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'Get over it': in defence of the NBN


Daniel Hurst

An IT expert says the time for studies over the National Broadband Network is over, and it's now time for action.

An IT expert says the time for studies over the National Broadband Network is over, and it's now time for action.

A telecommunications expert has called on economists and business leaders questioning the value of the $43 billion National Broadband Network to "get over it".

Coutts Communications director Reg Coutts, who served on a federal government advisory panel two years ago, launched a spirited defence of the fibre-based project at the World Computer Congress in Brisbane yesterday.

The appearance came after Wotif founder Graeme Wood questioned why such high download speeds were needed for private use and billionaire miner Andrew Forrest demanded a feasibility study.

The federal opposition has also called for a rigorous cost-benefits study of the government's planned broadband rollout, touted to provide speeds of 100 megabits per second to most Australian premises.

Professor Coutts said the demands for cost-benefit studies reminded him of the experience in the United Kingdom, which had produced "well-written reports explaining why the government shouldn't do anything".

"I see the UK written all over it," he told a gathering at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

"The time for studies is finished, the time for action is now, let's concentrate on what we're going to do with the NBN and get over it."

Professor Coutts said it would be a "very difficult exercise" to quantify the NBN's benefits.

But he said Singapore, South Korea and Japan were reaping the benefits from their investments in broadband infrastructure.

"We could say they're all wrong. We could take a courageous decision and say there's no cost-benefit case [and] until we present a cost-benefit case we can't do it."

Professor Coutts said critics questioning why the NBN investment would equate to $2000 per citizen, when Singapore paid only $500 per citizen, were misguided.

He said such infrastructure would naturally "cost a hell of a lot more in Australia than Singapore" because of factors such as the country's geography.

Different countries may well embark on different systems because each nation had its own characteristics, he said.

In the United States, fibre-to-the-home projects had been spearheaded by states that were frustrated by poor telecommunications and infrastructure provided by the major telcos, he said.

Professor Coutts said he held the Australian telcommunications industry responsible for the lack of understanding about broadband issues among economists and the broader community.

He called on the experts to reach out and explain the issues.

"We have to communicate with that group of people called economists and they are in dire need of educations," he said.

"I have a group therapy session with my dog every morning when I open the press.

"We're having these facile debates about whether the NBN is a glorified childminding service."

Professor Coutts said while he did not support all aspects of the NBN the overall project deserved applause.

"I think this is a crucial opportunity as a country to embark on this infrastructure and I support it."

Professor Coutts hit back at suggestions the NBN's benefits were only crucial for business, health and educational uses, saying he worked from home and the distinction could not be made.

The World Computer Congress continues.

96 comments so far

  • Population density is the drawback not terrain, but then again I am not a professor. do you people think evertone is going to play on a computer all day every day. Of course some business plan and study has to be done. Most things that originate from government without a real study increase in cost also, and the $43 billion will be needed to pay for the refugee pensions and perks.

    Old Clive
    The School of Hard Knocks
    Date and time
    September 23, 2010, 6:39AM
    • "Coutts Communications director Reg Coutts, who served on a federal government advisory panel two years ago" Soi headline should read - "Consultant talks up Golden egg; Demands gravy train leaves station now!"

      Date and time
      September 23, 2010, 8:03AM
      • The National Broadband Network is not about sitting at computers looking at websites, sending email or even gaming. What it's about is the the capacity required for an entire distribution system to deliver a multiplicity of full length, original resolution screen media, such as TV shows, movies and sport. As well as a yet-to-be-seen series of future advancements in a myriad of other services.

        Imagine we all lived by candle light and were told one day that there was electricity. A nation-building exercise would be taking place!

        Date and time
        September 23, 2010, 8:22AM
        • The reason the opposition, and all others opposed to the NBN, are calling for a cost benefit analysis is because they know that basically everything fails against cost/benefit analysis.

          Becuase benefits are usually unquantifiable, so you get left with a cost, and then a whole heap of benefits that have no quantifiable worth, and the dollar becomes the only figure that matters.

          Not to mention that for the most part, cost/benefit analysis puts too much weight on the cost and too little weight on the benefits .

          In reality, I look at the fact that 2nd borderline 3rd world asian countrires have better and cheaper access to internet than we do in Australia.

          We claim we want to be a world leader, but when it comes to actually put in the infrastructure that will put us on par with the rest of the world technologically, and enable us to become world leaders our response is "Oh that is too expensive, lets just do nothing and deal with the status quo forever"

          Date and time
          September 23, 2010, 8:28AM
          • '"very difficult exercise" to quantify NBN benefits' ... so, because it's hard we should just give in and forget about it. I'd have serious concerns about engaging with,or investinging in, Coutts Communications when one of its directors thinks basic business diligence of cost benefit analysis, Management 101 stuff, is too hard to be bothered with.

            Date and time
            September 23, 2010, 8:29AM
            • Where can I view a publication detailing the cost benefit analysis for the construction of the Australian Rail and Road Network? What were the results of the cost benefit analysis of the subsidies paid to the Australian Coal Mining Industry?
              The NBN, in communications infrastructure terms, will be world's best practice in a country where the tyranny of distance has always held us back.
              The opposition to this far sighted project has reached an irrational level, as it will provide a quantum leap in the way Australian's communicate with one another and with our global partners. No longer will people need to crowd into our over stretched capital cities if we are able to communicate in a meaningful way using video links provided by the NBN. Holographic technology coupled with the ultra fast links provided by the NBN will allow communication between geographically distant people in a way that would seem as though they were in the same room. This will radically change the need for people to travel long distances along with the savings in carbon emissions.
              The Australian copper communications infrastructure is failing. It needs replacement with fibre optic cable (NBN) that provides for the bandwidth needs of the future. The price we pay today is miniscule, compared with the price we will pay in the future in lost opportunities.
              The exchange of ideas is humanity's greatest achievement, the NBN will facilitate this at a level that is unprecedented in Australian history.
              How do we put a price on this type of opportunity?

              Date and time
              September 23, 2010, 8:30AM
              • My Broadband speed is fast enough. It will be money spent for little gain.

                Date and time
                September 23, 2010, 8:38AM
                • It s not about speed for speed sake. It is about giving small business and individuals in the country equal access. Having the ability to remotely service computers for example via a remote access program widens the range of services a person can offer. At the same time, this gives a person the lifestyle wthout job sacrifice. Bring it on!

                  Date and time
                  September 23, 2010, 8:44AM
                  • Mr Coutts would of been a believer in the UK health IT programme as well Oppps 5 billion down the drain with little benifeit.
                    Cost benifeit studies are there to protect the taxpayers money against people like mr Coutts.
                    I'll bet with mr Coutts that in 10 years time education and health are still a mess despite the nbn.
                    people will still be coming home and watching garbage it will just be delivered by the nbn rather than free to air. Oh and there will still be adds on it, what a shame you would think that if the taxpayer is spending 43 billion we could insist on no more adds.

                    Date and time
                    September 23, 2010, 8:53AM
                    • Broadband is like public transport. You really don't know what the uptake will be until it's built. And just like PT, we're constantly playing catch-up.

                      If you built a train line to the middle of nowhere, there would be a rush for development along the line. Instead we wait for developers to build somewhere and then decide we need to resume homes to build a train line.

                      Likewise, with broadband, if you provide higher speeds, technologies will develop to make use of it. This will only benefit Australia - both industry and individuals.

                      Acushla - just stay in your own little world darling, and just watch the world go by.

                      Date and time
                      September 23, 2010, 8:54AM

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