“Cuba”? What the heck do any of us know about broadband policy in Cuba, Mr Turnbull? Oh wait. I get it. Communism. Well played, sir.

As opposition spokesperson, Malcolm Turnbull’s continuing mission is to “demolish” the National Broadband Network. The NBN’s next critical milestone is Telstra’s AGM, a week from today. Telstra’s management has long since taken the NBN deal as a given, but not so the shareholders — especially those who haven’t been following the details.

Turnbull is rightly ramping up the rhetoric. Like all good propagandists, he’s playing on his audience’s existing beliefs. Government incompetent Labor waste something something communism.

“This is the telecommunications version of Cuba,” Turnbull said yesterday.

“You know, Cuba is the last communist state. Oh, I stand corrected, there’s North Korea too. See, Stephen Conroy doesn’t even have a North Korea to his Cuba. He’s the one and only. There is nobody else with Conroy in terms of extravagance and government intervention. He is the most singular individual in that respect.”

Glorious! And if it wasn’t rehearsed, if “North Korea to his Cuba” was ad lib, then I’m even more impressed.

“As a gentleman in Europe said to me the other day, they think the policy — the Labor Party’s policy — is completely crazy,” Turnbull said.

This morning Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam said Turnbull had now “entered the twilight zone”, describing his comments as “desperately unhinged” and “increasingly bizarre”.

But the twilight zone is precisely where Turnbull needs to be this week, delivering lines that’ll resonate with twilight-year Liberals worried about the value of the Telstra shares. After all, they probably remember telling their kids scare stories about evil Fidel Castro and the imminent rain of atomic death back when young Jack was blasting just a bit more meth …

Yeah, I can do fact-free rhetoric too, though not as well as Turnbull.

“As a gentleman in Europe said” is excellent sourcing, no? Who was this gentlemen? What does he know about broadband policies and technology? We can all play this game.

As a gentleman in Katoomba said to me the other week, the government is controlling our thoughts via those so-called “vaccinations” they force on our children. True.

There are facts behind Turnbull’s comments, actually, taken from the latest broadband report from the Economist Intelligence Unit. It comes with a chart showing Australia’s spend as a great big bubble.

Buried in the fine print is the fact that this bubble shows only the government spend, not the total spend on that country’s broadband projects.

“A spokeswoman for NBN Co said the report underestimated the number of households that would be connected by 6 million, and did not recognise the company would make a commercial return,” Fairfax reported.

The chart shows “a small selection of countries” without saying how they were selected. And are those bubbles scaled to the square root of the spend, so their area matches the spend, not their diameter? I can’t tell you. The public document is merely the “abridged Executive Summary”.

“Read the longer version in The Economist,” Turnbull said. “[It] details how crazy it is, and puts the numbers around it.”

But the full report costs $US2950. Most of us will be relying on what the news media says Malcolm Turnbull says it says.

“The Opposition has pounced on one aspect of a report from The Economist — regarding the level of public investment in the NBN — but ignored the overall conclusion which found the NBN is superior to the services in the United States and the United Kingdom,” Ludlam said. “The ‘Economist Intelligence Unit’ is fanatically opposed to public investment in anything. If the ‘Intelligence Unit’ keeps publishing these wild-eyed neoliberal rants they may need to change their name to something else.”

The Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, called the EIU report “right-wing dogma”.

All this left-right tribalism and the rhetorical tricks annoy the shit out of me — especially when Turnbull has perfectly good rational and easy-to-explain criticisms that Conroy can’t answer.

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to build the NBN in two waves? Fibre to the node first, then fibre to the premises later as needed? Turnbull reckons the New Zealand experience supports this.

And no one from any side of politics has shown us their spreadsheets explaining how all the growth versus demand versus price calculations work. Once more, we rely on the news media telling us what the politicians say they say.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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