National Broadband Network chief executive Bill Morrow has warned there may never be a time when all Australians get the fastest available internet speeds, as such a project would cost “billions and billions” of dollars.
For those unaware of the Australian National Broadband Network, it is a national government initiative to deliver fibre optic internet to 90% of homes and business in the country and satellite or high speed wireless internet to the remainder.
No, really; that was the ambitious stated deliverable of the programme when it was launched in 2009 and it would only cost 43 billion dollars and take 8 years to complete.
So, imagine everyone’s surprise to learn, a year past the original scheduled completion date, NBN won’t actually deliver its objective and won’t be able to connect everyone.
In fact, the scope of the deliverable has atrophied whilst the cost has increased. Most dwellings won’t be receiving fibre to their home but that bleeding edge technology known as copper wire, the stuff Alexander Bell used to summon Mr. Watson over.
In addition, depending on which source you go to, the cost has blown out to nearly double the original estimate. Then there’s the lived experience of those consumers who have been connected; a Google search illustrates a potential systemic level of service delivery failures.
If only this fiscal disaster at the expense of the taxpayer could have been predicted in some way….
Australia’s NBN is a case study of why government spending is always, I repeat; ALWAYS inefficient and results in sub-optimal solutions. There is a list of mistakes as long as the cables they aren’t installing with this programme, but some stand outs include;
- The wrong “exam question” was asked. Instead of, “how will the government provide high speed connectivity to the entire country?“, the question should have been, “how does the government provide high speed connectivity to the 3% of the population that the telecommunications providers will find uneconomical to connect?
- The politicians behind the creation of the programme determined the solution not the problem statement by initially stating that the high speed connectivity would be via fibre optic cable. In the meantime, the global market in wireless technology has introduced 5G which is capable of speeds close to those selected by most NBN customers.
- Rather than deregulate the telecommunications market and local planning laws to allow multiple new telecommunications providers to compete for business and then oversee their services to ensure quality and value, the NBN programme opted for a central planning approach. The clear evidence around the globe of large, centrally-planned programmes is that they spiral out of control.
Government programmes take on a life of their own, regardless of the good intentions at the outset, and eventually become a siphon direct from the wallets of the taxpayers to the employees of the programme. The NBN is likely to be the case study of this in future.