yARN: Could independence doom the NBN?

yARN: Could independence doom the NBN?

With the Government controlling the NBN on a knife’s edge, can the project stay viable?

The dust has started to settle and Australians can finally breathe – two of the independent MPs, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, have chosen the ALP and Julia Gillard as Prime Minister.

On the surface this is great news for most of the tech industry – the National Broadband Network will go ahead and provide high-speed Internet to almost every Australian household. Its cost-benefit to taxpayers may be debatable, but its positives for the tech industry are not.

But the reality is an immediate future of uncertainty and pork barrelling that may yet derail the national project and give the opposition plenty of ammunition for a closely fought upcoming election.

The ALP holds power by the slimmest of margins with 76 seats to its name. Of these, four have said the only thing they promise to pass are the Budget with no support for votes of no-confidence unless they are directly involved.

So let’s have a look at the different parties at play. The Greens’ Communications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, is a tech-savvy operator with a firm eye on one prize when it comes to the NBN – keeping it in Government hands.

His established preference is for a benevolent monopoly providing Australians with cheaper wholesale fibre networks. If it has to be privatised, it’ll go before a vote – and the Greens will need some hefty benefits before letting it go on sale. Its strength in the Senate will make it a very powerful force for years to come.

But with the lack of a business case and cost-benefit analysis of the NBN already costing the Government plenty in economic credibility, will its naysayers allow it to stay unsold without screaming bloody murder?

The next key players are independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. They have negotiated the installation of healthcare and NBN funds and facilities in rural and regional areas first to boost investment for their people.

But when it comes to high-tech businesses and cloud technology, the key companies and consumers live in the urban capitals of Australia. While subsidising rural and regional Internet use sounds egalitarian in principle, a lower price needs a high volume of users to drive the cost down – something only capital cities with high densities and demand can offer at first.

So although the rural rollout is good for country Australians, will taxpaying city-siders feel left out and disenfranchised? There is no doubt the NBN is just one of the many benefits set to flow disproportionately towards the regions – all of which will be recorded by an observant Opposition.

Then there’s Tasmanian MP, Andrew Wilkie. Although he’s discussed a need for broadband rollouts in his electorate to be completed sooner rather than later, his detailed views on the issue have yet to be gleaned.

Meanwhile, the signals from the Coalition party room are clear. Despite initial talks of a gentler parliament, things will largely stay the same. This means an attacking opposition with a keen eye on regime change. Abbott’s instincts are to challenge the Government, and that is something that won’t fade. It missed out on power by the narrowest of margins and is hoping any rematch will fall in its favour.

Fortunately the Government has one key positive in its favour – all the key players want the NBN. Windsor even pointed it out as the main reason he picked the ALP. In a perfect world this unity of destination will lead Australia to a very expensive, but well-wired future.

The question is if stability will survive long enough to see it happen.

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Tags NBNScott LudlamThe Australian GreensThe CoalitionAndrew WilkieTony WindsorRob OakeshottThe Liberal Partythe Labor party


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