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The NBN's first boss just let rip at Malcolm Turnbull's broadband plan

Labor’s former communications minister and Mike Quigley when he was CEO of NBN Co. Photo: Getty Images

Former National Broadband Network CEO Mike Quigley has excoriated the government’s NBN plan, developed by then communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, as “short-sighted, expensive” and a “huge miscalculation” in a speech in Melbourne on Wednesday.

It’s not the first time Quigley has attacked the Coalition’s plan since he resigned as boss of the NBN ahead of the Abbott government’s election in 2013, but his scathing assessment of a hot button issue for voters, just 10 days out from the election, has the potential to damage the Turnbull campaign in its final week.

Quigley was invited to talk about the NBN at the University of Melbourne, delivering a long and detailed explanation of NBN Co’s achievements during his time, accusing the Coalition of attempting to sabotage the project for political purposes.

The former Alcatel-Lucent CEO said Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) rather than the government’s preferred Fibre to the Node (FTTN) is “the right answer”.

“It is such a pity that so much time and effort has been spent on trying to discredit and destroy the original FTTP-based NBN,” he said.

“The original NBN was a visionary project and would have created a valuable asset for the Australian public.”

He said the Coalition’s model will be poorer performing, with increased long term costs and the roll out will be no faster. Accusations during his tenure that the NBN was way behind schedule and way over-budget, Quigley said, were “a good example of that quote attributed to Lenin that ‘A lie told often enough becomes the truth’.”

“It was running about nine months behind the original schedule because of the time it took to complete a highly complex deal with Telstra. But the Capital Costs, the Operating Costs, and the Peak Funding were virtually unchanged from the original projections,” he said.

The former NBN boss added that when the Coalition renegotiated the Telstra deal it was a huge win for the company’s shareholders, shifting risk and costs from the telco to taxpayers.

He said Coalition claims in the lead up to the 2013 election have been proven wrong on numerous occasions, from costings to timings and its opposition to satellites.

“The Coalition was utterly convinced we were wasting public money in designing and planning to launch two satellites,” he said.

“After the December 2013 Strategic Review the Coalition did a complete U-turn and actually contemplated launching not two but three satellites saying ‘Further satellite capacity may be the only viable solution’.”

Quigley took aim at retiring Liberal MP Andrew Robb, for “the implication made in the quote is that any major project undertaken by a Government entity is going to be badly managed, inefficient and a waste of taxpayers’ money”.

“The desire to succeed and the creativity that I saw displayed in solving technically complex problems was as strong as anything I had previously experienced in the commercial world – including what I had seen in some very successful Silicon Valley start-ups,” he said.

He pointed to the fact that the Coalition originally promised total project peak funding was going to be $29.5 billion for its Multi Technology Mix (MTM) rollout.

“Those original MTM estimates were a fiction… By August 2015 the total funding for the MTM had risen to as high as $56 billion, with a target of $49 billion,” he said.

The initial 2016 deadline for completion date is now end 2020.

“To spend billions of dollars to build a major piece of national infrastructure that just about meets demand today, but doesn’t allow for any significant growth in that demand over the next 10 or 20 years, without large upgrade costs, is incredibly short-sighted,” Quigley said.

It was was pity, he said, that “the Coalition has put their faith in what has turned out to be a short-sighted, expensive and backward-looking MTM based on copper”.

“The nation is going to be bearing the consequences of those decisions for years to come in higher costs and poorer performance in an area that is critical to its long-term future.

“Betting tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars at this time on copper access technologies, as the Coalition has done, is a huge miscalculation.”

The world is increasingly moving towards FTTP, making it cheaper and easier to deploy, proving the original vision was on the right track, Quigley said.

“It is not too late to change the current direction of the NBN but of course that change would need to be made in a controlled and managed way to ensure the project is not subject to another major disruption,” he said.

Rubbing salt, Quigley finished citing deputy PM Barnaby Joyce’s arch rival in the seat of New England – where broadband is an election issue that’s hurting the Nationals leader – saying “it is a great pity that before making the shift to the MTM the Coalition did not heed the words of Tony Windsor – ‘do it right, do it once, do it with fibre’.”

The full speech is here

* Hat tip to Delimiter.

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