Michael Porter from CEDA was absolutely right to question the economics of the Labor national broadband network, which should have me, a computer geek, salivating at the very prospect, but has me cringing in anticipation of almost inevitable disappointment.
The first obstacle, the one Porter addressed, is that without detailed numbers, but the already massive $43 billion price tag, it is much more likely to become an open-ended black hole, sucking resources into the alternate universe that Minister Stephen Conroy inhabits.
The second obstacle, also touched on by Porter, is that consumers may actually prefer a choice. I know that I do, and I’m always willing to pay for a service not controlled by the state (or a quasi state body) that is reliable rather than nanny state’s inevitably hamstrung, second-string alternative that works only on nights when the moon is full. The Telstra route for so many years.
The third obstacle, again touched on by Porter, is that committing billions of dollars to a planned intervention in a technology area is a leap of faith. By the time we have the NBN it’s likely the technology will already be deprecated and superseded by another, possibly funded on the back of the white elephants it leaves in its wake. There is a simple elegance to meeting demand via market forces which has always led to services being provided only at a price that covers delivery, and never by forcing artificially inflated, monopoly prices on consumers — an almost certain outcome of an overpriced, over-budget, state-controlled NBN.
The forth reason, or possibly reason 3 three part b, is that private enterprise contracting to government behaves like government taxing its citizens: the ambition is to try as hard as possible to find the bottom of those bottomless taxpayer dollar pockets. A private venture driven by commercial constraints will always be more efficient than even an arms-length taxpayer subsidised venture. Think Collins Class for just how effective government projects can be.
Porter was far too polite to mention the fifth obstacle. Minister Conroy is the ALP’s intellectual midget, best known for not washing his hands after using the men’s room (Paul Sheehan, SMH 15 May 2004), and for accusing Senators who question him of being paedophiles. What he’s never been known for is answering questions about his responsibilities openly and honestly. Until that occurs, though, I am prepared to bet he will deliver us not the next Snowy Mountain scheme, but pigs in the sky that taxpayers not yet born will still be paying off in decades to come.
The sixth obstacle I can anticipate for the NBN is a resurrected form of the Rudd-Conroy internet censorship and espionage regime that would effectively deliver to Australia a sub-internet cleansed of all content not approved by faceless bureaucrats, who would also have the power to snoop on the internet usage of every citizen for no other reason than the power to do so being slipped into the NBN enabling legislation and regulations. Prove me wrong and put it in writing, Senator Conroy: the ALP will never seek the power to censor the internet or snoop on its citizens’ internet activities.