This SMH article isn’t specifically about the nbn™, it’s more about infrastructure, but I think it exemplifies the problem with the way people who aren’t in the telecommunications industry think about the nbn™ (or rather, the NBN).

We start with the premise:

Big pseudo-commercial projects such as the NBN and the inland rail line are especially attractive because they can be funded off-budget through an odd convention that removes their impact so long as the government asserts they will one day make money.

Then the problem:

Scores of capital city households are finding the NBN more expensive than the commercial service it replaced.

The “solution”:

“First identify the problem, then identify the least-cost solution, then take a deep breath.”

And the justification:

If it had been applied to the NBN, it would have been delivered only to the places that private providers wouldn’t serve, for a fraction of the cost.

Except what they’re missing is the background which led to the project in the first place – the decades of under-investment from the industry (read: monopoly); deliberate government regulation and policy designed to entrench that under-investment; and the fact that the nbn™ that we’re now stuck with isn’t “NBN v2”, it’s actually “NBN v3”.

In a way, his proposed solution was applied to the NBN. Their “least-cost” solution was NBN v1, which was Labor’s original FTTN NBN policy. That policy was put to the industry, and the industry essentially replied with “no”, and so after they received their report from their expert panel (you could say their “deep breath“), they changed to their FTTP “NBN v2”.

The problem was that the places that private providers wouldn’t serve wasn’t just rural and region users, it was actually everywhere. Both Telstra and Optus were happy with Telstra’s monopoly, so nothing was ever going to happen to stimulate industry investment as long as the government kept protecting that monopoly. And with their minority government, they didn’t have the political clout to break up that monopoly, so the only other option was to throw money at the problem.

Yes, they were always destined to have budget blow-outs, but this was always a bigger risk under the coalition’s NBN policy, and that’s definitely what we’ve seen under their execution of that policy.

So economists can say they know better all they like, but they’re not experts in the subject matter, so in reality saying it’s better to do nothing is essentially saying they’re happy with nothing actually being done to fix the problems with the telco industry, and thus our digital economy.

And to someone who’s down in the trenches of the telco industry, not an economist, seeing one ignoring the future of our digital economy is basically like watching someone turn down a highway on-ramp in slow-motion.

Much like watching the coalition execute their NBN policy, really.