Conroy’s Legacy: The NBN Is A Permanent Idea

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.


  • The importance of the NBN has been acknowledged by both sides of politics despite Conroy, not because of him. Others have made the most compelling defences and the most spirited arguments in favour, Conroy has been nothing but obnoxious and detrimental.

  • The big selling point that’s not being told, is that once the internet is as fast as a local network, any business, no matter it’s size, can instantly plug into professional IT services as a utility resource, from anywhere. What’s more, Australian firms could be supplying those services to the world.

    Software as a service, online storage, professional backup & security, painless video conferencing, effective tele-working and so on will change the way almost every business functions, not to mention the services that we haven’t even thought of yet.

    The economy will be able to tap into a vast pool of under-utilised labour, who’s skills are being squandered right now (like stay at home parents, or people who aren’t physically located where their skills are needed).

    Just as the initial tech boom underwrote a decade of productivity gains, the NBN will underwrite a 2nd one. The world has permanently shifted to a services economy, and increasingly those services are coming in the form of, or relying on, the internet.

    We need to remind ourselves that many of the wonders we take for granted on the modern internet are only a few years old. In the technological transformation of our economy, the only thing we can be sure of is that we aint seen nothin yet.

    We’re also on the verge of a robotics boom and a 3d printing boom, both of which will be amplified by an internet that shouldn’t be bottle-necked by century old twisted copper pair technology.

    The technical reality is that fibre is a nearly limitless freeway where it’s merely the power of the switches at either end that limit speed, and those switches will keep getting faster over time and can be easily upgraded as technology improves. The other technologies on the other hand are already close to being maxed out and have fundamental physical limits to how far they can be pushed.

  • He was also the main driver behind web filtering. He wanted to use the NBN as a vehicle to drive his ideologies about what people can have access to on the internet. Good riddance to him.

  • Good riddance to this ignorant, odious, little prick. An arrogant, rude buffoon who genuinely believed that he knew what was best for us. His lies and deceptions used in an attempt to filter the internet to suit his personal morality profile should have seen him fired, then tarred and feathered and run out of town.

  • So glad to see Senator Conroy and his ACL backers lose influence and leave this country’s digital future alone.

    Lets hope the next Labor minister to sit in his pew stops installing fibre into the streets of Liberal electorates and gets this cable outside my house first.

    Grumbles about needed to wait 3 more years to get an internet connection that doesn’t fail each time it rains.

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