blog We can’t say we’re surprised, given the terrible history of reporting and education out there about the Federal Government’s flagship National Broadband Network project, but we do have to say we’re extremely disappointed by this highly emotive article published on the website of the Sydney Morning Herald this morning and authored by Frank Zumbo, an associate professor at the School of Taxation and Business Law at the University of New South Wales.
In the piece, Zumbo trots out all the same tired old arguments which have been defeated time and time again when it comes to the NBN, from the supposed dangers of “large cost blow-outs” with the project, to the claimed “lingering debate” about whether fibre to the premises is actually superior or whether wireless broadband could provide an acceptable substitute, to the “expensive” nature of the NBN compared with alternatives. Perhaps the worst paragraph in an article filled with terrible paragraphs:
“At the end of the day, a national high-speed broadband network is really all about access, convenience and affordability. What’s the point of building the most expensive fixed broadband network if it can only be accessed from your home?”
Your writer finds it simply incredible that a professor of business law and taxation who specialises in market competition would be ignorant of the fact that the deployment of the NBN by the Federal Government is not simply a matter of providing higher broadband speeds to Australians, and that much of the policy is aimed at dealing with the long-term issues caused by the failure of successive Federal Governments to separate Telstra’s wholesale and retail operations, and the subsequent implications
It seems unbelievable that someone as well-educated as Zumbo and who depends daily on access to the University of NSW’s connection to the ultra-fast fixed broadband network AARNet (which underpins all of the wireless access throughout the university) would be unable to understand that, as virtually every telecommunications expert of any note agrees, fixed and wireless broadband are complementary, with most Australians requiring both, and that the regulation of these two sectors of the telecommunications industry is almost entirely segregated, bedevilling any potential government intervention across both fields.
One can also scarcely credit the idea that someone with Zumbo’s qualifications would be unable to closely examine NBN Co’s finances to date and conclude that any cost over-runs the project has suffered so far are clearly within the bounds of good governance for a project of this unprecedented size and scope; and that they are also justifiable, considering that the NBN’s remit has been significantly expanded since its original business case were drawn up. There is also the small fact that the Government’s action to fund the “expensive” NBN is counted as an investment that is eventually expected to earn it a modest return.
But perhaps it is not so hard to understand why an academic of Zumbo’s standing would be unable to admit to these facts. Because, as outgoing Labor MP Craig Emerson revealed in mid-2010 (PDF), and Zumbo himself confirmed in a blog post at the time on News Limited site The Punch, the good professor has been known to have close links to the Liberal Party of Australia and has even spent time campaigning to get Liberal candidate Craig Kelly into the seat of Hughes; work which we can’t find disclosed anywhere in Zumbo’s biography.
Your writer only has a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts, and nothing but his wits to defend himself in the highly complex and confusing National Broadband Network debate. But Professor Zumbo, we humbly submit that it might be wise for you take another look at the fundamental premises contained in your NBN article in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning. We humbly suggest that the degree of academic rigour contained within is sadly … inferior.