Quigley's poison chalice

The only surprise in the announcement that Australia’s National Broadband Network CEO Mike Quigley will be retiring from the company is that Mr Quigley has managed to last quite so long – over four years – in what is a nearly impossible job.

Not only was Mr Quigley charged with delivering a 12.2 million premise Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network in one of the world’s most challenging countries to do so, but he also had to do it in a poisonous political environment.

Quigley’s reign as NBN Co CEO was made extraordinarily difficult by two factors largely beyond his control.

Firstly, the lack of bi-partisan support for the NBN – exacerbated by the refusal of former communications minister Stephen Conroy to conduct a Cost Benefit Analysis on the network – created an overwhelming level of media and political attention on the NBN.

The media and political firestorm that surrounded the project made Mr Quigley’s job far more difficult than it should have been, with NBN Co coming under huge pressure to meet short-term deadlines purely to provide political cover for the network.

Secondly, the decision by the government to mandate such a hugely ambitious FTTP deployment – with no room allowed for alternative last-mile access technologies such as VDSL in Multi-Dwelling-Units – made the rollout far more complicated than it needed to be.

Accordingly, it will matter little who replaces Mr Quigley as NBN Co CEO until some of these issues are resolved at a federal governmental level and Labor and the Coalition reach some kind of consensus on the future direction of the network.

Gaining some level of bi-partisan support will remove the toxicity from the environment in which NBN Co has had to operate and allow the company to focus on what it needs to do to complete the long-term rollout rather than simply focusing on hitting short-term targets.

In addition, a more flexible approach to last-mile deployment – especially in MDU’s – will allow NBN Co to start putting many more active subscribers onto the network much more quickly and to thus start gaining significant scales of deployment.

Tony Brown is a senior analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media. He is a key member of the Broadband and Internet Intelligence Centre team, covering the broadband and Internet markets of the Asia Pacific region.