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The army should rescue the NBN

The National Broadband Network (NBN) is in dire trouble and has reached the point where Julia Gillard should declare a national disaster. By doing so the government would be able to utilise constitutional…

Is it time to declare the NBN a “national disaster”? MATEUS_27:24&25

The National Broadband Network (NBN) is in dire trouble and has reached the point where Julia Gillard should declare a national disaster.

By doing so the government would be able to utilise constitutional powers to immediately effect changes to NBN Co and bring forward legislation necessary to prevent the situation worsening.

Identifying a leader capable of bringing Australia through this emergency should be the federal government’s highest priority.

General Cosgrove, the nation needs you one more time.

The tipping point

Two recent events have taken NBN Co to the point where any reasonable unbiased person would be picking up the phone and dialling 000.

At an American Chamber of Commerce event last week, the head of NBN Co Mike Quigley said he would support an industry study to determine the best way to build the NBN – reportedly because he “is trying to bring an end to the debate in the lead up to the federal election".

The debate, for anyone who’s missed it, centres on the different sorts of technologies that are – or could – be used for the NBN: fibre to the premises (FttP), fibre to the node (FttN), hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC), fixed wireless, and satellite.

The support by Quigley for a study by the Communications Alliance – the primary Australian telecommunications industry body – should be seen as an admission of the chaos surrounding the NBN.

In a statement last week the shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull called it:

the most bizarre twist yet in the debate over broadband policy. Even more bizarre because Mr Quigley has made the announcement without obtaining the agreement of the Communications Alliance to commission the inquiry.

Turnbull took the opportunity to twist the knife placed in Communications minister Stephen Conroy’s back by calling on Quigley to provide a reason why he – and not Conroy – proposed the study.

NBN Co’s Board Chairman Mr Harrison Young should make a public statement of Board–level support for Mr Quigley’s position – and if this is not forthcoming, further questions should be asked.

Are Communications minister Stephen Conroy and NBN CEO Mike Quigley pushing the right buttons? Alan Porritt/AAP

To the letter

The second event that forced the tipping point was the NBN Co letter sent to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on February 15.

Written by the NBN Co head of regulatory affairs and industry analysis Caroline Lovell, it was an admission that:

If the base case assumptions [a set of assumptions based on a low customer take-up rate and low ongoing customer base] in the 2012-15 Corporate Plan are modelled, the ICRA [initial cost recovery account] would not be extinguished by 2039-40.

The NBN roll-out is not progressing as planned. Dan Peled/AAP

What this means is that NBN Co’s 2012 business plan is based upon an upbeat assessment rather than the more pragmatic base case assumptions outlined in Lovell’s letter to the ACCC.

Such a flip-flop from NBN Co does nothing to engender confidence that NBN Co is able to build a business successfully, even if this includes a predicted subsidy by the Australian tax payer.

For NBN Co to make a case for no subsidy to be required from the Australian tax payer at a time when the NBN roll-out is proceeding at a glacial pace and deadlines are not being met is, at best, disingenuous. There is every indication that taxpayers will be required to provide billions to bail out NBN Co.

Key failures

The factors listed above are likely to be the focus for any study carried out by the Communications Alliance. But there are others.

Current legislation prevents the NBN being used to provide a wholesale connection to anything that is mobile.

The NBN satellites are the most suitable means available to provide wholesale data connections to planes, long distance trains, interstate trucks, camper vans, fishing boats and so on.

The federal government is refusing to assist outback towns that want fibre even when the local shire is prepared to contribute towards the installation cost.

NBN Co selected a passive optical network (PON) (one that brings optical fibre cabling and signals most of – or all – the way to the user) technology for the fibre roll-out which is a fibre-based shared access approach (you could say it’s an updated HFC cable system).

In the US, Google decided to utilise active Ethernet for a fibre roll-out in Kansas City.

Active Ethernet provides each customer with their own dedicated fibre (similar to how every Australian household now has a dedicated copper connection).

