Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull took part in a 15-minute Q&A on Facebook this morning, hosted at Facebook’s Californian HQ. Predictably, the National Broadband Network (NBN) was one of the main issues raised in the 300-odd questions posted by users. Here’s what he said on technology and related topics.
Note: for the sake of readability, we’ve shortened some of the questions to their essential elements and fixed obvious typos in the reply.
Q: 25 years ago we didn’t have EFTPS. How can we possibly know what tech we’ll be using in the next 25? Why not future proof for a few billion more and run fibre everywhere
Turnbull: You can’t future proof anything in truth, so the idea that you would invest in a technology which will last for thirty years is pretty naive. Better to invest in the tech that works now and in the foreseeable future which means you can invest in better and better tech as time goes on. This is better financially, time value of money etc, and also gives the optionality you need in such a disruptive tech environment.
Q: An assumption made in your costings for the NBN prior to the election was that Telstra would allow use of its copper network without charge. Now it has been reported that the government/NBNCo will now enter negotiations for use of the network. Will this be another riveting surprise from the self-proclaimed ‘no surprises’ government?
Turnbull: No, those assumptions are well explained. Remember Telstra is being paid a substantial sum to decommission its copper assets already
Q: Considering the fact that the majority of the NBN board is filled with former Telstra employees, do you think it wise that this organisation is negotiating with Telstra for the sale of the copper wiring?
Turnbull:: Well the majority are not former Telstra employees as it happens and in any event are you seriously suggesting that if you work for a company you can never for the rest of your life negotiate on the other side of the table from company. #newsflash Slavery has been abolished.
Q: As a successful businessman, it seems you should be playing for legacy. Wouldn’t it great to be known as the person that helped Australia not just compete, but win in the next decade with businesses and startups powered by the best internet infrastructure money can buy?
Remember that availability and affordability are of enormous importance. Just remember that the NBN strategic review found that without any change to the existing strategy as it was under Labor the project would cost $73 bn (p, 17)and take until 2025 to be completed and increase internet prices by up to 80% (p. 68) . It’s on the NBN Co website and worth reading.
Q: NBN concerns me. We NEED a world class system. Are you going to help deliver this?
Turnbull: It will be a world class system and it will be completed
Q: Why are you so near-sighted on the NBN scheme? Do this stem from your generational lack of understanding/inability to use IT to the capacity of everybody else?
Turnbull: Ha! A low blow!
Q: What is the government policy on telecommuting?
Turnbull: We do promote telecommuting actually, and I am confident more can and should be done by government on the telecommuting front. I think many employers lack imagination to realise that they should measure their staff by their output not by how many hours they spend in the office.
Q: The future of the internet is not about movie download speeds, but in machine to machine communication that will require a “smart” network able sometimes to deliver terabytes in nanoseconds, and where symmetry is vital. In that context, why are we even considering basing national broadband infrastructure on platforms that we know cannot do these things?
Turnbull: Those assumptions are not right.
Q: Did you decide to wear a blue jumper in order to match the Facebook blue? It’s a pretty close match.
Turnbull:: Hmm, that gives me too much credit for colour coordination. It’s cool here being winter and I like the sweater but I am glad it matched.