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Cut-price NBN evangelists need to get in touch with reality

Penny-wise and pound-foolish. That is the most civilised form of criticism that one can level against people who are trying desperately to carry a can for the Coalition and back an NBN build that is yesterday's vintage.

Robin Eckermann, a professor, no doubt a learned man from the University of Canberra, and a supporter of the Coalition's mixed technology mix — which I call a mongrel mix network — is the latest in a line of critics to take aim at those who advocate for fibre.

There is a view, which can only be described as neoliberal, that a government budget should be run like a household budget and one's coat should be cut according to one's cloth. Eckermann subscribes to that view, in spades.

This is naive in the extreme, especially when one is considering projects that can have a big impact on a country, and decide where a nation stands in the job stakes and the ability to compete.

The NBN, which has been dogged by politics from day one, has the potential to spark new businesses, make it cheaper for existing businesses to operate, and attract outsiders to set up ventures in Australia.

But the current cut-price model will only drive people away.

A major network rollout of this magnitude cannot be redone every Sunday. Not every Monday, either.

A 2016 Deloitte report has pointed that a majority of homes globally will be connected to networks offering gigabit connections in a few years. In such a scenario, if Australia wishes to stay competitive, it will have to upgrade the mongrel network that is being built right now.

While the cost of this upgrade has never been spoken of, either by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, or the NBN Co and its garrulous chief Bill Morrow, it is a fact that most FttN cabinets do not have the fibre to supply the homes they are connected to with FttP.

Given this, all new fibre runs will be needed from the closest fibre switch - usually the exchange - in order to upgrade. How much will all this cost? An estimate of $10 to $20 billion looks like being far short of the mark.

Where is this money going to come from? Turnbull will have to pay the American tax — in the form of contributions to the troubled F-35 project and also to the increased exercises with US military personnel — for wars that we have no interest in. For the NBN, something we need desperately in order to avoid falling further behind what has been often contemptuously described as the Third World, there is no money.

But the citizens of this big, brown land deserve a chance to compete on an even footing with the rest of the world in coming decades, when fast Internet can make or break a business.

There are entrepreneurs aplenty who have had to leave Australia and set up businesses in other countries because of a lack of proper support from the government. Solar industry titans in China and California come to mind.

To see seemingly educated people like Eckermann cheering on what can only be described as yesterday's network is disappointing.

I am sure that he would claim to be an Australian patriot. But in doing what he is doing, he is opting for politics over common sense – and that is a path that can only lead to perdition.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.