Help crowdsource an NBN implementation study



blog Remember how Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull spent all that time proclaiming how the Coalition, if it won power in the upcoming Federal Election, would immediately commission the Productivity Commission to kick off a detailed study into how high-speed broadband could be best deployed in Australia? Well, that pledge seems to have taken something of a back seat to the Coalition’s existing NBN policy — after all, what point is it conducting a study into which technology is better, when the Coalition has already picked a winner?

Thankfully, the Australian arm of British technology media outlet The Register has swooped in to save the situation. El Reg has posted an entry on local crowdsourcing site Pozible inviting Australians to help it fund a detailed implementation study into the NBN, sourcing quotes for such a study from veteran analyst houses IBRS and Market Clarity. The cost, according to The Register, is a minimum $100,000 (of which the campaign is already $3,236 towards, as of this morning), but if it gets more, it will answer further questions. Here’s the site’s pitch:

The Register – one of the world’s most-read IT news services – believes debate on the NBN has gone feral and does not offer Australians useful information. With an election coming up, that’s not good enough. We want to address that with an independent study to answer three big NBN questions: What do we REALLY NEED? What’s the BEST TECHNOLOGY to build with? What happens AFTER we build the NBN?

We’re crowdfunding this study because it gives Australians a chance to show they care enough about this colossal investment to inform themselves – and the nation. Our study will see The Register work with respected analyst firms IBRS and Market Clarity to create a study that will clarify essential elements of Australia’s broadband debate. The analysts have provided us with detailed project plans that outline hundreds of hours of consulting work needed to do this study right. Long story short, most of the money goes to their services, $100,000 answers the first question, $175,000 gets us to the second and $250,000 means we do the full study.

It’s hard to say whether the campaign will succeed, and even harder to say if it will end up being useful. After all, there have already been countless studies conducted into the NBN, there are only a few months until the Federal Election, and both sides of politics seem pretty fixed on their existing NBN policies. It’s hard to believe at this point that a privately funded implementation study of this kind would have much impact on the national debate, or even that a decent report of this nature could be produced in that time.

However, it’s still a great effort here by El Reg. The site is right — debate on the NBN has “gone feral”, and there isn’t enough useful information out there about the project. If the project does get up, it’ll be good to see more detailed, independent information out there about this most controversial of Australian technology initiatives. Either IBRS or Market Clarity would do a good job of this — both firms are extremely experienced and count themselves amongst the few analyst groups which I consistently respect.


  1. Waste of time and money.

    Politicians will spin it as biased no matter the outcome so why bother

    • Saved me saying it.
      +100, waste of money and it contents will be selectively quoted and misused by politicians et al.

    • Unfortunately, politicians view research as something to support their already established views, not as something to uncover the truth.

  2. It’s too late, assuming they get their funding and commission the report the 2013 election will be done and dusted, so either the Labor rollout will continue as is, or the Coalition will implement their if-then-else policy.

    • Yep, both sides are locked in. If the ALP pulls a miracle and wins, it’ll be business as usual, if the Libs manage to win the election, Tony will make sure his plan goes ahead (or find a way to bury both of them).

      The Libs aren’t shopping around for new NBNCo execs to keep things the way they are…

  3. What are the chances that this study will be finished in time for the election? Surely this campaign should have been started months ago if they were serious about contributing to the debate on this issue. When you consider the stubbornness of BOTH major political parties on the NBN, any study that will be completed after the election is completely useless, as either party will resort to spin to disregard any study that is contrary to their plans.

    That being said, I wouldn’t mind yet another study that shows just how short-sighted the Coalition’s FTTN proposal is.

    • ‘any study that will be completed after the election is completely useless, as either party will resort to spin to disregard any study that is contrary to their plans.’

      You mean just like you did with this statement?

      ‘That being said, I wouldn’t mind yet another study that shows just how short-sighted the Coalition’s FTTN proposal is.’


  4. “There’s even a chance to become a part of the study, for just $10.”

    So they plan to do a poll of people who contributed to the funding, which will be used in the report. I wonder if they have considered that that poll could be just the tiniest bit biased :P

    • Depends on what the poll is about. if it’s something like “What would you use the NBN for?”, then I think that’s acceptable…

      • You assume the only source of bias is political. There’s significant selection bias in only choosing people who can afford to contribute.

        • Actually, I assume the source is more technical, but as I said in the post you replied to, I accept that the selection bias would depend on the question. If you are after a pool of folks that that you want to query on what they want to use FTTP for, polling people that don’t even want it would add significant bias.

          As in “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”, the poll bias is in the question asked.

          I don’t think either of us can “call” it until the question is known…

  5. These are the questions that need to be asked:
    1. “What benefits do we see from the network?”
    2. “What speeds are required to deliver these benefits?”
    3. “Do the benefits justify the government supporting / subsidising the rollout to ensure access for all?”

    The technology of implementation should only be considered after the above questions have been answered.

  6. I am rather puzzled by the pricing of the research. $100 000 for one question, $175 000 for the second and $250 000 for the third.

    It does not take that long to answer either one, two or three questions, nor to ask half a dozen questions. As for the analysis of the results, it is difficult to see how analysing a small number of questions would take that long and, hence, justify the greater cost.

    Lastly, it is unclear how the questions would provide useful and convincing answers and who would be asked. Should the respondents come from the general population, it is doubtful than many who have sufficient knowledge of the issues to give meaningful answers.

