The corporate vultures are circling the ailing National Broadband Network (NBN), with the Telstra boss saying the federal government’s announced upgrade would make it a more “attractive” target for acquisition.
Without a hint of irony, Telstra chair John Mullen said on September 28 that a “more efficient, better quality NBN” would be “more attractive for all potential investors” and that hopefully Telstra “has a seat at the table”.
Predictions that the Coalition government will sell off the NBN if it wins the next election have surged since it announced plans to spend $4.5 billion over the next two years.
It will give almost 10 million households and businesses the option of internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second by connecting fibre directly to the premises — along the lines of the first plan – although for a price.
The connection would be free, but only for households prepared to pay up to $150 a month — substantially higher than the current lower speed $60 or $70 a month.
The current fibre-to-the-node system, which is almost complete, has been roundly criticised for its poor speed.
Laurie Patton, founder of the #BetterBroadband campaign, said on September 24 that the government would not risk another election with the NBN in the mess, overseen by former PM Tony Abbott and his then communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.
He described Turnbull demolition of Labor’s state-of-the-art fibre model as a “politically-inspired demand” and criticised NBN Co for spending billions of dollars on “dud technology”.
“Don’t let anyone tell you this is just an upgrade. Most of the outdated fibre-to-the-node technology out in the field will be redundant [by the next federal election] and will have to be junked.”
Patton said the pandemic had inspired a new trend, working from home, which will continue for many companies and employees. “The pressure for a proper NBN was bound to increase.”
Communications minister Paul Fletcher has prioritised a $300 million allocation to rural and regional customers, which Patten says confirms that the upgrade is an “election move”.
“Many of the millions of Australians struggling with slow and unreliable broadband connections live in highly contestable rural seats held by increasingly nervous National Party MPs.”
It has been estimated that by 2025, after retiring some debt and replacing other with government bonds, NBN will be worth about $100 billion.
Fletcher has not hidden the government’s plan to sell off the NBN, saying it had always been the government’s intention that the NBN will “transfer to the private sector”.
Kim Wingerei writing for MichaelWest.com on September 25 said that the country is ranked 50 in internet speed worldwide. “We’re well below almost every country in Europe and North America and many including ‘developing’ countries in South-East Asia” as well as New Zealand.
“[The NBN] cost $14.5 billion more than budgeted, is under-performing and now the government wants to spend another $3.5 billion to upgrade it, while competition looms.
“Australia could have had a world-class telecommunication infrastructure utility. Instead, it has ended up with a substandard national broadband network that may be obsolete within a decade without further significant investment in fibre.”
The Labor opposition agrees that the NBN would be sold off, eventually. To stop this from happening, the labour movement and community need to draw a line in the sand and demand that this critical piece of national communications infrastructure remains in public hands.