Turnbull’s NBN mess ‘escaping public scrutiny’



blog With Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and Fairfax largely on the Coalition’s side when it comes to its radical overhaul of Labor’s popular National Broadband Network project, and even the ABC actively censoring discussion of the topic, it has largely fallen to the minority technology media and even individual IT professionals to cover the issue over the past several years. However, a new voice has recently emerged at UK independent outlet The Guardian. Controversial commentator Van Badham has not been dismayed by having her NBN questions shut down live on Q&A last week by host Tony Jones and has penned a fiery piece slamming Turnbull’s ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ vision and the general lack of attention being paid to it. Badham writes (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull may not want to answer many questions about the National Broadband Network, but it shouldn’t stop Australians from asking them. After all, since last September, Turnbull has reneged on pre-election NBN commitments, admitted to giving misleading statements about Labor’s costings, made chummy appointments, ignored expert economic consideration, and infuriated the near-entirety of the professional tech community. And yet, the minister has been able to dodge much deserved public excoriation.”

You may think I or Badham are exaggerating about the lack of attention being paid to the NBN project and Turnbull’s escape act. If so, you may want to take a look at the evidence. Much of the problem revolves around the mainstream media’s approach to the issue.

A University of Canberra study of the Financial Review newspaper’s coverage of the topic was published in August 2012. The findings: “Our analysis of 51 published articles mentioning [Then Communications Minister Stephen Conroy] over approximately the past six weeks indicates the AFR is certainly not a fan of the high-speed internet infrastructure project, nor of the Senator. In all stories on Conroy, there were only four positive headlines and 18 neutral ones – 29 (more than 53%) – were negative.”

And there was a similar study published by the University of Melbourne in February this year. It examined The Australian and The Age newspapers, finding: “… across both newspapers, there were “comparatively few articles focusing on the positive aspects and possible larger societal benefits of the network, or on the applications that may be supported by the NBN (including health, arts, education) … whilst the research findings do not reveal any particular agenda being pursued, they do show that the sentiment in the print media representations of the NBN was overwhelmingly negative.”

In the seven months since the Federal Election, and despite the questionable and now hypocritical approach Turnbull is often taking to the project, the tone and angle of the mainstream media has not changed; the new Minister is not facing the same degree of scrutiny as the old. A good example of this is The Australian’s editorial on the subject this morning, which barely mentions Turnbull but lands all NBN issues at Labor’s door.

There is significant evidence that the Australian public is indeed interested in the issue and even that the NBN plays into election voting patterns — but that the media is not representing the public’s views well.

I’m planning to examine the ABC’s coverage of the NBN issue in more detail shortly. I’d prefer not to have to — but the evidence continues to show, as Badham writes, that this important topic is not being given the level of importance it deserves. Given that the NBN is Australia’s largest ever infrastructure project and will function as a critical enabler of economic growth and productivity over the next century, this situation cannot be allowed to continue.

Image credit: Screenshot of last week’s Q&A program on the ABC, believed to be OK to use under Australian fair dealing provisions


  1. Hers is one of the best articles on the NBN recently. Sums up what a lot of us are feeling in a way that the general public will understand.

  2. All I have to say about the NBN and this government in general is: “Why are you so frustrating?!”

    • because they are not governing – as they claimed – for ‘all Australia’ but for their gilded mates. simple.

      the frustration would be considerably less if they took the time to listen, instead of things like batting away a 270 thou odd petition saying “you already had your say” and so on. there is a distinct bent for this government to hide obfuscate and plug the ears singing la la la la – not what i call transparent and responsive government.

      • Personally, I’m surprised that they have been so blatant about both their “jobs for the boys” and looking after their “top end of town” mates. Everyone should do it it tough except Gina, Twiggy and the rest of the top 100 apparently…

  3. There is a stark difference between the pre-election coverage of the NBN and the coverage now. Pre-election there were multiple articles each day it seemed in the mainstream media – mostly negative – about the NBN. Now, the election is done, and there are lucky to be one or 2 a week.

