Crowdsourced NBN think tank launches Senate submission



news A loose-knit collective of Australian technologists has formed what it has dubbed an online crowdsourced think tank focused around the National Broadband Network project and has started putting together a submission to the NBN Senate Select Committee which will argue for a network built on the best available ‘fit for purpose’ technology — not on political ideology.

The think tank, which has been dubbed the “NBN Alliance”, has set up a Wiki-based website which allows any contributor to work with the organisation on NBN-related issues. So far 32 contributors have signed up to assist with the work. Although it is a very new resource, the web site contains a large number of NBN-related documents and already contains substantial analysis on NBN Co’s Strategic Review released in December.

In a media release, the group stated that it was founded by ‘Daniel’, who appears to be an Adelaide-based IT consultant who was becoming increasingly frustrated with “the hyperbolic politicisation of NBN policy”. Daniel wrote: “Australia needs an NBN that is built on the best available ‘fit for purpose’ technology and sound economic rationalisations – not on political ideology. The NBN Alliance aims to provide a truly independent, non-politicised look at the technologies, business cases and end-user outcomes that will best serve all Australians.”

The group’s first task will be producing and submitting a document for consideration by the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network, based upon original research.

According to the group, the crowdsourced collaboration model allows anyone to work on the submission from anywhere in the world via the NBN Alliance Wiki website – tapping into the ‘wisdom of the crowd’. There is no formal position on any particular technology or business case – all positions are represented within the greater group of contributors – and all contributions are on an ‘altruistic’ voluntary basis.

Daniel said: “This is, to our knowledge, the first submission of its kind to the Australian Parliament. The project was conceived less than two weeks ago. The response so far has been amazing… we’ve already had contributions from people with decades of experience in Telcos, ISPs, Linear Infrastructure Projects … people that are quite well placed to make valuable contributions. It’s a really exciting process. It’s also a great experiment to see how well crowdsourcing works as a tool in a more participatory democratic process.”

Contributions to the NBN Alliance submission close on the 28th of January 2014. The final submission will be published by the Senate Select Committee in early February. The NBN Alliance will issue a follow-up media release at that time with a summary of findings.

The group’s website states that it is important that information added to its site be factual: “There are enough opinions in this debate already! What’s lacking is solid data from reputable sources, and rational analysis – both perfectly crowdsourcable.”

This is a great initiative on the part of Daniel and the other NBN Alliance contributors and should be applauded. The more Australians get directly involved in the formation of telecommunications policy, the better. And I am obviously in favour of deep policy analysis in technology related areas. As I wrote in November last year, when I advocated the need for an Australian think tank to be set up focusing on technology policy:

“When I look back upon the past 15 years of technology-focused policy development and implementation in Australia, what arises is the keen edge of despair.

The last great successful piece of technology policy reform to be implemented in Australia occurred in 1997, when John Howard’s Coalition administration deregulated the telecommunications sector, allowing players other than Telstra and Optus into the market for the first time and setting the stage for the extraordinary explosion in choice of telephone carriers, not to mention the extremely diverse Internet access and eventually broadband markets.

Since that time, technology policy in Australia has been nothing short of a litany of disasters. In my strong opinion, the only way to change this cycle of technology catastrophes is to change the policy development process entirely.”

The crowdsourced model pursued by the NBN Alliance is not the model I was thinking of. However, in general this kind of effort can only help support the debate, rather than detract from it. Whenever constituents of any kind get together and start using formalised processes to agitate for positive change, those in power have no alternative but to pay attention.

Furthermore, the NBN Alliance has already started to demonstrate a level of organisation that most such groups lack. The group’s site is already quite comprehensive, it has a strong and growing membership and it has central coordination using good technology to communicate with members. All of these factors point towards a bright future influencing policy. And even better, for journalists like myself, it already has a media release announcing its existence. Bingo! Instant media coverage.

I wholly support what the NBN Alliance is doing and wish the group well.


  1. Completely ignores the facts of the situation, much like Turnbull is ignoring the data. It doesn´t matter how much raw data you throw at Politicians who aren´t listening. And, calling yourself any sort of ¨Alliance¨ isn´t helping, think tanks that want to be noticed by this Government would do well to put the words ¨Free Market¨ in their name.