The cost of fibre has fallen dramatically in recent years so NBN Co’s decision to utilise PON will now come under the spotlight.

The decision by NBN Co in 2010 to identify 14 Points of Interconnect (POI) (where retail service providers connect to the NBN) was quickly overturned by the ACCC after an industry outcry.

NBN Co’s original plan to have two redundant POI in each of the seven capital cities highlighted the difficulty that NBN Co has had with network design. A lack of consultation and a one-size-fits-all approach to network design has left doubts over the NBN network design.

The decision by NBN Co (or the government) to utilise individual suppliers for key components of the fibre roll-out confounds logic. The fibre network is to be rolled out to 93% of the Australian population, which means between five to eight million premises.

Could General Peter Cosgrove – or someone similar – come to the NBN’s rescue. Paul Miller/AAP

The decision to only utilise one supplier for the fibre and one supplier for the PON equipment provides an opportunity for suppliers – knowing there’s no competition – to inflate costs over time.

By making the decision to utilise sole suppliers – with no imperative to meet delivery deadlines – for key components in the fibre roll-out, NBN Co has taken on an unnecessary and unwarranted risk. Turnbull stated in August 2012 that a coalition government would reconsider the government ban on Huawei providing fibre network systems.

The decision by NBN Co to utilise contractors for the fiber roll-out was always doomed to failure. NBN Co cancelled a network construction tender in April 2011 after months of negotiation because talks broke down with 14 suppliers over price.

What followed was unsettling, to say the least. NBN Co negotiated directly with a small pool of network construction companies and awarded contracts based upon the closed negotiations.

The result was the admission by NBN Co last week that not one customer has been connected to parts of the NBN fibre optic network in the past two years in Western Australia, South Australia or the Northern Territory.

Due to delays around the country, Quigley stated at a Senate hearing earlier this month that NBN Co has revised its target of passing about 300,000 homes by June this year down to about 286,000.

In October 2011, NBN Co released a 12-month roll-out plan stating that construction work was set to start in 28 new locations covering 485,000 premises.

In August 2012, NBN Co slashed roll-out predictions, blaming the slow pace of negotiations with Telstra over the fibre roll-out utilising Telstra’s infrastructure. An even more sobering result is that, by the end of 2012, the NBN was rolled-out past only 52,014 premises.

Emergency response

Turnbull is right when he says the pace of the NBN roll-out is too slow. But his plan to speed things up by by utilising HFC and fibre to the node is misguided.

Sadly, the government’s actions through legislation and the structure and management of NBN Co has been equally misguided.

Right at the beginning of the (ultimately brilliant) plan to create an NBN based upon a fibre network there should have been the realisation that legislation needed to be drafted that was in the nation’s best interest and the fibre roll-out needed to be completed within five years.

The NBN dream is fast turning into a nightmare and drastic action is required.

With that in mind, the following steps should be implemented by the government immediately:

  1. The government should declare a national emergency and set up a national emergency response team.

  2. NBN Co Board and senior management team should be replaced by a retired army general (Cosgrove?) with appropriate support staff. This will ensure the nation has confidence in the person being asked to complete the NBN.

  3. NBN Co should set up a network construction subsidiary with the goal of becoming operational within three months. NBN Co should cancel the existing network construction contracts as NBN Co network construction teams come online. The army should assist with the development of the network construction subsidiary and ensure the NBN roll-out plan targets are doubled in the first year and in every year thereafter so that the roll-out is completed in five years.

  4. The NBN legislation should be redrafted and passed through parliament in a bipartisan move to remove the clauses that hinder the NBN to the benefit of existing carriers – principally mobile carriers and satellite providers.

  5. At least two suppliers should be identified and commissioned for all aspects of the NBN.

  6. An independent review should be carried out of all aspects of NBN Co. This should be conducted at a distance to prevent further delays to the roll-out. The review report should be tabled in parliament before the September election.

The NBN is the single most important project this nation has undertaken since the Snowy Mountains Scheme between 1949 and 1974.

