The future of the NBN: Are you a true believer?

The Coalition’s betting the National Broadband Network (NBN) does not become a major issue at the next election. Careful management of the information surrounding the NBN, reviews and audits designed to provide substance to Coalition claims, and a dose of belligerence from the Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull are the weapons currently deployed to dampen what could become an out of control bush fire.

The government can’t wait for the new senate to sit on 1 July 2014 because the balance of power could shift away from Labor and the Greens to a more pliable combination of minor parties and independents depending on the upcoming Court of Disputed Returns hearings on the validity of the Western Australian senate vote.

In the interim, the senate continues to spotlight the NBN and of the 35 submissions to the senate inquiry on the NBN to date the government will be struggling to find any support for NBN 2.0.

On 28 January 2014 the New Zealand Prime Minister John Keys reaffirmed his governments drive to provide fibre to the home to over 70 per cent of New Zealanders by 2019. How can the Abbott government maintain its stance when even their New Zealand equivalent has thumbed its nose at NBN 2.0?

More importantly, what does the Australian public think?

While the battle rages, public attitudes on the NBN fall within some broad categories. So where do you fit in?

Do it once do it right

Polls conducted over several years have consistently shown that 70 to 80 per cent of Australians want the NBN and Turnbull’s recent efforts to put a face to NBN 2.0 have failed miserably. The majority of Australians know and understand the issues surrounding the NBN and have indicated clearly that they want the FTTP rollout to continue and be completed as fast as possible.

So if you fall into the do it once do it right category, how do you react to the news that the Coalition will introduce NBN 2.0 and effectively end the move to FTTP for at least a generation? Would you vote at the next election for Labor and a return to the original NBN plan, albeit with some subtle changes like utilising Fibre to the Basement (FTTB) for multi-dwelling units (MDU) while a slower MDU fibre upgrade program occurred?

Politics is never simple and we will go to the elections faced with a myriad of policies upon which we cast our votes, but the next election is shaping up to be the most important for the future of the NBN and will this be enough to mobilise the 70 to 80 per cent of Australians to act decisively at the polls?

I just want a more reliable network connection

For many people the existing infrastructure does not provide a reliable service and get frustrated when videos that their watching stop, buffer, sputter back to life and stop again or when using Skype the call fades in an out. Why does the Skype video have to be a postage stamp when my eyes are not quite what they used to be?

The technology is not really important to many people, but they understand there is a need for infrastructure that provides a reliable network connection and keeps up with new applications as they become available. Now where is that Netflix guide again? And why can’t we all watch different movies at the same time, there are only five in our family? My wife just hates sport and I can’t stand cooking shows and our kids can never agree on what to watch because our oldest is going through a zombie phase.

This is the modern family deciding that it’s time to upgrade the family car to a people mover, not enough space so time for an upgrade. The family will pay but feel aggrieved if the internet connection does not provide what they want reliably.

I’m worried about the debt

Australia seems to have a lot of debt and I’m worried that the NBN might cause the government to raise taxes to pay for it. Do you worry about the NBN and whether NBN Co can pay its bills?

Australians are early adopters where technology is concerned and improvements in technology, applications and infrastructure are normally sure things guaranteed to make a profit for all involved, but lurking at the back of our minds is the fear that the NBN could become another white elephant that blows out in cost and takes decades longer to complete than it should.

I really want the NBN because I’ve heard so many positive things about super-fast broadband (whatever that means) from both sides of politics. Turnbull was on the radio the other day describing how wonderful it will be and I believe him, doesn’t he have a wonderful smile?

Do you believe that government can actually deliver anything more than a press conference? There is no doubt that some of the comments concerning the NBN indicate a fear of what the NBN could do to public coffers and the Coalition played on that fear in the lead up to the last election, but as we now know they were really just pulling our leg because now they’re telling us that their cheaper faster version will be about the same cost delivered in about the same time.

Does this sound like a conundrum to you? Should I worry about the debt or worry about the people telling me about the possible debt?

Let the industry do it

I’m a believer in small (read micro) government and if the telecommunications industry thinks we need it and companies can make a profit then they will build it. But please keep the government out of it because Australia cannot afford more government intervention.

Can you remember the last time the government instituted anything that was really a benefit to the nation (read me)? I pay taxes and watch the big end of town make millions and never pay a cent to the taxman. The NBN is just another tax that will only benefit millionaires so why bother.

Are you a true believer in the wisdom of capitalism and small government? For some the thought that the government is building the NBN is a reality that is too horrible to face. Layer upon layer of bureaucrats employed in Canberra employed to count pencils and not one that really understands what I want the internet to provide, now where is my local member’s phone number again?

Or are you against the NBN because you’re really against spending on infrastructure that you don’t see the need for and don’t want to subsidise others? There is nothing wrong with the network that we have now and I don’t see why the nation should spend so much money just so that people can gamble more and watch porn. If they want to do that then let them pay for cable.

Mark Gregory is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University