Turnbull's NBN shadowboxing

The Coalition’s attempt to wrest the broadband initiative away from the Gillard government has unfortunately failed to hit the mark, hamstrung by a lack of policy detail that many were hoping would be forthcoming. On top of that the apparent backflip by Malcolm Turnbull on the issue of NBN costing and doubts about how much the opposition communications spokesman knew about Huawei’s exclusion from the NBN, have both cast an embarrasing shadow on the Coalition’s game plan.

Show me the money

Rather than getting bogged down by concrete facts and figures Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull chose to focus on aspiration goals, which were delivered with healthy lashings of the Coalition’s NBN mantra- we will give the people better broadband, cheaper and sooner than what Labor has promised.

The one new feature on display was a consumer survey, which is supposedly designed to deliver new insight when it comes to deciding which areas get the NBN fibre. It’s a gimmick which isn’t entirely without merit but more on that later.

Turnbull’s admission that the Coalition is unable to provide a fully costed broadband policy by the next election is a grievous blow to the opposition’s NBN credentials. The shadow communications minister may justify this fact by saying that his party doesn’t have the necessary contractual information to present a fully-costed alternative. However, any sympathy for the Coalition evaporates rather quickly when one remembers that Turnbull told the AFR in August that he had a fully costed policy document ready to go. Something was obviously lost in translation then because Turnbull played a very different tune this week.

For the time being the Coalition persists in running with its promise of a cheaper, more affordable broadband network which will be completed sooner than Labor’s NBN. Just how this will be achieved is still a mystery to most and the Coalition certainly won’t be clearing anytime soon.

The analysts at Citibank have had a stab at it. Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs have done their analysis and as Turnbull is quick to point out we only need look at the BT experience to get an inkling of what’s in store. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see how the current situation is beneficial to developing a viable broadband future for Australia, especially when Turnbull’s appeal for public trust continues to be eroded by the absence of meaningful policy details  

Huawei briefs, who knows what

With Turnbull already copping grief about the lack of a policy document, the revelations in The Australian will make further uncomfortable reading for the Liberal frontbencher. Uncomfortable, because it will allow Turnbull's critics to cast further aspersions about his professed love for more truth and honesty in Australian politics.

The issue stems from Turnbull's promise last month to review the Gillard government's decision to ban Huawei from taking part in the NBN process. The basis of the ban was intelligence provided to the government by the ASIO. 

Turnbull said in August that any review on Huawei's status would be conducted in light of all the available security intelligence advice, but the Coalition had not been privy to the information that the ASIO had privided to the government. 

However, The Australian contends that Turnbull was briefed by ASIO in Canberra on May 9, with Deputy Opposition Leader and foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop also sitting in on the ASIO briefing.

While this should have little or no impact on whether Huawei is allowed back into the NBN game, it's not a good look for Turnbull.

The 'Faster broadband survey' gimmick 

Now to the survey, which is a gimmick hatched well past its use by date and perhaps designed to serve more as a PR exercise than anything else.

The one thing that the survey should provide is information on where work is needed, except that a partisan a closed survey will deliver little or no new information. The entire exercise would have made a lot more sense three years ago but the Coalition was at the time too busy tearing down the NBN. At the end it cost them the election and Turnbull’s recent form does nothing to highlight that perhaps the Coalition has learned its lesson.

While the survey might be nothing more than a distraction it could potentially be used by Turnbull to anchor a concerted campaign against NBN Co, especially when it comes to the speed and the planning of the rollout. I wouldn’t be surprised by the sight of shadow communications minister, armed with the survey data, lamenting how the Gillard government and NBN Co had failed the Australian public, especially as the election draws closer.

NBN Co's perceived sluggishness does provide Turnbull and the Coalition an opportunity to target parts of marginal seats, which are plagued with poor connectivity and won’t see NBN fibre for some time. The survey’s data might not amount to much but seems destined to serve a political purpose further down the track

Quigley attack in poor taste

Another sign of Turnbull’s antagonism toward NBN Co came this week in the form of a strongly worded attack on NBN Co boss Mike Quigley.  Turnbull told a community meeting in the Sydney suburb of Epping that Quigley was not the right job for the job, citing his lack of experience in running or building a telecom network.

Quigley and Turnbull have shared an uneasy relationship, especially after the Alcatel Lucent bribery inquiry, but the opposition communications spokesman’s move to question the competency of the NBN Co boss, and make him the sole focal of why the rollout is behind schedule is in poor taste.

NBN Co might not run like clockwork and the rollout may be six months late but let’s not forget the complex regulatory and political hurdles that Quigley & Co have had to cross to get this far. Turnbull obviously has the right to criticise NBN Co for its perceived deficiencies but singling out Quigley seems like a political cheap shot.

It also bodes poorly for what might be in store if and when the Coalition comes to power.  The prospect of Quigley sticking around post-election was always doubtful and with Turnbull now openly hinting at management changes, the NBN Co might look very different under a Coalition regime. 

Conroy's power trip

Meanwhile, Turnbull's nemesis Stephen Conroy has had a pretty busy couple of weeks himself and when he wasn't spruiking the benefits off the NBN for the education industry, the communications minister was telling those gathered a telco conference in New York City the reasoning behind his NBN policy.

According to CommsDay, Conroy acknowleded that the NBN policy was “controversial” and “radical" and could not easily be replicated in other countries.

Conroy bases his argument on our unique system of federal power over telecommunications.

 “The regulation of telecommunications powers in Australia is exclusively federal. That means I am in charge of spectrum auctions, and if I say to everyone in this room ‘if you want to bid in our spectrum auction you’d better wear red underpants on your head’, I’ve got some news for you. You’ll be wearing them on your head,” said the minister. “I have unfettered legal power.”

Multicast becomes official 

NBN Co has official launched its multicast services to allow ISPs to broaden their NBN product offerings through the distribution of video content and other large files directly to each of the points of interconnect (POI) 

The Multicast protocol that replicates a stream across a network to the specific endpoints, in this case 121, eliminating the need to send multiple streams of the same thing to different end points. Ordinarily, if 100 people want to see the same content at 5Mbps a second, the server would need to pump out a 500 Mbps stream. Under Multicast, only one stream needs to be sent out, which is then duplicated by the network.

The key benefits of the feature is the significant bandwidth savings for the delivery of one-to-many services and in turn enable more cost effective delivery of services such as Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) and other video content.

The 'Woz' and the NBN 

Finally, there was a lot of fanfare about how Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's love for Australia had a lot to do with the NBN . But alas the 'Woz' has set the record straight. 

Speaking this week at the the World Human Resources Congress in Melbourne, Wozniak denied the NBN was linked to his citizenship bid.

"I probably should say that is true, because it makes me sound weird ... and I like to sound unusual and different because I've thought that way a lot in my life.

"But actually, I appreciate NBN, and for 30 years I've had a desire to live in Australia, but the two are totally unconnected.

"There are so many great things about this country that have nothing to do with NBN."