news Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accepted an invitation issued by NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley to a half-day briefing on the merits of fibre to the home versus fibre to the node technology.
The invitation was issued during a fraught exchange between the pair in a parliamentary hearing on the National Broadband Network last week. Turnbull had repeatedly questioned Quigley on the issue of why the Government wouldn’t investigate rolling out a less expensive fibre to the node network compared with the existing fibre to the home plan.
The Gillard Government’s current NBN policy being implemented by NBN Co focuses on using a fibre to the home rollout in which cables are deployed from centralised points (usually telephone exchanges) all the way to home or business premises around Australia.
The previous NBN policy focused on rolling fibre out to neighbourhood cabinets known as ‘nodes’, using Telstra’s existing copper cable for the last hop to home and business premises. However, it was ditched in April 2009, after an independent panel of experts warned the Federal Government that the policy was not feasible due to the requirement for industry involvement — and no satisfactory industry proposals.
“This, I think, is a very important discussion to have,” Quigley told Turnbull. “It is very important the committee understands. I would be delighted to spend half a day with you and take you through that analysis if you would like to do so. This is such an important issue. I think it is worth the investment of time to put your mind at rest.”
A spokesperson for Turnbull this afternoon confirmed Turnbull would accept the invitation — with a date yet to be set for the meeting.
Quigley and Turnbull are believed to have met several times in a private briefing context since Turnbull’s appointment to lead the communications portfolio in late 2010, although in general the NBN Co chief has focused his efforts on his relationship with the Labor Government of the day rather than addressing the Opposition’s concerns. However, it is the pair’s public sparring matches at hearings of parliamentary NBN committees which have drawn the most attention to their relationship.
On one notable occasion in May this year, for example, Turnbull relentlessly hounded Quigley on the issue of allegedly corrupt behaviour at Quigley’s former employer, Alcatel-Lucent — eventually extracting an acknowledgement from the NBN Co chief that he had spoken “too loosely” in the past with respect to US Government investigations into the company.
At the time, many in the telecommunications industry believed Turnbull had gone too far in attacking Quigley over the issue — as none of the US regulatory authorities had questioned Quigley on the issue.
Last week in the hearings, Turnbull’s chief contention was that Australia should examine a FTTN policy because of its cheaper cost compared to the pricier FTTH NBN rollout. The Liberal MP highlighted the fact that a number of European countries were pursuing FTTN deployments. However, Quigley does not believe a FTTN rollout would be a good option in terms of telecommunications policy — especially on technical grounds.
In response to Turnbull’s comments in Senate Estimates, Quigley said for technical reasons, a fibre to the node deployment in Australia would not be desirable. Problems revolved around getting access to Telstra’s infrastructure, as well as the population distribution geographically and the state of the existing copper network.
Oh, boy. I’d love to be a fly on the wall at this meeting.
Personally, I would hope that Turnbull would be diplomatic enough to clear the air between them before speaking with Quigley at any length. Some of the committee hearings where Turnbull has harangued Quigley were pretty extreme — as extreme as I’ve ever seen these hearings get in parliament (with the possible exception of some of the times where Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has faced off against the acid tongue of Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher).
Given that fact, the other thing about Quigley’s invitation is that it demonstrates how truly humble and strong-minded the NBN Co chief is.
Most executives, faced with the sort of powerful accusations that Turnbull has levelled at Quigley over the past year, would decline to spend any real time up close and personal with their attacker. The fact that Quigley has actually invited Turnbull to spend time with him personally — expending his precious personal time on the Opposition — indicates a certain strength of character. A willingness to engage with a fellow intellect on hostile terms and a belief in the rightness of his vision for the NBN.
We can only recognise this and give Quigley credit for it — and we hope Turnbull does too. The man deserves respect.
Image credit: Delimiter