The Government’s commitment to a new era of publicly-owned information infrastructure is historic and a radical shift in communications policy. But there are some significant issues to worry about.

  1. The NBN tender process, which has cost participants and taxpayers millions of dollars, has yielded nothing. It was a poor plan, undercosted and underfunded, and attached to an absurdly tight timeframe. But it was driven by Labor’s fear that to be seen promoting a full publicly-owned broadband model would let the Howard Government portray it as being economically irresponsible.
  2. Where will the private sector money — up to 49% of $43b over eight years — come from when we are still working our way through a global credit crisis? Why not be more honest and admit that taxpayers will be coughing up most of the money?
  3. We’ll be stuck with this fibre for a very long time. Let’s hope the government has picked a winner and FTTP broadband remains a viable and successful delivery mechanism well into the next decade.
  4. Who will ensure this new company doesn’t become another Telstra? Not the modern, anti-competitive Telstra, but the old, publicly-owned Telstra for which customers were a distant second in priority and engineers and bureaucrats made the key decisions about what was needed and what wasn’t needed.

This is a huge gamble with more than a Whitlamite whiff of big government about it. If it goes wrong, it is unlikely anyone in the current Government will still be around to take the blame.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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