The future of this nation hinges on the successful and timely deployment of a future-proof optical network that benefits all Australians equally.

Failure is not an option.

Join the conversation

57 Comments sorted by

  1. Pat McConnell

    Honorary Fellow, Macquarie University Applied Finance Centre at Macquarie University

    Mark,
    Is it not the cost of the Network equipment that makes Active Optical expensive rather than that falling cost of the fibre making it attractive, as you imply?

    As for the Army being called in, maybe we should look at the trulyenormous fiasco of the F-35 before banking on any help from Defence?

    When in that area, as you are well aware, the Huawei decision is about placating Intelligence rather than good business, the folks who brought you the F-35 (the Liberals) are never going to annoy…

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Pat McConnell

      Hi Pat,

      my bet is Black Caviar to win and NBN Co to come a distant last.

      I agree with you that major projects like th eF35 are often problematic but is the problem one that Australia caused or has control of? No.

      NBN Co is in total control of its own fate and has made every mistake in the book so far.

      You're quite correct that there is a cost trade-off between passive and active network equipments plus an anticipated higher maintenance cost for active systems. The query for NBN Co is…

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    2. Pat McConnell

      Honorary Fellow, Macquarie University Applied Finance Centre at Macquarie University

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Mark
      On the F-35, which bit of a late-night stitched-up secret agreement without a tender was not caused by Australia (correction Australian politician)? As for control, why was control completely given up? Sorry - I know, so that it is always someone else's fault.

      As for geography, there are only two Australian cities of over 3 million, what about the other 16 million or so? And furthermore, Sydney is about 7 times the size of KC (2,000 sq KM as opposed to 300). Small population, widely dispersed, does that not affect network topography?

      No one is bagging the Army, they are a great outfit, but they are trained to go fight on our behalf and to help local disasters. When we get out of foreign wars, and start properly addressing climate infrastructure to address floods, maybe the army can be freed up to speed up telecoms projects but not before.

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    3. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Pat McConnell

      Hi Pat,

      I think the key to the article is the need to setup NBN Co with legislation and a management team that will achieve what the nation needs - a successful NBN.

      The military has a number of signals units that could be very useful in this situation, though this would be a last resort if the NBN Co construction company foundered. I can remember the beginning of the NBN where universities and TAFE geared up to train the thousands that would be needed to build the NBN and then everything went…

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  2. Tony Xiao

    retired teacher

    The completion of the Snowy Mtns Scheme was mainly due to immigrant labour and the eventual hiring of an American firm to oversee the tunnelling projects.
    Maybe the NBN Co should consider doing the same.

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  3. Gary Price

    Small Business Owner

    Surely this piece is supposed to be read as satire....otherwise it is a total failure and a nonsense.

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    1. Stephen Pritchard

      Researcher, cognitive science

      In reply to Gary Price

      The call for a national emergency plus the army is hyperbowl eh?

      As for Quigley offering support for a study: this is not a sign of calamity. Viewed in the best possible light, it is Quigley calling Turnbull's bluff, on the belief that any such study would put a very public spotlight on the shortcomings of a switch to FTTN. In the worst possible light, it is just a political faux pas, Quigley dabbling in politics and failing. You need to take a flight of fancy to see Quigley supporting the idea of a study as any kind of admission of chaos around the NBN.

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    2. Gary Price

      Small Business Owner

      In reply to Stephen Pritchard

      I choose to view Quigley's comments in the best possible light.

      At some point Turnbull will have to come to the party and give much more detail to his thought bubble.

      Unfortunately I suspect we won't see such detail until after the election.

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    3. Richard Davis

      Telecommunications Engineer

      In reply to Gary Price

      Yes Quigley has fallen into the political trap and "politicians" are biting back nothing to do with the technology.

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  4. Richard Davis

    Telecommunications Engineer

    I am pretty sure
    from first hand experience Google is GPON (just over contended as is the usual in the US) not direct fiber. Thus the rest of the article is some sort of derisory satire. For competition purposes direct fiber requires every potential RSP to have active equipment in every fiber access point this is impractical.

