Why not do the NBN better, cheaper, faster?

It would be a national and economic tragedy to dismiss the strong elements in the NBN plan just for the sake of short-term political expedience

When you are faced with an opponent that has a great game, sometimes the best offence is to just do what they are doing, but better.

Take the best parts of that game and build on them to make a better proposition. Most smart sporting teams and individuals, armed forces, corporations, organisations and governments do it all the time.

It really makes no sense to re-invent the wheel when you can take great components or concepts and advance them to higher levels with additions, amendments and cost savings.

It’s an easy to grasp approach and one that has held generations of engineers, entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, academics, policy makers, organisations and even families and individuals in very good stead.

Dismissing a good thing because it wasn’t your idea to begin with is just plain stupidity, or to borrow a phrase, “risky and reckless”.

So it’s with dismay that in recent weeks, since the election campaign got underway, we’ve received the unconfirmed reports that the Liberal party is not looking to go one better on Labor’s national broadband network (NBN) plan.

Unfortunately, unlike with other arguments in the election campaign they don’t want to combat the good parts of the NBN – and there are many – with the approach of, “this is good, but we can do it better”.

Instead they appear to be creating an alternative plan with a drastically less-potent game plan.

Let’s leave aside the cost question just for a moment and look at the other elements of the NBN game to flesh out the reasons why this approach is potentially damaging.

It has been well-established that a fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) network is the best option if you want to achieve a future-proof, scalable and ubiquitous broadband infrastructure that achieves the speeds we require – and by ‘we’ I am referring to businesses, consumers, government agencies and other institutions.

It has been well-established that consumers will be asking for at least 100 Mega bits per second (Mbps) in the not too distant future and that to suggest otherwise is to bet heavily against all technology development since the inception of the Internet. Many businesses and other organisations are already demanding faster.

It has been well-established that the macro-economic benefits of a ubiquitous FTTP network are enormous and that governments can easily justify the cost through savings found in just four industries: Health, education, transport and electricity.

It has been well-established that the vast majority of the ICT industry – and a great deal of the ISP community – are very much in favour of rolling out something like the NBN plan and that the consensus is the regulatory environment of Australia’s telecommunications industry has to change for competition to improve as is happening now under the NBN.

It has been well-established that while Australia’s NBN plan is ambitious and will put us in a good position, the 100Mbps speed goal means it is by no means going to vault us into a position of competitive advantage when it comes to global trade in ICT and ICT-enabled industries.

It has been well-established that while the NBN will face some competition from the mobility trend, on the whole it is complementary.

And it has been well-established that there are many applications already available and a massive potential for future developments and business opportunities across the entire economy that would benefit most from a ubiquitous and scalable broadband network.

We can also add to this list the fact the market has not delivered a ubiquitous, scalable and future proof broadband infrastructure to this day – if they had, we wouldn’t be having this debate over the NBN – and that the existing copper infrastructure will need to be replaced in the not too distant future.

So while there are arguably other elements, when you weigh up all the arguments, the main weakness in Labor’s NBN game is the suggested ticket price or cost of building the network. The main components and goals really do make sense.

Yes, the Government stupidly didn’t do a proper cost-benefit analysis for the $43 billion project and tragically haven’t sold the idea to the punters with any kind of gusto or coordinated operation.

But, the general idea of having a ubiquitous, scalable FTTP network as the backbone of the digital economy for the next 50 years is something that really shouldn’t be in question. In short, it is the best game in town – some even call it the end game.

So if it is the best game plan and you know your opponent is using it, why not say you can do that better, cheaper and faster?

It is a crying shame and a disservice to the future of the economy that Australian voters are only being given an either / or option when it comes the nature of our broadband infrastructure at this election.

I am hoping, probably naively, that the Opposition will see the light coming down the pipes and deliver a better broadband policy before the next election that builds on the good parts of the existing NBN plan.

A policy that acknowledges the NBN’s strengths but that also offers a stronger business case developed after due diligence, offers a cheaper ticket price, and one that is delivered in a shorter time frame.

Sure, the Opposition may kick some telling goals by culling the NBN, but you can be damn sure that the Australian economy will not be holding up any trophies should that eventuate.

It would be a national and economic tragedy to dismiss the strong elements in the NBN plan just for the sake of short-term political expedience.

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