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Journalism

Oct 22, 2010

Conroy comes knocking

Watch out - Conroy's about! He'll make you use the NBN and he'll charge you thousands for the privilege. At least, that's what some in the media want you to think.

Another day, another volley of outlandish propaganda from The Australian. Be more specific, you say! Which particular war — on Labor, on the ABC, on bloggers, on the Greens? No, it’s the war on the NBN, with another series of articles slamming the roll out today.

That’s in addition to not one but two furious reactions to being called on its campaign by Stephen Conroy, with a comment piece by Matt ‘I don’t do comment pieces’ Franklin today and a hard-hitting, no-holds barred interview yesterday of editor Chris Mitchell by the unfortunate Geoff Elliott, in which Mitchell offered the stinging retort to Conroy: ‘I know you are, but what am I?’

Beneath the cover of sanctimony and lies, however, there was some furious rowing back going on at our very own right-wing version of The Onion.

A critical part of the attack on the NBN has been around the idea of households being forced to use the network and compelled to spend large amounts of money to do so. The Australian ran a story just before the election claiming it would cost households $3000 to connect to the NBN. Conroy has been complaining this week about The Australian claiming it would cost $6000. Today, the paper ran a response denying it had ever used the higher figure.

The Oz is right. It never used $6000. That would be another News Limited publication, The Daily Telegraph, where noted technology guru Piers Akerman claimed it would “cost every household between $6000 and $10,000”.

Conroy should gets his facts right about which News Ltd outlet is lying through its teeth before he attacks them.

Not merely is the $6000 figure complete rubbish, so is the $3000 figure. How do we know? Well, The Oz admitted it today. Under cover of its attack on Conroy, its latest line is that wiring will cost $400 a room. You’d have to wire up the bedrooms, the garage and all the toilets to get anywhere close to $3000, let alone Piers’ $10,000. In fact it gets cheaper the further you read. The actual figure is later given as between $250 and $400. Eventually, it’s down to $100 a port for new houses.

But even those figures don’t stack up. As Mike Quigley pointed out at Estimates on Tuesday night, NBN users in Tasmania are using the network without any upgrading of their in-home wiring. They’re using their existing routers, wi-fi or blue cables. To take advantage of very high speeds, yes, you’ll need to upgrade your wiring and switches, or have your ISP do it for you. Or, more realistically, you’ll upgrade next time you buy some new hardware like a PC or a router.

But The Australian’s agenda is to suggest you’ll be compelled to spend money, when you won’t.

That’s but one line of attack on the NBN. There are some recurring elements. “Wage blowout threat to NBN” it screeched on September 10, claiming the NBN budget would blow out by nearly $1.5 billion due to labour shortages. One of its sources was James Tinslay, head of the electrical sector employers’ group the National Electrical and Communications Association. Tinslay was heavily involved in the housing insulation program saga, as NECA had given early warnings to the government about it, but he is also a persistent critic of the government’s IR system and a go-to man for The Australian when it wants a quote critical of the Fair Work laws. NECA, after all, is a long-term foe of the Electrical Trades Union.

Tinslay was also the source for the $3000 claim. That was the price, he claimed, of what the journalists concerned called a “standard retrofit” to use the NBN.

So who was the source for today’s new claim that it would only be $400 a room, a figure entirely at odds with Tinslay’s? Why, step forward … James Tinslay. He is quoted today saying “the cost of installing cable to various rooms in a house would cost between $250 and $400 a port”. Why the difference from a couple of months ago? The Australian doesn’t say.

To be fair to News Ltd, it isn’t alone in peddling nonsense about the NBN. Fairfax’s Georgina Robinson and Ben Grubb managed to trump the efforts of the national broadsheet yesterday with a story now entitled ‘Minister threatens to use law to force people on NBN if states revolt‘. On Fairfax’s Tech page, it goes by the lurid headline ‘I’ll force NBN on everyone’. That, of course, is the handiwork of the sub-editors, not the journalists concerned. But Conroy, according to the story itself, would use federal law to “force people on to the NBN”.