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Richard Davis

      Hi Richard, initially Google investigated GPON, GEPON and active Ethernet. All indications now are that Google is utilising active Ethernet or a combination. You may have been in one of the test areas. To achieve symmetric 1 Gbps upload and download it is unlikely that GPON is being used though it could be GEPON over active ethernet with a small split ratio. The key point here is that Google has in a short period of time moved forward and achieved a higher installation rate with a solution that is currently better than our NBN.
      regards, Mark Gregory

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    2. Stephen Pritchard

      Researcher, cognitive science

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      The scope of Google's project and therefore the planning required is somewhat smaller than the NBN, which might explain the speed of rollout differences. Not to mention the fact that Google isn't subject to the same stakeholder consultation/engagement considerations in its decisions that a publicly executed project is. I wonder how long it will take google to bring high speed internet to remote USA, as opposed to the centre of a major city? And by "better than our NBN", you obviously don't mean cost, or even necessarily bang for buck.

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    3. Pat McConnell

      Honorary Fellow, Macquarie University Applied Finance Centre at Macquarie University

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Mark. The Internet is a wonderful, just Google Fiber and all sorts of stuff pops up

      First Google Fiber went live with its 'experimental' broadband internet in November 2012, i.e. just 3 months ago (been working on it since before 2010). How many of the 3 million people in KC are on it and likely ever to be on it? What is the roll-out plan, and no they don't have one, or at least one they will share (sound familiar - Turnbull?). Is the promised speed any better than NBN (and I know neither wil…

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    4. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Pat McConnell

      Hi Pat, your quite correct that Google Fiber may or may not be a long term activity or success, but we can look elsewhere to see fiber rollouts of all descriptions occurring. The Google Fiber project is interesting because US carriers never thought Google would do it and there will be a pressure point where Google forces the other US access providers to roll-out fiber. Google may be doing US consumers a great favour.
      Personally, I have experienced Defence major projects and generally they go well. There are however always going to be one or two that cause problems and it is for this reason that we need a staged approach to fleet procurement. It is good to see the process has already begun for a submarine replacement.

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  5. Tristan Croll

    Lecturer

    This article is unbecoming of The Conversation.

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  6. Jay Rafferty

    Software Engineer

    I have never read anything on the conversation before (My interest in the NBN brought me here) but is this website funded by the coalition or does it have any kind of conservative affiliation?

    The article is terribly written and doesn't present any clear reasons why the army should be brought in to rescue the NBN. It is certainly not a well researched and unbiased piece of journalism.

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Jay Rafferty

      Hi Jay,
      I would like to say that I'm all for the NBN and this is why drastic action is needed now before somone decides to the bulldozer through it. If the Coalition proposed simply fixing the problems with NBN Co and their use of subcontractors (and a few dozen other problems) then I suppose I would equally support both parties on the NBN.
      What we need is a successful NBN in 5 years.

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    2. Gary Price

      Small Business Owner

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      I guess the question then begs: Define NBN

      It seems to me that many, read LNP, have decided that NBN is now a generic term and it can mean anything they deem it to mean.

      That was Conroy's first mistake. He should have called it the National Fibre Network - NFN.

      I agree we need a sucessful NBN but if it takes 5 year or 10 years it need to be full fibre, not a hotchpotch of fibre, and degraded copper and HCF.

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    3. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Gary Price

      Hi Gary,

      your quite right, the name could have been NFN and this would have helped a lot. Australia needs fiber now not in 2020+. This project should have been setup with a view to a change in government and it was not. I do hope that we don't pay the price down the track.

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    4. Jay Rafferty

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Thank you for clarifying.

      The argument that we should be using Active Ethernet because google is is a little weak because we have a very different situation here. I'm not sure there is a clear choice between either but there are advantages to PON which are worth considering:

      1) Less active equipment, which may reduce significantly maintenance costs in rural areas.
      2) Cheaper to deploy, with the NBN being regularly criticised by the media and politically a cost saving of 10% is significant especially when combined with reduced ongoing costs.

