THE $43 billion national broadband network (NBN) is a “purely political cover up” of the failure of the original FTTN proposal and a repeat of decades-old, failed nation-building technology Labor policy, according to independent telco consultant and long-time trade unionist, Kevin Morgan.
The NBN has been a key election issue with the main parties taking opposite sides of the fence on whether or not the fibre rollout will proceed.
However, the debate has largely been driven by the value of the NBN to each party's election campaign as opposed to the requirement for high-speed broadband, according to the thirty-year telco industry veteran.
This politicisation is because it was born out of a “purely political” stunt to cover-up the failings of the original proposal, he said.
“There's really no more than that, a big bang to cover up the fact the ALP's original $4.7b FTTN policy was unworkable and everything collapsed," he said.
“It was political from day one, conceived as political instrument and prosecuted. Not economic, not technological, pure politics.
“That's the paradox of it. For all its sins and failings the rather dour coalition policy is grounded, it's trying to build on what's there but paradoxically because the coalition is only spending ultimately $6b rather than $43b it's come under much greater scrutiny than the government has.”
Greens senator Scott Ludlam agreed that the NBN has been a vehicle for political point-scoring, pointing to widespread criticism the first release sites for the NBN rollout on the mainland has occurred in marginal electoral seats.
“It's safe to assume none of it is a coincidence,” Ludlam said. “Any announcement from the minister's office is overlayed on an electoral map first, it's a highly politicised portfolio so let's assume it's no coincidence.”
Communications minister Stephen Conroy has repeatedly denied that his office has been involved in the decision-making process for the release sites and said that NBN Co operates at arms-length from the government.
Morgan worked for the ACTU for over 18 years and represented it in dealings with the Hawke and Keating governments.
He said the NBN is identical to the failed Aussat project launched by the Hawke government in 1981 to build, own and operate the Australian domestic communications satellite system.
Then, the government spent hundreds of millions over a decade to launch three satellites managed by Aussat but this failed to achieve its financial objectives and the built up massive debts.
In 1992 Aussat was privatised and laid the foundations for the country's first private telco, Optus.
The NBN is a similarly pie-in-the-sky Labor government project, he said.
“[Aussat] was a project that overhyped, the technology oversold, and the promises of what it would deliver were oversold. There was no business case, no real numbers went to cabinet before decision was made,” Morgan said.
“Less than a decade later Aussat ended up mired in debt and under utilised and was privatised as the basis of Optus entering the market.
“In my view the NBN will be little different. Over-hyped, under-sold, under-researched and it might take an equal length of time before we see how far short it falls of its promise and how much debt it racks up but my money would be on the fact it would end up in the negative rather than the plus.”