Build it and they will come to buy it back again.
There is much huff and puff about the construction of the NBN in Australia. Like most things “Hi-tech” explanations of its benefits are complicated and convoluted. Technologists like myself project a fifties impression of the space-age “Buck Rodgers” futuristic world we envisaged 2013 would be. Technology may have moved on since the fifties but some people cannot. I can feel your eyes glaze over as you read this on your smartphone or tablet, which was the stuff of a fertile imagination just 10 years ago.
The politicisation of technology, like education and medicine, stifles visionary benefits. Get a great idea, share it with a politician and when they eventually understand the vision after assessing the political capital, they will promptly legislate it into oblivion. The hallmark of politicising great ideas is the term “Cost Benefit Analysis”. Rest assured that if this term is uttered by a politician or apparatchik in any context, politicisation is in play. Such thinking ultimately leads to accountants being the gatekeepers of the greater good. I would hazard to guess that the necessity of similar nation building infrastructure such as; roads, rail, water, electricity, post and communications initially did not rely on the rigours of cost benefit based entirely upon profit until they were politicised. Like hospitals or telephone exchanges the social benefits far outweigh monetary profit in the reality of justification. The end game to politicising technology is commercialisation where the monetary interests of capitalism seek to steer the political process perpetually to the right. Unfortunately, the NBN does not enjoy the bipartisan support a visionary nation building project deserves. Most of the criticism of the NBN is steeped in political advantage, economic obsession, Luddite mentality and an envy of visionary policy.
The benefits of the NBN are tangible and immediate, however they are also futuristic. The NBN can today deliver:
- Significant benefits in medical diagnostics
- Significant improvements in distance education
- Decentralisation of industry especially in the service sector
- Decentralisation and regionalisation of business hubs.
- Benefits to agriculture, land and water management
- Remote diagnostics and teleconferencing
- Significant improvements in 4G mobile mobile telecommunications coverage
- Convergence of service delivery of audio and visual mediums
- Cheap infrastructure for businesses competing in the digital economy
- Significant social benefits from inclusive digital communities
- An egalitarian approach to technology access and information exchange
- The eradication of the tyranny of distance
- Large productivity benefits for business and households
The NBN like any network is scalable and will expand to accommodate new technology platforms as they evolve. This depends largely on the premise of designing it right first time. Getting the foundations sound to avoid expensive upgrades is essential. Incorporating cheaper ephemeral technologies that forgo functionality to cut costs is false economy. Twice as many circuits with twice as many points of failure mean greater maintenance costs and lower grade of service. Fibre to the house is currently the best technology available and anyone that tells you differently is misinformed.
Heinz V. Bergen wrote “Information is the seed for an idea, and only grows when it’s watered”. The dissemination, proliferation and control of information is very profitable, just ask Rupert Murdoch. I have talked about the benefits that the NBN can deliver now and its ability to cater for the future, but the big question is who is to gain or lose from its inception?
Cast your minds back a few years ago to our publically owned NBN Mk1, namely Telstra. Politicisation of Telstra coupled with short term vision of immediacy saw this essential public asset privatised for no net gain to the Australian public. We were spun the yarn that deregulation of the telecommunications market and privatisation of Telstra would promote “market forces” to deliver Australians cheaper prices, better service with greater choice though increased competition. The greatest lie was that Australians could invest in the infrastructure they already owned. The share price has not performed well and Telstra has been strangled by the pressure to return a profit to shareholders at the expense of its own expansion. The unregulated telecommunications market in Australia is a basket case that has delivered little of the benefits promised to Australian consumers. The financially viable imperative of “market forces and competition” was a myth. The free market has simply not delivered the dividends to either the consumer or shareholder.
Telstra as a privitised entity has moved to convergent service delivery and offer subscription television via its “Foxtel” product, a joint venture with Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited that owns Fox. James Packers PBL has acquired half of News Ltd.’s 50%. The deal is essentially a content provision synergy for the delivery of subscription pay TV services.
The NBN will open the market to new players as it will wholesale bandwidth in an open market. This means that new or existing players can provide data, web, audio, video, news, information, telephony, services, and entertainment via subscription using the NBN infrastructure. Traditional terrestrial television and radio services can be delivered digitally over cable in addition to digital versions of the traditional newspaper without the expense of printing. A good example would be a subscriber may receive a bundled news service on a free cheap tablet or smartphone on sign up. Companies like Vodaphone are excited by the prospect of the NBN as it will mean cheaper infrastructure costs in delivering greater coverage for 4G mobile and services to less profitable country areas.
I am sure that Rupert is looking at NBN co and drooling over its capacity to deliver all of his services. I will draw a long bow here, with no more than a strategic hunch based on News Ltd.’s quest for word domination in media markets across the globe. The current negativity in Murdoch press toward the Gillard government and NBN co sees a win-win situation for Murdoch.
If the coalition wins government and Abbott plans to sell off NBN co, Rupert will be there with a big open check book. If News Ltd. owns this cash cow he will have no need Telstra. Telstra however, will still need to buy content from Fox to deliver subscription TV.
If the Gillard government is returned, Telstra already offers services over the NBN including content from Fox via Foxtel. This is whilst Telstra’s own copper network (remember the one that Australian taxpayers used to own) is due to be phased out and purchased by NBN co on behalf of the Australian taxpayers. NBN co will ultimately be sold due to pressure from the media to not build another public monopoly. This is despite “market forces” unwillingness to do so. Enter Rupert’s check book. What’s wrong with this picture?
Australians taxpayers got around 35.6 billion dollars for Telstra and will pay around 8 billion to buy Telstra’s copper network. By the time the NBN reaches phase 3 Australians have a net gain of Zero. It would seem the political ideology of “privatisation does it better” has seen us go from one of the most advanced telecommunications economies in the world to fifteen years behind the game. We are back to to ground hog day thanks to the sale of the goose that laid the golden egg. I am confident the Gillard government will be returned to finish this crucial infrastructure, essential to ensure Australia’s future prosperity. My question is why would we sell NBN co and let someone else enjoy the prosperity of vision? Will we buy it back again in another 15 years from Rupert?