[LINK] NBN white-elephant-to-be: better spend the $$$ on other things

Birch, Jim Jim.Birch at dhhs.tas.gov.au
Thu Aug 19 18:48:03 AEST 2010

Robin Whittle wrote:

>firstly I don't think the NBN [can] deliver its promise at that price.

Any particular reason, or is it just a visceral feeling you have?  Any
details? Have your superior team of project planners produced a detailed
alternate costing?  Have you found specific errors in NBN Co's
methodology?  Maybe they made a mistake with a decimal point somewhere?
It happens.

The NBN has been costed by a team of trained experts.  The costs of this
type of work - laying cables, plugging them together, etc, are
well-known and tractable.  The NBN say they have used a conservative
costing based on current techniques and equipment and things will likely
get cheaper  over the lifetime of the project.  Sure, they might be
wrong, but if they got it wrong, how did you get it right?
> Secondly, even if it could, I am not sure that such a large amount of
money should be spent on this goal of faster than DSL speeds for most of
the country, when there are other urgent priorities with higher rates of
return, financially, socially and environmentally.

What we are talking about here is infrastructure with likely 50+ years
usage.  It's quite similar to the decision to put in the POTS in the
middle of last century - still running, and doing stuff no one had
imagined.  Are you saying that that shouldn't have been done, because
virtually identical arguments can be applied?  You could also make
similar arguments about all sorts of public infrastructure we regard as
normal and very useful. Hell, thunderboxes work, don't they?

There are always a lot of great potential projects and personally, I'd
be in favour of doing more, not less, and I'm willing to pay for any
good ones.  But even if you had the opportunity costs for all these
great alternate projects - and I assume you haven't - one thing that is
needed to get them going in a democracy is the public imagination.  At
the moment the Internet has the public imagination so it's the right
time for this project.

As I've said before, with or without the NBN, you can't seriously doubt
that we won't have a FTTP network in a decade or two.  The key questions
are when, how good, and how much you get gouged by the operators in the
process.  We've all seen privatised Telstra in operation.  The economics
of this type of infrastructure really favour a big shared solution that
allows competition to flourish rather than a carve up by rent seekers.
Obviously this can't be reliably quantified, but creating a competitive
environment could actually neutralise the project cost when it comes to
monthly bill time.

> This [spicing fibre] is extraordinarily fiddly stuff, which needs to
be done with great skill, outdoors, all over Australia.

Are you in a parallel universe?  Guess what, this same astonishingly
fiddly stuff is being done everywhere right now, indoors and out.  A
decade or so ago it was done by expensive specialists; now you can get
the kit and do it as well as anyone else with a few hours training.

> Then there is the opto-electronic gear, most of which will come from

Oh dear, not from overseas!  What if the fleet is wiped out by a
typhoon! For me, when someone starts compiling a grab bag lists of
flimsy objections to anything, I start wondering about their motivation.
It sounds like you are building an emotional case, brick by brick, for
some reason we're being not being told.  Maybe not, but you'd be more
persuasive sticking with solid analysis.  There could be critical
problems with the economics of the NBN but this type of argument won't
support any case, for or against.  If you have an economic case, and
show us the numbers but don't start totting up weird little narrative

> It would be great to have the NBN.  But I can't see how it can be done
for any cost we could actually afford, or that we would want to spend,
given our other priorities.

Did you copy and paste that from a Liberal Party presser?  Sure, it's a
big cost nationally but then everyone's doing it together, that's why
it's big.  We will all be getting the benefit too, that's big too.  Try
thinking on a per household basis: in comparison to things like a
kitchen renovation or a new car, it's even a big spend.  Not everyone
has a new kitchen or a new car, I know, but if you consider the impact
of the Internet on our lives it's actually not a lot of money to be
spending at all.  It's comparable with our other technology purchases so
it's clearly affordable, if we want it.  And, it will still be pumping
when we can hardly even remember what those funny old technology
purchases were, let alone what we blew on them.

- Jim


The information in this transmission may be confidential and/or protected by legal professional privilege, and is intended only for the person or persons to whom it is addressed. If you are not such a person, you are warned that any disclosure, copying or dissemination of the information is unauthorised. If you have received the transmission in error, please immediately contact this office by telephone, fax or email, to inform us of the error and to enable arrangements to be made for the destruction of the transmission, or its return at our cost. No liability is accepted for any unauthorised use of the information contained in this transmission. If the transmission contains advice, the advice is based on instructions in relation to, and is provided to the addressee in connection with, the matter mentioned above. Responsibility is not accepted for reliance upon it by any other person or for any other purpose.

More information about the Link mailing list