One of the complaints made when the government announced the NBN was that it was very sketchy on the subject of financial viability (business plan).
While that was a sound comment I argued that we didn’t want the government to become involved in that. We need the government for the vision but we need the private sector to come up with the business plans.
So in my commentary I concentrated on supporting the vision and buying some time that would allow us to pave the way for work to start on the business plan.
As I have noted in my international analyses on other national broadband initiatives, the Australian case can’t be copied to another country, nor can we copy plans from others. The reason Australia took the specific path it embarked upon was to stop Telstra; the money that will be made available is thanks to the financial crisis this allowed the government to introduce infrastructure-based stimulus investments. We were able to grasp that opportunity; such actions were warranted because of the multiplier effect of this investment (smart grids, healthcare, education), based on a trans-sector approach.
We were also unique in that the Minister, and indeed the Cabinet, supported that broader approach. This caused the industry and the wider community to stop and think about whether such a whole-of-government model could work – and this has resulted in a widespread acceptance of the view that this is the way to proceed.
While it would have been great if all the financial and business plans had been in place from the outset the most likely outcome of that would have been that every man and his dog would have had an opinion on those details. As it was, the vision was far easier for most to accept.
We now see that comments are becoming more positive. I have even glimpsed a conciliatory message from the Opposition. This has been helped by the announcement that Mike Quigley has accepted the role of Chairman/CEO of the new NBN Corp.
In Tasmania, the equally respected Doug Campbell will run the Tassie NBN Corporation. Both these people are perceived by all parties to be very reliable and trustworthy. With their involvement we will be able to start underpinning the vision with sound business models, led by people who are highly qualified.
The government’s shock therapy has also changed Telstra. Its thinking is now much more aligned with the rest of the industry – especially, again, on the trans-sector vision aspect. We must start somewhere and it is much better to start there, where we share common ground.
The situation in Australia is also different in that – thanks to the foresight of the Minister – there is room to manoeuvre on how the plan will be implemented. There is room to give Telstra more or less shareholding; we can negotiate values of assets and so on. As long as the end goal is kept rock-solid – an open access wholesale network – there are variations on how to get there.
Australia – National Broadband Network – Overview & Analysis
Australia – National Broadband Network – Critical Considerations
Australia – Smart Grids – Analysis – The Market in 2009
Australia – Digital Media – E-Health
Australia – Trans-sector thinking leading to smart communities