Pilbara – a lost NBN opportunity

From the very start BuddeComm saw the NBN as a national utilities infrastructure project, and was pleased that the government supported that view. Ministers and other government officials have been talking about the social and economic benefits of the NBN ever since that time.

The sad part of the story, however, is that NBNCo was not instructed to build this concept into its business model. It was ordered to develop a business model based on a traditional telecoms operation, albeit in this case a wholesale-only operation.

So from the very start we had the government talking about all of those externalities that the NBN will offer, while they instructed NBNCo to concentrate simply on building a telco business model.

We have discussed the consequential financial fallout of this decision in detail. The Opposition has been hammering on about it forever, but, so far at least, they also have not come out and talked about these social and economic benefits and how to incorporate them in a much better way into the NBN Co business and financial models.

One of the very first examples BuddeComm focused on was smart grids. The electricity utilities desperately need to add communications to their grid and for that purpose will also have to touch every home in the country with smart meters and home gateways. While there are certainly very realistic questions about how to best correlate the infrastructure developments of the NBN and smart grids there was never any real interest from NBNCo to look into this in any serious way, as its charter told it to roll out telecoms connections as fast as possible, therefore ignoring synergistic opportunities such as smart grids.

However we did at least get some attention, especially in cases where existing infrastructure could be used for the NBN and the electricity companies with the poles were attractive partners. We highlighted other projects, such as the big water infrastructure that was built on the NSW Central Coast, the Smart Grid, Smart City rollout in Newcastle, the undergrounding of electricity networks in built-up bushfire-prone areas in Victoria, and the undergrounding of electricity in Pilbara in Western Australia.

Due to the reasons mentioned above these projects did not receive any serious attention. However it did look at one stage that the Pilbara project was a goer. NBNCo agreed, in principle, to use that opportunity to at least install conduit, so that they could pull their fibre through when that part of the country was ready for its NBN rollout.

It was with disappointment that I learned recently that the Pilbara NBN project also did not eventuate. Despite taking an opportunistic approach to the project, it developed into a bureaucratic tangle and was eventually dropped. So, yes, the electricity network in the Pilbara is progressing, though with no facility for the rollout of the NBN.

Paul Budde

See also:-

Australia – National Broadband Network – Infrastructure Analysis

Australia – National Broadband Network – in early 2013

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