Time to re-evaluate the nbn: Paul Budde
News that Telstra is considering acquiring the nbn during the eventual privatisation process could represent a new opportunity to discuss the value of the nbn project in serving the common good, according to telecoms analyst and advisor to the original nbn project Paul Budde.
During its recent annual general meeting, Telstra raised the prospect of using its newly separated infrastructure business InfraCo to make a bid for acquiring the nbn if the government proceeds with the privatisation plan.
Telstra Chairman John Mullen told shareholders that the company believes that the fate of the nbn will need to be addressed by a government from either side of politics at some stage, and that the company has established InfraCo in part to be in a position to capture the benefits.
In a blog post, Budde said Telstra’s interest will start a new conversation about the nbn’s impact on the common good, because nobody wants to see a return to the Telstra monopoly of the 1990s and early 2000s.
He said the common good was always a key consideration of the nbn as it was originally conceived.
“When, in the mid [2000s], I was involved in the nbn, as a strategic adviser to the minister, my sole reason for advocating a national broadband network related to the social and economic benefits of such national infrastructure for e-health, education, sustainability, innovation, smart cities, smart energy, etc. A mainly fibre-optic infrastructure is needed, and it did not make economic sense to have competing companies delivering two or three such networks,” Budde said.
But the neoliberal policies of the Coalition mean the current government strongly believes that they should not be involved in such aspects, he said.
As a result the project was watered down through the multitechnology-mix model to the extent that the government is spending billions to deliver a network not much better than Telstra could have achieved for far less through ADSL2+ upgrades.
Meanwhile, PwC, Standard and Poor’s and the Productivity Commission have all reiterated something Budde has been saying for years — that there may need to be an up to 50% write-down on the nbn project to return it to an economically viable situation.
“[But] during the PM-ship of Malcolm Turnbull — the architect of this second-rate solution — this was not discussable,” Budde said.
“Now the opposition has cautiously indicated that a write-off might indeed be needed, and this has not elicited the usual response from the government. This time they decided to stay quiet on the issue, an admission that something needs to be done to save the nbn from financial disaster.”
This, too, indicates that the conversation around the nbn is moving back into common good territory, Budde said.
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