    • Real, proper, research/reporting (as in delivering a report, not journalism) is expensive, ask any university/corporation…unlike “our” research, it usually doesn’t involve google, but does involve contacting government departments, corporations, et al, getting/buying the info you want and then determining a proper way to model it (and a bunch of other stuff, but you get the idea). It involves a team of people, not a guy slaving away with the odd FOI and some hot tips (like Renai for example).

      Renai does some amazing work considering his resources, but imagine how much more he could accomplish with a 250k budget on any given subject :o)

      • “real’ research is often overpriced. I have designed and conducted “real’ research and I do understand what is involved and it is not as complicated as you think. You do not need to contact government departments, corporations and all the other things you suggest. You need to understand the scientific methods and its limitations when it is used with people.

        There a lot of expensive but poorly designed research about. My main point, however, was that the cost of one or three questions would not vary greatly. Furthermore, I have no doubt that a one question (or even three questions) questionnaire could not provide quality, useful answers.

          • The KPMG McKinsey study was also grossly overpriced but also involved a lot more.

            Someone recently quoted me $25 000 to rebuild my back deck at home. In the end, I did it myself for less than $3000. So, a $10 000 quote would have sounded like good value but would not really have been.

          • Perhaps you should offer to do the study for them and claim the $3600 odd they had already ;o)

          • Is that an attempt at sarcasm? Keep it up because you obviously need some more practice.

            Incidentally, you will notice that I seldom argue or debate technical points. This is simply because I don’t feel I am knowledgeable enough to do so and, therefore, respect other people greater knowledge on the subject.

            Judging by your original comments on what is needed to do research, you would certainly be justified to feel the same way about research methodology.

            That aside, I personally do not see the point of such study. The first problem with it is the choice of respondents.

            Should it be members of the public? Many of them do not necessarily understand the issues at hand, are not interested or it or have mostly been informed by the mainstream media.

            Should it be tech people? Then, the results would be discounted as being from NBN zealots, as they already have been by MT.

          • I think your jumping the gun a bit Observer. The Reg obviously wants to do a real, proper study. they are talking about hundreds of hours of research by a team, not just doing a quick poll.

            The poll they discuss would only be a fraction of it, and to determine if there is, or isn’t, any bias to it would have to wait until we’ve seen what that question actually is, and what it relates to.

            The comment about you doing it was in the same spirit as your “I did a $25k quoted job myself for $3k” story. Sorry if you took offence…

  7. I have to ask why?

    What is it going to tell you? Here’s a hint. It will recommend a fibre-based network; it will suggest a copper network is a potential costly exercise in futility. It will recommend all the things recommended by people who eat-sleep-drink this stuff on a daily basis.

    It doesn’t matter how many hundreds of committees you form, they will all come to the same basic conclusion. The only matter that will (always) cause division and diversion is how much to spend.

    That’s it. There are only so many viable variables here. Almost all are driven by size and scope.

    Turnbull already knows the answer – if it held the same model as he espouses an implementation, he’d have one already.

      • Agreed, no – really. Agree. Problem is Turnbull isn’t interested in a CBA, or open discussion, or even another independent review.

        He’s already made a technology choice. He’s already committed the very same “sin” that Conroy did. Only this time, Turnbull made this choice based on, apparently, little more than a few examples of what other folks might have done in the UK.

        He’s not once actually sought independent CBA. Hell, his policy hasn’t even been swung past the treasury, and AFAIK, Conroy’s certainly did.

        For all of the flaws of the current government, a fair bit of due diligence went into the NBN build. And yet we have an opposition that has a policy with missing numbers, and no indications on whether it’s even feasible.

        How can that be a better option?

        • It isn’t. My post was more of a question to you of: do you believe this to be a waste of time because it’s biased or Turnbull will ignore it anyway? I helmets you have answered that adequately.

        • It isn’t. My post was more of a question to you of: do you believe this to be a waste of time because it’s biased or Turnbull will ignore it anyway? I believe you have answered that adequately.

          • The point of a CBA is to validate an outcome is worth investment. It does a few more things, such as sanity check and so forth, but that’s basically it.

            Is the benefit, worth the cost. My point was two-fold; firstly, after asking for one, Turnbull has skipped it in favour of making a decision already.

            The second, is at what point do you keep throwing money at a rusting hulk, before you decide spending virtually, or even actually the same amount on a new one, makes more sense?

            There is a degree of “ideology” in that the FTTN proposal is better, just as there has been some ideology that Fibre is better. However, the facts for both point at a long-life for Fibre, a short-life for Copper and that that also comes with an upgrade.

            Several reviews, committees and so forth have all, over time, rejected FTTN over fibre. Whilst I welcome a review, even if it does cost a ton of money, it’s only really useful if it’s acted upon. Up until recently, there was no indication that Turnbull might.

            I tend to believe once in power, the effort and cost to re-engineer an entire deployment may be less appealing.

            It’s one thing to call for and make demands in opposition; it’s a bit harder when it’s you that’s on the receiving end.

          • There is a degree of “ideology” in that the FTTN proposal is better,

            There are more problems with the FTTN proposal than ideology, Malcolm hasn’t factored in at least two major costs (number of nodes and the cost of buying/maintaining the CAN from Telstra).

  8. Pozible is a crowdfunding website, not crowdsourcing. I think the distinction is important, as it otherwise it gives the impression that the study will be done via Pozible, which does not seem to be true.

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