      Heat and flooding may also be issues if active equipment is in cabinets.

      The argument that active ethernet is more future proof isn't all that sound considering that the OLT and ONT devices can be replaced as new technology emerges. In fact upgrades would only need to be made where congestion is an issue which would only occur rarely where there are concentrations of heavy users.

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    5. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Jay Rafferty

      Hi Jay, your quite right. The point I'm trying to make is Quigley called for an industry review and what would happen if this review said that NBN Co got it wrong and should be using active Ethernet or some other solution?

      Let me be clear, I think it is nearly impossible for a review to ever occur, already Telstra, Optus and others have said this is a bad idea. The minor telcos would never agree with any position put by Telstra so the whole thing would turn into a time waster.

      For Australia PON is a good approach, though it would have been good if NBN Co had increased the number of fibers in each cable run. Ultimately it is a cost issue.

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    6. Pat McConnell

      Honorary Fellow, Macquarie University Applied Finance Centre at Macquarie University

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Mark
      Take into account a change of government? Didn't Sir Robert Menzies vigorously opposed the Snowy Mountains scheme when it was proposed?

      But then again Ming didn't let a good idea get in the way of a U Turn when he finally saw the light
      "In a period in which we in Australia are still, I think, handicapped by parochialism, by a slight distrust of big ideas and of big people or of big enterprises ... this Scheme is teaching us and everybody in Australia to think in a big way, to be thankful for big things, to be proud of big enterprises and ... to be thankful for big men".

      Who is the big man and who the small in the NBN?

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    7. Gary Price

      Small Business Owner

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Thanks Mark,
      I think now we are on the same page:

      Forgetting the sensationlist headline about bringing in the army what you really want to say:

      "Get on and build this bloody thing before Abbott & Turnbull get a chance to wreck the thing!"

      On that I concur :)

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    8. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Pat McConnell

      Hi Pat,

      I agree with what you've written. Is Turnbull and the coalition big enough to do a U turn and say "ok, let's roll up the sleeves and get this network finished before 2018?"

      My crystal ball is on the blink but in the half light it is showing some hope that a leader will be found that can cut through and move Australia forward. Is this Turnbull?

      Conroy should be praised for his efforts in getting the NBN rolling. Unfortunately, in the early days he was under great pressure to mollify Telstra and this is biting now. What ever happens Conroy should be thanked for his effort. I do hope that he can step up one more time and fix the current malaise before the election.

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    9. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Gary Price

      Hi Gary, I would go one step further and say that labor, coalition and NBN Co need to get up to speed in the national interest. There is nothing like politics to pull a good idea down, but in my view this goes beyond petty politics. The future of Australia will be diminished if we cannot get a fiber network within 5 years.

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    10. John C Smith

      Auditor

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      By that time chip makers will have developed a chip to stick in my brain to use this fastest thing.

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  7. R_Chirgwin

    logged in via Twitter

    Mark:

    "The cost of fibre has fallen dramatically in recent years so NBN Co’s decision to utilise PON will now come under the spotlight."

    The cost of the fibre is trivially small in terms of the overall project. Civil works - dragging the fibre through ducts, digging new ducts where required, and so on - are a far greater component of the cost.

    Pulling fibre through the ducts costs upwards of $10 per meter; the fibre itself is more like $1 per meter for an order of millions of meters.

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to R_Chirgwin

      Hi, I think a key aspect of utilising active technologies is that the US has a very large HFC network that essentially provides fiber to cabinets now. It would not be too much of a step to move to replacing the coax section of the link and ending up with something like active Ethernet or a combination with something like GEPON. Our situation is different to the US and therefore it can be difficult to get a direct comparison.

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  8. Jamie Benaud

    logged in via Twitter

    Given their rather patchy history with the selection and purchasing of technology, I don't know that bringing the DOD (Army) into the NBN build would be a particularly successful idea.

