The NBN Was Engineered To Fail

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.