Marcus Moufarrige, COO at Servcorp, believes the National Broadband Network (NBN) is in a “shambles” and says there is doubt about whether it will be delivered under a Labor government.
Moufarrige, of Servcorp, which provides serviced and virtual offices to businesses, says there is a lack of trust from businesses in the Labor government delivering the fibre optic network in a timely and costly manner.
“It’s pretty easy for someone to give you a great presentation and tell you that they’ve got a startup that’s going to set the world on fire and is going to change everybody’s lives, but the actual delivery of that and making it work is really what investors want to see at the end of the day,” he says.
“I think there’s certainly a case of that in relation to the all singing, all dancing, all fibre NBN.”
Instead of focusing on what technology is the best for the network, Moufarrige believes the debate should be focusing on what the outcomes will be once it is built.
“In any business, if you’re going to invest in infrastructure, particularly technology infrastructure, you’re outcomes driven. You want to know what the benefit is going to be at the end of the day and you’ll use whatever technology is going to deliver the most robust and best outcome for the situation that you’re facing,” he says.
Moufarrige believes the federal government should be looking to overseas models of fibre optic network rollouts for guidance on what should be done in Australia.
In particular, he points to South Korea as an example, which has one of the highest penetration rates for broadband in the world.
“Essentially there are better models around the world that could be looked at and I think if they had taken the time to look at some of those better models … then they would have had a lot more success,” he says.
While Moufarrige says the Coalition is likely to be more pragmatic in its approach to the NBN if it wins the federal election, he doesn’t entirely agree with its broadband policy either.
Instead of a “blanket approach” to what technology should be used for the NBN, Moufarrige wants the politics taken out of the debate and for the easy wins to be tackled first. This includes installing fibre in greenfield estates first, with reports last year that thousands of new homes were waiting to be connected to the NBN via fibre.
Beyond those premises, Moufarrige says fibre should only be installed in premises where the business model stacks up.
“This whole fibre-to-the-node or fibre-to-the-premise argument is a political furphy that has nothing to do with outcomes. You should be building the network to provide the best level of service to the broadest amount of people that you can,” he says.
“Not ‘we’re going to deliver fibre to everybody by hook or by crook and we’re going to go tens of millions of dollars over budget to do it’.”
Tom Worthington, adjunct lecturer at the Australian National University, also believes the federal government should be prioritising greenfield sites, as well as areas with poor or no broadband.
“The areas with copper phone and Pay TV cable could be left for last, where it is working okay. This would be a slight change to the current government's NBN FTTP to achieve cost savings proposed by the opposition,” he says.
Some in the tech industry have been vocal proponents against fibre-to-the-node. Steve Dalby, chief regulatory officer at iiNet, has previously hit out at the Coalition’s policy, saying it hasn’t addressed the benefits the NBN could offer Australia’s digital economy and taken the wrong approach by focusing on simply the cost to build the network.
Dalby says a mixed network with fibre-to-the-node and fibre-to-the-home could also provide more complexity for retail service providers.
Businesses and the NBN
A recent report by Servcorp found only 51 per cent of businesses believe the NBN will have a positive impact on their business. A total of 37 per cent said it wouldn’t have a positive impact and 12 per cent were unsure.
The report surveyed 450 businesses, with around 90 per cent of those businesses with less than 200 employees.
“What I think [the results] speak to is whether people actually think that it’s going to get delivered or that it’s going to get delivered in a timely fashion to actually impact them. I think that’s reflected in the results,” he says.
Moufarrige says the results of the survey reflect the uncertainty about whether the NBN will be delivered under Labor.
“The numbers that I’ve read is that they’ve spent roughly 30 per cent of the slated budget or committed 30 per cent of their slated budget and delivered roughly 5 per cent of the network,” he says.
“If we were rolling out a network and it was showing those numbers we’d call it a dead duck, so I do think that it’s in threat. On top of that, the minister [whose] baby [it was] is gone. The chief executive of NBN Co is gone and they’re in dispute left, right and centre. I think it is an absolute shambles.”