  2. And good for them.

    We are increasingly seeing assorted ‘commentators’, ‘analysts’, corporate consultants, and pseudo ‘academics’ being used by political and commercial interests in their attempts to promote a particular self interest or objective. And it is done in the hope of influencing the general public to support those same political and commercial self interests, regardless of how accurate or factual the arguments are.
    Of course, these same commentators, analysts, etc manage to gain high exposure in the mainstream media. And of course that exposure is commensurate with the stance of the media owners interests.

    Unfortunately there has been little contribution from the very broad and diverse group of non-aligned IT professionals and well informed members of the general public. These are the people with the knowledge and the facts to enable them to assess and evaluate not only the technical pro’s and con’s of the issue, but also to point out and highlight the instances of factual inaccuracies, spin, and rhetoric that are being employed to promote a particular interest.

    The current overhaul of the nations communications infrastructure is supposedly being done to promote the interests of not just a particular political party, the interests of the technology providers and owners, or associated media distributors, but of the nation as a whole. And that compromises the IT professionals, the businesses using that infrastructure, and the millions of domestic consumers.

    Unfortunately their voice has been very lacking. Hopefully the Senate submission that results from this initiative will go some small way to rectifying that failing.

    • Ooops. My post, 2nd last par, I wrote ‘compromises’. I intended to write ‘comprises’. My bad.

  3. It lost all credibility with me when I read this on the FAQ

    “Nope! If you have time to post on Whirlpool, you have time to ‘post’ a bullet point into the wiki, or fact check one claim from the Strategic Review. It really is that easy. There’s no minimum commitment!”

    • Hi Frank, thanks for your feedback. We’ve found that the first hurdle with crowd-sourcing is getting people to take the initial step into the interactive process. So we encourage that first step. The content of the final submission will be subject to scrutiny – and rightly so. Consequently, we are taking all reasonable steps to ensure accuracy, through an iterative fact-checking and review process.

  4. You have to work out what “accuracy” actually is…

    Where are you getting your “facts” from…. The whole NBN was fully political in nature from the very beginning. All the “facts” are going to be subject to a person’s point of view.. There is nothing to say any report released by the government (labor and liberal) or NBN co, is fullt accurate in so far that the facts are just from a particular point of view… And inconvenient facts are conveniently omitted..

    I read the first line on your whirlpool thread about this submission. “There are over 80,000 comments in the ‘Federal Coalition NBN/MTM Policy’ thread. There is enough information in this thread alone to form the basis of a submission, we just need to distil it.”

    The thread you refer to is full of very much pro labor NBN commentators.. It is not a balanced point of view, but very much one sided. You can say your submission will be scrutinised, but scrutinised for what exactly? Like I say, you can easily make the “facts” point to a selected point of view…

    We already know FTTP is the best solution from a technical point of view. But that is not the whole situation.

    If FTTP is the best because of long term then why build a short term wireless and satellite solution to premises already served by copper? (we could afford to run copper to these premises back in the day) . That makes no sense, saying fibre because of long term lifespan, but then agree wireless/satellite with very short lifespan.

    What about monopoly concerns? Sure the NBN may not be fully vertically integrated, but then neither are our power stations, yet they get the government to forever increase electricity charges. The NBN of any persuasion will be sold, do we want a monopoly provider again?

    What about innovation in the sector. You can be sure NBN co will not allow companies to offer services they do not approve of. Think of naked DSL… Or LSS services. ADSL2+, etc.. Would innovation like that be allowed under a FTTP or FTTN?

    Just a few points to ponder… There is more to this then just technical capability…

    • I’m sorry, what? Apparently a thread with 80,000 comments is one sided?

      How do you define balanced Frank? Because if you want to try and tell me it’s “equal airtime” then you need to understand: everyone is entitled to their opinion, but their opinion can be wrong.

      You raise some valid concerns, but these concerns have been discussed at length before, alternative models have been suggested. The reason those models haven’t got much traction is obvious. New blood and going around in circles.

      If we provide a resource which explores all these issues that is accessible, not an 80,000 comment thread of frivolous debate we may actually see a workable model emerge. That is kinda the point of a think tank isn’t it? Collaboration of ideas?

      If you want to see this ideas hashed out in a centralised place in a structured manner then this is one way to do it.