    I sincerely hope that the thought a retired army general could do a better job of rolling out a communications network than the former COO of A-L was made with tongue firmly in cheek!

    That aside, I have a few issues with what you've written...

    There are large sectors of the community for whom the cost of…

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Jamie Benaud

      Hi Jamie,
      The figure quoted 52,014 was the figure tabled at the Senate hearings. Where did you read about the alternate figures? Yes, your quite correct the paras about the delays are not in order, but did they need to be? I suppose it would have been better for the reader, but the mixup occured as I cut out paragraphs about other delays that just made the story too long.

      The only figures that matter are the number of premises that can turn on their NBN connection. It is nice to know that there…

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  9. John C Smith

    Auditor

    Get the army etc to lay it, then if the usage is low get the army to get people to use it by declaring a national emegency.

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  10. John C Smith

    Auditor

    I heard down the fibe that Corning is developing a new flexible fibre that can be hooked up to monig objects so you can use the NBN mobile. I am waiting until then to get connected to NBN.

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  11. Rory Cunningham
    Rory Cunningham is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Test Analyst

    Mark you're making assumptions based off that AFR article which is misleading (typical for MSM). The NBN is not in dire straits. Quote from delimeter:
    "although NBN Co’s letter contained four scenarios under which NBN Co would variously recoup or fail to recoup the cost of its network construction and operation by 2040, the AFR’s report mentioned only one scenario. Under two of the scenarios not mentioned, NBN Co would recoup its costs by 2040, or even earlier. NBN Co is currently projecting that…

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Rory Cunningham

      Hi Rory,

      The NBN letter quite correctly included four scenarios, but for the base case assumption scenario to include a loss is a concern. This is not the reason for this being an issue. The issue comes when you look at this matter and also consider the delays, possible rorting, Quigley's faux pas, failure to have a construction subsidiary, etc. If you come to the decision that the NBN won't be delivered on time (whenever that is) then you come to the conclusion that extra costs will be incurred. What the costs will be has not been forecast and the letter to the ACCC is vague on detail around the base case assumption scenario.

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    2. walker john

      painter

      In reply to Rory Cunningham

      Some of the other scenarios seem ( they are poorly written ) to be based on assumptions about demand or buyer/market behavior that remind me of optimistic Toll road prospectuses .

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  12. Jeremy Dawson

    researcher

    (quote)
    Julia Gillard should declare a national disaster.

    By doing so the government would be able to utilise constitutional powers
    (end quote)

    What constitutional powers?

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Jeremy Dawson

      Hi Jeremy,

      the constitution provides for emergency powers (can't remember what section though - maybe a lawyer can help us here). When a national emergency is declared the PM and ultimately the government by passing legislation can use Defence and other sections of the constitution to take whatever steps are deemed necessary.

      I'm not sure whent the last time a national emergency other than for natural disasters was called. Possibly World War 2?

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    2. Jeremy Dawson

      researcher

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Hi Mark,

      Well, I've done some of the work you should have done, and ascertained that the constitution doesn't mention emergency at all, and I can't see anything in it to suggest that any Defence power is contingent on declaring an emergency.

      If you're making stuff up just say so; if you know something that I don't, don't keep the details a secret - you shouldn't expect others to do the work to see if it is correct or not.

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    3. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Jeremy Dawson

      Hi Jeremy, I suppose I deserved your response. I should not have left the door open.

      I quote from a government history of World War 2 found here http://www.ww2australia.gov.au/allin/emergency.html

      "The possibility of Japanese invasion prompted the Australian Government to assume extraordinary wartime emergency powers. Prime Minister John Curtin was able to invoke defence powers under the Constitution which allowed the government broad, wartime authority and which gave Curtin probably the most…

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    4. Jeremy Dawson

      researcher

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Well, it is certainly possible that the defence power would be interpreted in a wide, expansive way in the event of war, just as a very wide selection of powers was regarded as being part of the "Defence of the Realm" in England, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defence_of_the_Realm_Act_1914.

