It is perhaps time to remind ourselves of the ups and downs of the project that was once announced as a dream national infrastructure project for the 21st century. This requires a ten-year journey back in time, before we can figure out what needs to be done next.
The NBN company was announced in April 2009 to provide terrestrial fibre network coverage for 93% of Australian premises by the end of 2020. Fixed wireless and satellite coverage would serve the remaining 7%.
Looking back, it’s hard to deny the influence the NBN has had on Australian politics. Perhaps the peak influence was when three independent MPs cited the NBN as one of the key reasons why they supported a Labor government over the Coalition when the 2010 federal election produced a hung parliament.
The early NBN rollout experienced significant delays. This attracted a great deal of “overwhelmingly negative” media coverage. Public opinion polls reflected growing dissatisfaction with the national project.
This dissatisfaction and the September 2013 federal election result changed the fate of the NBN. In 2013, the new Coalition government suspended the first stage of the large-scale fibre-to-premises NBN rollout to reassess the scale of the project.
In 2014, the government announced that the NBN rollout would change from a primarily fibre-to-premises model to a multi-technology-mix model. The technology to be used would be determined on an area-by-area basis.
Delays continue in the construction of the Coalition’s NBN. What can only be described as a downgrade of the original national project is now seriously over budget.
In September 2016, a joint standing committee of parliament was established to inquire into the NBN rollout. The inquiry is continuing.
The bleak status quo only gets worse when the on-the-ground reality of the NBN rollout is considered. While fibre-to-premises rollout is supposed to be limited in the Coalition’s NBN, disturbing examples of misconduct in the NBN installations are highly concerning.
The image below shows one example of many in which heritage-listed buildings (in this case also public housing) are disrespected to the point that suggests an absolute lack of communication between NBN contractors, local government, or heritage agencies.
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