      If you’re concerned about it being crowd sourced don’t beat around the bush about how “accurate it’s going to be” and how you feel this debate is subjective and selective, just say it. And then once you’ve said it, contribute to the alliance.

      Not some meta level “It’s biased because I hold a few minority opinions so I’m going to completely dismiss the validity of this model before even trying to contribute.”

    • “We already know FTTP is the best solution from a technical point of view. But that is not the whole situation.”

      But the technical point means the social and economic advantages can be realised. It has a lot more to do with vision, rather than just giving people extra download speed. Plus the technical drawbacks of FTTN and HFC are vast and a lot are unknown because of the conditions of the existing Australian network and relying on emerging technologies (eg: G.Fast), and not proven ones in the case of FTTP. Most of the FTTN/HFC advantages are lost when factoring the “whole situation”. You just have to look at the latest review. It tries to recommend the FTTN/HFC, but still paints a pretty good picture for FTTP (even if they don’t want to admit it). Also have a look at and Most of the pro FTTP voices are factoring in the whole situation, not just the technological ones. The other side usually just gets bogged down in “it costs to much” and “current roll out is too slow”, disregarding the context of both of those issues in the whole situation, especially the situation regarding Telstra (making sure it is separated), ubiquity, network reliability and the ease of actually wholesaling (

      Also, balance does not mean giving equality to all methods, but allowing all methods equal possibility. If a technology doesn’t have many benefits, but has a lot of drawbacks, you can’t balance the argument to put it on a level playing field.

      “If FTTP is the best because of long term then why build a short term wireless and satellite”

      It’s not just the best because of the long term situation, that’s just what makes it become profitable. Plus the original plan wasn’t naive to think that we can spend unlimited money. It tried to strike a good balance between giving Australia a network that would serve us for the next economic shift (as in from mining to hi-tech innovation and services), but also not being extravagant. Detractors say the FTTP is extravagant, but that’s only if you factor in current home use, not all the issues it was try to address.

      “What about innovation in the sector.”

      You can have a lot more innovation over ubiquitous (that’s the import part) fiber that current does 1000/400 Mbps and can, using existing technology (just swapping the terminating equipment) do 10000/2500 Mbps ( The innovation shifts from trying to squeeze the last bit out of copper, to the retail companies trying to work out how to keep existing customers in a competitive market — so making things that actually improve peoples lives, and are willing to pay for. FTTP is innovation enabling, FTTN/HFC is just much of the same as we have now. Like comparing the old Nokia’s and the like to the iPhone, both make phone calls, one disrupts and transforms a market.

  5. “If FTTP is the best because of long term then why build a short term wireless and satellite solution to premises already served by copper? (we could afford to run copper to these premises back in the day)”


    If you check your “facts” you will realize that broadband speed degrades very quickly once copper is longer than 1 km and therefore makes copper unusable for broadband where satellite and fixed wireless is being rolled out.

    There are many facts about copper that makes the whole notion of using FTTN over FTTP ridiculous in a country like Australia

    “The thread you refer to is full of very much pro labor NBN commentators”


    When everyone agrees about the merits of FTTP and the need to keep it govt wholesale for the benefit of all Australia not just in areas of high profitability, it doesn’t make us pro Labour, it makes us argue for the best outcome for all Australia which ever political party implements it.

    • “When everyone agrees about the merits of FTTP and the need to keep it govt wholesale for the benefit of all Australia not just in areas of high profitability, it doesn’t make us pro Labour, it makes us argue for the best outcome for all Australia which ever political party implements it.”

      And that is it in a nutshell…what I have noticed is that most of the pro-FTTP posts are far less about politics than about good policy. There is even a huge segment of Lib voters who are pro-FTTP.
      This should not be a political decision, and it’s posts like Frank’s that actually steer it that way more than anything.

  6. Well my point has been proven by the looks of it. The submission will be pointless because people are not interested in what is best, but only interested in promoting the labor NBN, much as I predicted.

    If you want the best then why are you promoting short term solutions as wireless and satellite, while saying at the same time FTTN is no good, because it is the same short term solution. Do not go on about cost, because we know the labor NBN was going to cost more then the promoted figure. By how much is debatable, but it will cost more then $37 billion, and thus not be returning a commercial rate of return.