      But this was a time when to the actual situation (war, threatened invasion) resulted, I take it, in certain things being considered "defence". (I'm guessing a bit here). But I see nothing remotely similar to a Government declaring a "national disaster" or "emergency" when the issue of concern is nothing to do with defence, and whether or not there actually is an "emergency"

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  13. john davies
    john davies is a Friend of The Conversation.

    retired engineer

    Having read the article and the comments I must admit to confusion about what the author is trying to say. Too many bets hedged?
    On one point, I also have experience of Defence projects. Don't call in the Army (or the Raaf or the Navy). They are very, very good at many things. I have enormous admiration for what they can do, but this isn't one of them.

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  14. walker john

    painter

    Mike Kelly our local member , recently announced that the NBN for much of his electorate, places such as Bungendore and Queanbeyan and Braidwood will take the form of fast satellite links. . I am told that satellite is not as good as fiber, is this true?
    And does this decision to not do fiber to the node in areas that are under 100kms from Canberra and the Hume Hwy/rail link suggest that the role out of a national fiber grid is already 'dead'?

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to walker john

      Hi Walker, I'm sorry to hear this. Satellite is definately not as good as fiber. I'm quite surprised to hear that fixed wireless is not being offered. The failure to use the NBN for trains, planes, boats, etc is a disgrace. I recommend you take every opportunity to ask questions about NBN access.

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    2. walker john

      painter

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      Actually Dr Kelley's announcement is a bit confusing.. it spoke of both fixed wireless and satellite.
      According to the NBN website my town ,braidwood, will see some sort of commencement within 3 years on the other hand Bungendore which is much closer to Canberra (and only 15 km from the joint defense headquarters) is in the unknown category.

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    3. Patrick Thomas Lane

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to walker john

      If you are connected to the Satellite of Fixed Wireless technologies under the NBN, you will be able to access guaranteed speeds of 25mb/s download and 5mb/s upload (Faster than ADSL).

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  15. Hans van Zitvlak

    Project Engineer

    In my young days we joined army for nation. Now I make networks, I know army is maybe good for some things but not others.

    One thing I do know, if telco is contracting for inflated vendor costs, they are like fools. These days all big deals say price come down. NBN should be telling this to people. If not getting best price, how is this good for your country?

    My old sergeant would maybe like NBN built by army. Make for very good spy network.

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  16. Ben H

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    As someone whose job would be so much easier if the fibre was in the ground on schedule, I agree that the delays are becoming a serious problem. A lot of my sites are in areas that should be up and running by now, but aren't.

    I think you over-estimate the resources the Army can bring to bear on the problem. Even with activating all the RAE's reserve units and withdrawing those on deployment overseas, they don't have the skilled personnel or equipment to completely supplant the current commercial efforts.

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    1. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to Ben H

      Hi Ben,

      I was thinking more about the Army being used to help train and provide a starting point for a NBN construction subsidiary. As the non-performing companies were dumped there would be an opportunity to hire staff as they were sacked.

      Possibly another approach is to have a referendum on the NBN and to try to force Labor and the Coalition to accept the outcome. I have written about this here http://www.technologyspectator.com.au/picking-nbn-australia-wants

      I think the NBN is important and Labor should consider a plebiscite to lock in the NBN.

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    2. walker john

      painter

      In reply to Mark A Gregory

      We are having a referendum in 6 and a half months time.

      Personally I agree that some sort of NBN is a good thing however even innocently considering the abuse of use of emergency powers (martial law !) so as to block the will of the people is unacceptable.

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    3. Mark A Gregory

      Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University

      In reply to walker john

      Hi Walker, we're having an election in 6 months - this is a long way from a referendum. There is no guarantee of the outcome and no guarantee that the Coalition will gain control of the Senate.

      I'm not advocating martial law - that would be unnecessary in this situation. The military could be used to assist NBN Co develop a subsidiary construction company - that should have been there from the start.

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