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Monday, 27 August 2018 08:19

Turnbull's tech legacy: the MTM (Malcolm-technology mix) NBN

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Whenever a prime minister departs for good, there is talk of his or her legacy. And this time it is no different; in the case of Malcolm Turnbull, who was scythed down last week by right-wing ideologues in his own party, that talk has already begun. But Turnbull has little to show on the tech front, even though he has often been lauded as a politician who "gets tech".

Every resident of this big brown land who is now struggling with the horrible reality of using fibre-to-the-node and HFC as the means for their NBN connections will, no doubt, remember Turnbull with distaste.

He was the man who brought in what I call the Malcolm-technology mix — what he called the multi-technology mix — after he was made communications minister in 2013 by Tony Abbott. His stance towards the NBN — indeed, the party's stance — was foreshadowed by the fact that the policy launch during the election campaign was held at Foxtel Studios – a property owned by Rupert Murdoch, the fear of whom has driven much of the broadband policy (or more accurately the lack of it) in Coalition ranks since the days of John Howard.

Not that the original NBN policy as articulated by Labor in 2009 was perfect. The idea of trying to derive a profit from the investment, in what everyone with even the IQ of the common cockroach acknowledges is a necessary utility like water, gas and power, defies logic and can only be justified through the use of neo-liberal logic (if indeed, such a thing exists).

But the technology mix was right – fibre everywhere, except where impossible, where fixed wireless and satellite would have to do the job. Australia has a lot of very inhospitable terrain and this was a mere acknowledgement of the fact.

Turnbull was sold on the idea of HFC from the start. So too, FttN. And there began the saga of slow connections, stuttering connections, erratic connections, sometimes no connections, which has gone on and on and on for the last five years.

The silver-haired toff from Wentworth, armed with a document that claimed an incredible $90 billion would be spent by Labor to implement its NBN — I still have a copy — had no lack of things to say about this "waste" and his mission to supply everyone the NBN much faster and for much less cost.

In one respect, he stuck with the Labor policy: the NBN had to make a profit, it was not going to be on-budget.

The move to use both Optus and Telstra HFC backfired when it was found that the Optus network was a dog's breakfast. The negotiations with Telstra, still the most bloody-minded of companies as it was during its days of monopoly, took up an enormous amount of time. In November 2017, the truth emerged and HFC installations were stopped.

One does not need to belabour the point; ever since that fateful day when the MTM was implemented, things have gone backward. In 2018, Australia is still struggling with the so-called fast broadband that we were promised. It is a national disaster and those among us who use fruitier language would have no hesitation in describing it as the greatest cluster**** in Australian tech history.

The irony of the situation is that, in the end, when Turnbull got his mansion in Point Piper wired up, he also had to depend on HFC. But given that he can just reach into his left or right pocket and fish out the thousands needed to go all-fibre — one phone call by his lackeys to the NBN Co will have technicians out there on the morrow setting things up — it is really no loss to him at all.

The problem is that you and I, dear reader, have only a few coins in either of those pockets. If we even have that.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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