Tuesday, March 1, 2011

NBN Oversight

I'm all for faster internet access, but I have to say, I'm not convinced that the National Broadband Network is the best solution out there. $40B+ for faster internet is about $2000 per human in Australia, which could be spent in so many other ways, such as:
  1. Providing solar power for every household in Australia;
  2. Building affordable, luxury apartments to sell at cost to about half a million people,* solving our housing shortage and allowing more immigration;
  3. Giving it to the states to improve hospitals, public transport, education etc.
Even if we want to spend billions on faster internet, it feels like there are better options, such as:
  1. Relying on existing market development (after all, Optus has been upgrading their cable network to support up to 100mbit per second);
  2. Wireless for the last (most expensive) mile;
  3. Using a fraction of the money as incentives for companies to invest further money building out their own networks.
Of course, I'm concerned that by building one government controlled network, there will be little impediment to large-scale monitoring and tracking, and it will make it easier for the government to implement censorship systems.

But this rant isn't about those aspects of the NBN, so that said, I'm happy to assume that the NBN is a good enough plan with which to improve our nation's infrastructure, competition issues aside, because sometimes any plan is better than no plan.

What concerns me, is that I was just listening to parliament on the radio, and they were debating a motion to disallow some delegated legislation. The legislation in question is currently in place to stop the parliamentary Public Works Committee from being able to oversee the project, and maintain transparency throughout the process. The motion failed, so the biggest, most expensive project in the history of Australia will have no parliamentary oversight to ensure that the project is running according to plan, or according to budget. As it is, from the 40% of the NBN plan that has been released, it is apparently going to optimistically lose 3%,^ due to the cost of capital being higher than the gross profit, which doesn't sound like the best of projections, considering the size of the project.

Despite this, Labor was talking about having awesome transparency. This is what annoys me the most. There is so much about this project that is hidden, so by calling this a transparently-managed project is complete doublespeak. And most people just swallow it.


* 500k people = 200k apartments = 400 high-rises = $100M per building or $200k per apartment.
^ Look up the parliamentary proceedings from today to find references to any figures I am quoting.

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