental railway. These were nation-building infrastructure projects that transformed the nation."

Eric Olson, vice president at security company Cyveillance questioned the cost to Australia of not building an NBN.

"There is the cost, but also the cost of not building it," he said. "For healthcare, education, and services - if you can assume of the presence of that delivery vehicle (the NBN) as ubiquitous, then you will accrue all kinds of cost savings and efficiencies and novelty in the provision of those services.

"There is also a question of what competitive disadvantage accrues to those outside the cities who do not have [the NBN] and what new efficient models of services and government services delivery is absent if you don't enable ubiquitous access."

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