Conroy in fact has been making clear all week that people can decline to be connected to the network, even after the copper network is removed. He told Estimates on Tuesday night: “So people can opt to say, ‘no, when the copper’s taken away, we don’t want you to put in a piece of fibre’. People will be able to make that choice. They can go purely mobile now or fixed wireless.” Conroy’s office confirmed this morning that remains the case.

Still, presumably that’s not as interesting as the image of Conroy making that midnight knock on the door to barge in to your home, drill a hole in your wall and take $400 out of your wallet. Or $3000. Or $6000. Or $10,000.

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118 comments

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118 thoughts on “Conroy comes knocking

  1. Angra

    Excellent piece Bernard! You are talented gentleman sir!

    As an IT person I’ve been getting so sick of the absolute nonsense talked about the NBN. I know very few people with their houses wired currently, so the vast majority will do as they do now and just have a cable coming into a port on the wall and plug their existing router into that. A fibre-to-copper connector if you want to hook up an existing LAN is around $100.

    The fact that what’s outside your house will be fibre to replace the nineteenth century copper is pretty-much irrelevant to what is inside. However what you will get is massively increased bandwidth, reliability, performance and technical longevity. (On reliability, copper is notorious for electrical interference, corrosion, grounding problems and of course lightning strikes).

    One of the biggest threats is to terrestrial transmission of TV, as this will become redundant. So that’s probably where the vested interest is in rubbishing the NBN.

  2. kakarik0

    Unfortunately the majority of people do no understand Technology. They are happy USING the internet, but they do not like going out of their comfort zone.

    I have no doubt at all The Australian banks their articles on this one simple fact. As soon as you mention a concept which is poorly understood, and add some sort of a cost to it, people panic.

    Anyone who works in IT knows the amazing benefits of the NBN, and why it is so expensive. If I tried to explain that to my grandmother for example, she’d say “HUH?”

  3. Jimmy

    It’s stock standard stuff from the Australian, say something long enough and it will becaome the truth, and even when it is proven to be false smear the author of the proof to be nothing but a labor stooge (even if they are the treasury secretary, head of defence, nobel laureate or head of the world bank) and pay for your own report showing whatever you want.
    Their other great trick is to have an anti labor headline and first 2 paragraphs and then balance it up at the end. This allows them to claim to be balanced when they know most people don’t read that far, or if they do they have made up their minds by then.

  4. David Sanderson

    An area man claimed today that an Australian senator (aka “the cable guy”) dug a hole down the length of his street.

    When approached the senator told the area man that “I want to take fibre into every house”. When the area man told the senator that he was already eating enough fibre inside and outside his house the senator reportedly stared menacingly at the area man, through big black glasses, and threatened to “Come back later and make you pay $300” if he didn’t get the fibre into his house today.

    The area man reported the incident to the police but they never turned up to investigate the matter “because”, they said, “we have better thing to do”.

  5. klewso

    Isn’t that a coincidence – in Tasmania “they’re using their existing routers” to communicate with the outside world, and up there in “The Emerald City of Oz” they’re using “their pre-existing rooters” too, for the same thing?

  6. Jimmy

    Kakariko – it is just not technology/NBN, the RSPT/MMRT, the ETS basically all mjor reforms are complicated but get boiled down into small negative stories that get repeated Ad nauseum.

  7. Angra

    Klewso – maybe we should explain for the benefit of Australians that the correct standard English pronunciation of “router” is “rooter” (as in route 66).

  8. Angra

    I should admit that I learned my lesson the hard way. Soon after arriving from England I was taking part in a discussion of networking infrastructure for a new building, and suggested that for small workgroups we should install baby routers – but due my English heritage and local ignorance pronounced this as ‘baby rooters’. I couldn’t at first understand why everyone fell apart in hysterical laughter. One wag responded ‘yes, we’ve got a few of those in Australia too!’

  9. Holden Back

    Just leave my Intertubes alone!

  10. Angra

    re: baby routers. This was an accepted technical term at the time for small 4-port routing hubs in a network.

    After the wag’s retort, someone responded ‘and most of them work for the Catholic church!”

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