Major credibility issues for NBN Co

The major problem surrounding yet another delay with the rollout of the NBN is not the delay itself, since over the full ten years of its rollout program this is neither here nor there. Even if the full rollout were to take eleven years rather than ten we would not have an issue with that – this is a national infrastructure project and it must be done in a responsible way, with no cutting of corners and no rushed activities that would later on necessitate costly major changes to the plan.

What, however, is at stake here is the credibility of NBN Co, and of its leadership. One would expect that a professional organisation such as NBN Co would be able to get its short-term rollout plans right. Adjusting such a short-term plan twice within a year does make one question the capability of the organisation to properly plan and execute the rollout. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is – labour shortage, vendor issues, environmental issues – these are all commonplace within the context of a short term plan. NBN Co should have known by the time it made its rollout promises that these problems were on the horizon and should therefore not have set an unachievable target. They should at least have flagged possible issues that could cause delays, with upfront indications of the negative consequences of such delays for the short-term rollout plan.

While it can be argued that over the full time of the project it is impossible to plan precisely all of the work that needs to be done, there is little excuse for continual changes to the short-term planning. Certainly the company is under immense political pressure; however, a professional organisation should be capable of withstanding that political pressure if what the politicians want is impossible to deliver.

The damage is predominantly on the political side as this confirms what the Opposition has been saying – that NBN Co will not be able to deliver on its promises and that its management has serious problems. There is no longer any doubt that, in the event of an election win by the Opposition, Mike Quigley’s position will be untenable and that some very serious changes will have to be made to the company.

The fact that this bad news announcement coincided with the Caucus results in relation to the future of the leadership of the government cannot be coincidental. It possibly can also be linked to the unacceptable media reforms that were announced last week, which created political havoc and the resulting spill within the government. As the media reform announcement has done its political job the remaining reforms have now been withdrawn. In the end this all might limit the potential media fallout that would normally have occurred after such a bad news announcement from NBN Co.

As mentioned, the delay is not of any serious consequence overall, nor does it damage the NBN project as a whole. On the technical side BuddeComm believes that NBN Co and Mike Quigley are quite capable of delivering the end result, and the end result is certainly not in doubt. The NBN remains the world’s leading FttH rollout and will bring enormous social and economic benefits to the country.

Paul Budde

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