Conroy's Legacy: The NBN Is A Permanent Idea

In the wake of Kevin Rudd’s return to leading the Labor Party, communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy has resigned from the front bench. We’re going to see endless speculation on what this means for the National Broadband Network (NBN), adding to the existing speculation about whether the alternative Coalition plan is feasible. From a technology user perspective, the key thing to remember is this: we no longer live in a landscape where cancelling the NBN is a probable outcome, and that’s something to be grateful for.

Whatever judgement you make of his other policy initiatives (filter ugh!), Conroy has been an extremely effective advocate for the NBN. Whoever ends up filling his shoes (Kate Lundy is one obvious candidate, though she’s from the Gillard camp) is going to face a difficult task in a messy political environment. But there’s one argument they won’t have to mount: that we need the NBN in some form. That has been accepted on both sides of politics. The argument now is about which technology to use and how the process should be managed.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that prior to the launch of the Coalition’s ‘alternative’ fibre-to-the-node NBN proposal in April this year, the default position from the opposition (and its most vocal media supporters) had been that the NBN was wasteful and unnecessary and a drag on the budget and should be cancelled outright.

That isn’t the case any more. As I noted when the policy was announced, the Coalition position means that previous arguments (no-one needs the speed, it’s a waste of money, a government department shouldn’t implement it) have been put to one side:

A proposal which promises a set minimum speed higher than most of us can currently achieve, which maintains NBN Co as the implementation vehicle, which relies on wired rather than wireless technologies, and which uses government funding in the tens of billions, effectively throws all those points in the trash can.

There are plenty of technical objections to the Coalition proposal — it relies on vectoring techniques, it doesn’t make much allowance for the parlous state of the copper network for many users, and the detail of how Telstra’s arrangements for pit and duct access might be renegotiated (and how all the asbestos issues will be handled) are entirely unclear.

Like many Lifehacker readers, I want improved broadband speeds. Whatever happens at the election — and that’s an area of huge speculation outside our advisory scope — we should see those.

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