    People want fibre to their house. Then they lose interest after that. That is the main reason why all the angst, they are no longer getting fibre. There was little angst over wireless and satellite, except by the minority getting it.

    That is why asking on whirlpool for help is pointless, you are not going to get a balanced point of view, but rather an unbalanced one. after all was the same amount of scrutiny put into labor NBN as is being put into liberal NBN? Of course not, because labor was giving them fibre.

    • No, completely wrong. The motivation for most championing FTTH is not to get FTTH now, but to avoid wasting billions of technologies that will be short term bandaids. With not even the life of the Satelite and wireless portions. The thing we want to get passed is exactly what you are doing, politicising it. It’s not about politics or opinion, it is about facts. When politics attempts to justify it’s position by misinterpret facts, facts, not opinion, then it is making decisions for the wrong reason.
      You politically misrepresent the motives of those advocating FTTH to push your beliefs. You can believe what you want, and are free to make arguments for it. But you misrepresenting why IT professionals are pushing for FTTH does not make it the case. It just makes you wrong.

    • So once again, because you are in an area that wasn’t to receive FttP, you are against FttP for everyone else, Frank?

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but that seems to have been the gist of each comment from day 1.

      However, now chastising the cost is hypocritical, considering you previously supported 100% fibre!

      My apologies if I am confusing you with another Frank. But the pieces all fit.

      • Who says I am against FTTP?

        I am questioning the motives of those very enthusiastic fibre NBN supporters…. Or to put it another way, if they had put the same amount of scrutiny into the Labor NBN that they have put into the liberal NBN proposal then what we are seeing today may not be happening.

        Do you not think it strange how no one can rebut me on the wireless and satellite being short term solutions, yet seems most are happy with that, but blowing money on a similar short term solution like FTTN is bad and evil, which it is bad for the country…

        Especially since it was revealed that FTTP would cost a lot lot more then was initially thought. Back when it was costing $37 billion, we could not expand fibre because it was not economically feasible, now with fibre costing a lot more then $37 billion, magically the argument has changed to pretty much fibre to 93% no matter what, it no longer matters about economic feasibility..

        People want fibre and are willing to do what it takes to get it. If it means screwing over a minority which ironically have a greater need for better telecommunications then so be it.

        • You’re clearly not against FttP, as long as you get it. Otherwise you promote screwing over the vast 93% majority…

          Yet you have previously referred to us as selfish and accuse us of screwing over the minority.

          :/ amazing

        • Which reveals your ignorance. In regional areas wireless technology actually becomes viable and cost effective, and because of its relatively cheap deployment cost and upgrading (consider how quickly we’ve moved from 3G to 4G in the mobile space). Satellite technology is a last “catch all” solution to provide upgraded broadband.

          I find it ironic that you are asking us to reasonably evaluate the different alternatives but in the same breath acuse us of having a double standard when we acknowledge a reasonable and justified compromise of wireless in regional areas.

  7. There has been many Tweets and comments on other forums, such as SMH etc about . Perhaps putting ones feet on the ground and holding up a sign that Australia wants FTTP for all Australians (or to stick to the original model) and don’t sell NBNco off to Telstra (or Murdoch).

    I have never marched but I am just about commited to this one because I do believe all Australians deserve the best. How many signatures were on that petition. well now we should all join this march to send another clear message to Turnbull/Abbott et al.

    I am fortunate enough to have FTTP (NBN version) and it is $30/month cheaper than my old ADSL (for now!) and at 100/40 speed with double the monthly data. How dare they try to tell everyone that it is more expensive.

    We need to get out and show them with our feet that we mean it.

  8. Only result will be a ‘Thailand’ like situation where one side just refuses to accept the election result.
    Democracy only works effectively if once freely and democratically elected the Government is given a chance to implement their policies.
    I would call it a success if you get 8 million people participating. Any less would just show how good you are at using social media to draw a crowd.

    • No… everyone obviously knows the Abbott government were duly elected.

      We also know they gave many undertakings in opposition to gain the votes required. Consequently, we now expect them to deliver on these ‘policies/promises’ as a minimum.

      However, in relation to broadband (our topic here) the government clearly are not going to do so…

      As such, rather than sit back and apathetically shrug the shoulders or worse, make excuses for them, these people are actually doing something/refusing to sit back and accept it and I for one applaud them.

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