A voice in mainstream media on NBN


Blue and red fibre optical cables

This article is by George Fong (pictured, right), the executive director of Victorian regional telecommunications consultancy Lateral Plains. It first appeared on Lateral Plains’ website and is replicated here with Fong’s permission.

opinion Last Thursday, Renai LeMay, a well-respected national IT journalist who writes for Delimiter, paid me a kind and very generous compliment in one of his articles.

The article was a commentary on a radio interview I did with Tom Elliott on 3AW the night before. I was called by Elliott’s producer a couple of hours beforehand and was asked if I knew anyone they could talk to who had been hooked up to NBN fibre. All of my senior tech team was but they all ducked for cover!

I was asked if I would go on and I said yes, as we had helped a number of clients set up their connections. I will concede that what really got my interest was a comment made by the producer about this $233 billion build figure for FTTP that had been thrown around in Mainstream Media (MSM). fong-2

I got to talk to Tom just after 5pm. I have done the occasional interview on 3AW in the past before and whilst I am always nervous about these things on commercial radio, we chatted, I put my views forward and it ended. I thought nothing more of it.

(Given Ballarat’s regional positioning and its leadership role in the NBN’s rollout in this region. I do get contacted periodically by mainly regional media to provide an opinion on things. I have been around long enough for people to know that they can usually squeeze a brief and possibly publishable comment out of me if they are stuck for a technical input. And I have been privileged to have been invited to a weekly guest spot with presenter Steve Martin on ABC Ballarat where we get to talk with people about technology and the Internet.)

Renai DM’d me via his Twitter account the next afternoon saying he’d heard the interview on 3AW. I was a little chuffed that someone like Renai had listened to it. But then my Twitter account started going off on my phone and I was soon to learn the reason why. Renai’s article had gone live.

The reason I felt it was important to follow on with this post is that Renai has (as always!) made some significant observations about MSM. I guess this particular interview stood out because the majority of other people being interviewed on Elliott’s show were not from the industry and as far as I could work out, had a tendency to make uninformed comments about what the NBN was really all about and how it actually worked. Left uncorrected, such commentary can and does compound the festering misconceptions about this important project.

Renai has pointed out that what happened in the interview was comparatively rare; he was celebrating the fact that someone had been called up to give a view from the technologist’s side of things.

So what’s the point here? It’s plain and simple. There are plenty of people like me, in fact many more experienced, more talented and importantly *younger* than me, who are able to lend their voice to the media and assist in educating and informing. I am still scrolling through the many of you who contacted me on Twitter since Renai’s article and it is patently clear from the brief profiles that you’re out there :-)

I’d like to take the opportunity that Renai has afforded me to encourage you to do the same as me and some of my very talented colleagues on the board of ISOC-AU (we’re all volunteers); occasionally step out of your comfort zone and instead of cursing at an uninformed comment you hear on the radio, consider what you’re hearing and perhaps consider picking up the phone and seeing if you can add your voice to the debate, in a calm, objective and informed manner.

It is scary talking to people live, especially in the bull pit of drive time radio. I get nervous as hell every time. But it’s really about having a one on one conversation with the presenter. As many of you pointed out to me on Twitter (thank you) it’s about explaining things in simple plain English. If more of us were a little braver and did this, we would at worst, chip away at that unwelcome block of misconceptions and misinformation surrounding broadband and the NBN in this country. It’s not about politics or sides, or even which technology we like better; it’s just facts, science and experience.

If there are any main stream media stations reading this blog out there, please know that there are plenty of people like me with a little bit of shareable knowledge about NBN, it’s technology and it’s benefits, complexities and challenges. As Tom Elloitt’s producer did, you can seek us out and we do generally respond positively and constructively. As I’ve indicated above, if you look through my twitter account, I think you will find a diversity of people with a diversity of knowledge and expertise, who are willing to share … in plain English :-)

Once again Renai, thank you for your article. It’s given me another chance to say something that is hopefully constructive, and it has given validation that we are heading in the right direction in doing what we do when we talk to MSM about the NBN.



Image credit: Lateral Plains


  1. Thanks for your kind words George!

    I’d like to +1 your comments about IT professionals getting involved with the debate in the mainstream media with respect to the NBN and other issues. Journalists and other types of commentators are OK, but IT professionals and other technologists hold a lot more weight in the debate because you actually work with technology — you don’t just write about it.

  2. I think the fact that George is an executive director adds a lot of weight to what he says too, especially seeing as he isn’t from a multi-national or national telecoms company.

    And thanks for stepping up Mr Fong, if only the MSM had sought to be more balanced from the start and asked people with your experience and background earlier we may have been in a very different place today.

    • What saddens me is that whenever someone like George Fong steps up to do this sort of thing there are always people out there that try to drag it back down.

      He’s never rolled out national infrastructure, he’s only regional, etc etc, and somehow the opinions of Ray Hadley and Alan Jones are more accurate. Someone last week backed them, using the line that because they talk to people on the radio all day, they must be talking to the experts. Right?

      There needs to be more people like Mr Fong being asked on these shows. Most of the time its ill informed naysayers only looking at part of the situation. Keep up the good work George, I hope others ask you on their shows in the future.

    • The only “side” that we should be on is the side of technology.

      This whole project captivates the political world when the discussions should PURELY be about the TECHNOLOGY.

      • To be fair, its not that simple. In the current environment cost IS an issue. When the issue of cost is politicised though, it loses meaning though, and thats whats happened. The constant depicting of Labor’s plan in the worst possible light, then sensationalised even more does nothing to help the debate, but it still needs to be a consideration.

        Technology as a goal is all well and good, but it still needs to be done responsibly, and thats why the cost claims have gained traction. To most on this site, when you compare apples to apples the cost debate shows FttH to be the better option, both mid and long term, but when the misinformed masses constantly hear $233b or whatever the Number of the Week is, thats a barrier that needs to be addressed.

        Its hard to point out the future benefits of the FttH technology in a way thats easy for everyone to understand, so why not explore the different costs versus rollout times versus future infrastructure needs. Apply the ‘do it once, do it right’ argument to costs.

        Unfortunately, its not just about technology. Especially when you have a Government thats fundamentally against rolling out anything new.

  3. Keep up the good work Mr. Fong, you have added a touch of class back into the NBN discussion.

  4. Yes, well done Mr F and Renai, but listening to the one on one with Elliot, the jock struck me as relatively open to listening to the comments, and relatively rational in his responses. Not sure how it would have gone with the rabid dogs like Jones and Hadley though, their response to anyone outside their brain dead ‘listeners’ is not exactly renowned for similar responses…

  5. The food for thought from this article is not just about engaging in real and effective activism (vs online activism) but also that good factual information from a knowledgeable source should be put forward over hyperbole and propaganda…

    /looks at all the articles from Renai re: Tasmania and MT’s promises.

    There is a large and ongoing irony in the NBN debate that quite a few “fanbois” engage in exactly the same thing they accuse certain media outlets, politicians and people who support the LNP of.

    Mr. Fong has added substantially to the conversation with his rational and factual contribution. If only all contributors on both sides of the argument (and those of us stuck in the middle) could do so as well, we’d probably have reached some form of consensus 5 years ago…

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