The NBN Was Engineered To Fail

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Who’s to blame for the omnishambles of the NBN? Pretty much everyone. But mostly, successive governments composed of morons, villains and butt-ass incompetents with humpty-dumpty hands and no more sense than a chocolate tea pot.

A National Broadband Network was not of itself a bad idea.

In fact it was a great idea, every bit as good as building the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or bulldozing big flat tracts of bushland for airports just outside all of the state capitals, or laying down sewer pipes under the streets of those capitals so that the inhabitants didn’t have to keep throwing their toilet waters and night soil out into the street.

The National Broadband Network, as originally envisaged in the heady days before the Great Recession changed everything, was not a business. It was most certainly not an ‘internet provider’.

It was infrastructure. Like the highways and railroads which bind up the continent. Like the ports which allow us to ship massive mega-tonnages of trade overseas. Like the old telephone wires which once upon a time served to collapse the distances which would otherwise have made living in such a vast, thinly populated land a sort of tyranny.

It was a great idea.

And it could have been one of those ideas which was legitimately subject to political debate over the best way to deliver the project and its benefits. Malcom Turnbull, who once thought it was a great idea too, could doubtless have made a compelling case for private industry to build out the platform and then to compete in its utilisation. Surely the ALP had somebody who could argue a contrary case for the commonwealth to provide the infrastructure, which would then be used by private interests as they saw best.

Instead, what we got was a decade-long shit show. A Rudd Labor government which had one good idea, and not a single clue about how to even explain it, let alone build the thing. And a violently ignorant wrecker in Tony Abbott, who saw nothing more than a chance to tear something down so that he could be king of the wreckage.

The press gallery was complicit in this failure of political leadership because it never did the work of investigating and explaining what an NBN truly was. (And again, it’s not just a goddamned internet provider!) Our tech journos wrote hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories explaining and predicting exactly what was going to happen with the NBN. But the mainstream media ignored them. Politicians abused and bullied them. They were just geeks.

The embarrassing, amateur goat rodeo we have now was engineered to fail. And it is failing, at great expense. Most of us feel the consequences of that failure in jaggy, stuttering Netflix streams, but it is the inexcusable failure to build out the infrastructure on which this country’s future growth is utterly dependent that’s really going to hurt.

And it’s everybody’s fault.

You can tell by the way they’re all rushing to blame each other.

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.

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    The Murdoch’s didn’t want an NBN, because that would allow companies like Netflix to compete against Foxtel.

    The Libs were happy to do as they were ordered, and bugged the whole thing up.
    The Murdoch’s will hand over money at the next election as a big thank you. And give the LNP good press when they need it.

    All very legal.

      I always like to apply the principle of Occam's Razor to these sorts of things. That the theory with the fewest assumptions is probably the correct one

      And there are so many assumptions, the assumption that Murdoch has the power to drive Liberal Party decision making in government at the highest level. The assumption that the Liberal Party would be willing to tank their own public image by sabotaging such a major project. The assumption that not having the NBN would hurt Netflix and benefit Foxtel.

      Or it could be the one assumption, that several governments proved very well that governments aren't very good at running large infrastructure projects.

      The reality is the NBN was a goat well before the Liberal Party got their hands on it ...not that that excuses the Liberals from stuffing it up even worse.

      Last edited 24/10/17 6:35 pm

        The murdochs have very deep pockets, and are very powerful.
        Abbott and Turnbull have hosted them on various occasions, so are not strangers.

        The NBN, fibre to the premises, was the best option to provide fast broadband.
        We could have had world class internet, instead of the dogs breakfast Abbott and Turnbull have given us.

        As you say, the simplest explanation is probably correct. The simplest being that the Murdoch’s didn’t want Foxtel to have competition.

        It's not so complicated that Occam's Razor applies. What theory best fits the data?
        * Nobody at Deloitte or NBNCo believed the 'hybrid' network would be cheaper
        * Nobody believes the 'hybrid' network would be better in any way ("rolled gold" was the political term for the FTTP solution)
        * Most issues with the hybrid network were forseen by network engineers, tech journalists and NBNCo consultants alike before any changes were made, but the political decisions had already been made

        No, the Liberals won an election and Turnbull was appointed to dismantle this project in a politically defensible way. This isn't a controversial statement.

        You might have had a point about governments and large infrastructure projects if the Liberal policy had been not to build the network at all, but this isn't true either.

        We don't know if it was pure ideology or tainted by third-party interests, but the actual actions, and what was known and when aren't in dispute

        Last edited 25/10/17 11:58 am

      Yup. Only when they launched their own streaming service did they suddenly get on board with the NBN - but it was to late - damage done.

    The lie that killed FTTP “it will be outdated before it is completed” amazed me how many people proudly quoted this like parting some sage wisdom. It annoyed me to the point of eye twitches. I would respond by saying it was an “adaptive technology, like road systems” when asked what I meant I would say “when they put the Melbourne to Sydney road cars could only do 50ks. Now the same road cars can do 100ks, we have trucks and soon autonomous cars. All on the same road” that’s the nbn. It will adapts but putting different boxes on each end of the fibre.

    They would all say whooaaa that sounds really cool! To which I would reply

    Yeah then the government said “let’s just put a dirt track between Melbourne and Sydney because a horse and cart is all you need”

    It was infrastructure. Like the highways and railroads which bind up the continent.
    And it was not treated like that, it was not valued like that.

    They will spend billions on city road network that only supports 200,000 users a day.
    Won't spend 10 billion to add digital network to over 1,000,000 users in the same area.

    We spend more building railways, roads and ports to support our the mining industry, and its our second major industry/employer... ICT and Telecommunications is our largest industry (also more stable since it doesn't crash) and is involved in all aspects of our life from health, business, education and entertainment.

    Nope, treat it like football and kick it around until its broken and blame everyone.

    This is the country that invented Fibre Optic telecommunications, Wi-Fi and key components in mobile phone telecommunications and we can't do any of them bloody right!

    I think it's time to stop bitching about it and figure out a way to fix it. Start by removing Telstra's monopoly on the infrastructure and allow other companies to be able to lay their own fibre to a set national standard. I'm no expert, but the constant whining is definitely not helping.

      One of the reasons the NBN became A Thing is because when the ISP's could overbuild infrastructure, they weren't.

      Telstra should have upgraded to FttN well before 2007, yet dragged their feet, and tried to bluff Labor. Who called their bluff, and the NBN was the result.

      Telstra should have been separated, that seems pretty clear to everyone these days, but its a moot point now. Separating them has zero consequence today, and still doesn't lead to the NBN becoming better. NBN will still have an effective monopoly, and still have the retail side of things over a barrel.

      Its that monopoly nature that prevents anyone else from doing anything and something that cant change for financial reasons. NBN needs that monopoly if its ever going to get its money back, and that was a critical part of the plan from day one. Its also one of the few parts of the rollout that LNP didn't change.

      With how this has been botched over the past 4 years, its become something that's difficult to correct. FTTdp is a positive step, and hopefully can bring things back, but it needs to totally replace FttN.

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