    The sad thing is, the issues haven’t really changed. There are big dollars on the table, there Is evidence of mismanagement by the current government, there are deadlines being missed by NBN Co, the public have a strong opinion, the sector has a strong opinion. There is no CBA to support the policy. The project is very clearly politically motivated. These were all criticisms the mainstream media applied to Labors NBN pretty much daily. We hardly hear a peep from them on the same issues now!

    To make matters worse this time though, there has been a distinct decline in the publically provided information from NBN Co, there is a great disparity in the outcomes for consumers, depending on the area in which they live, there is a decided lack of future vision, and a serious cloud hanging over the funding.

    There should now be even greater scrutiny seeing as this is a party that campaigned strongly to be righting the wrongs that Labor were doing. They haven’t corrected them, they have added to them! And hardly a peep from the mainstream media.

    A cynic might say the media was more interested in influencing the outcome of the election than taking a real interest in the NBN. Hard to argue with that view, especially now that the lack of interest shown in the NBN continues, in spite of the real need for even more investigation and reporting.

    • Mr Creosote said: “There should now be even greater scrutiny seeing as this is a party that campaigned strongly to be righting the wrongs that Labor were doing. They haven’t corrected them, they have added to them! And hardly a peep from the mainstream media. A cynic might say the media was more interested in influencing the outcome of the election than taking a real interest in the NBN.”

      The MSM has _always_ had a vested interest in wrecking Labor’s NBN. It threatens the owners of Big Media….and therefore threatens the employees of Big Media.

      From the beginning, the Coalition has very obviously pursued an agenda to ensure Big Media and sundry billionaires get what they demanded re the NBN (and the ABC), especially Murdoch. Media employees are often not smart enough to understand NBN technologies, but they are certainly smart enough to know not to bite the hand that feeds them.

      Too late now eh? The only way to stop this surreal tragedy is to build a strong collective of IT professionals, non-MSM journalists, small business owners (especially in regional areas) and big companies with an interest in seeing the best possible NBN become reality.

      Combat Turnbull’s abuse of power by disrupting the means of production, which requires solidarity. In this case, it would require solidarity with companies in the big end of town. Any large business which offers services in regional areas is useful in this regard – education services, health services, WAN services.

      No solidarity, no solution. Writing about the issue wont achieve anything – only power can influence power.

  4. ABC not commenting. Is it any surprise? The minister they would be commenting on is having them audited and targeting them for cuts, against the election promises to not touch them. An audit which coincidently was announced immediately after news articles critical of the Coalition. Report on the person holding a knife to their continued funding? I’d hope they’d ignore it, but who knows.

    • Malcolm has even been quite open about the threats on Q&A, though he did frame them as a joke.

      • Yes, it’s always a joke to those who are being threatened by the joke…
        I’d love the occasional joke pink slip from payroll just for fun…

  5. @Renai: I’m really pleased you are looking at the MSM and ABC coverage in more detail – I’m now looking forward to reading those future articles and their findings.

  6. What annoys me is how , when Mr Turnbull gets on TV, he talks about every policy subject except his own..

    • I think it has something to do with “plausible deny-ability”, if he rabbits on about subject he has nothing to do with, the Coalition can turn around and say “But XYZ is the Minister for that, Malcolm was just expressing his opinion, not government policy”.

      If he does the same thing in a comms related area, he’d be taken more seriously and Peta might yell at him.

  7. The reality is that Turnip Turnball does not give a stuff what any of you think. We are garbage to him and and his greedy mates. This goes for all of this government. All they are interested in is the ‘private’ profits they can screw from the rest of us. Cynical I know but there is no possibility of having a meaningful dialogue with a group of socialpaths.

  8. It was a mistake clicking on the link to The Australian’s article from this morning. Too early in the morning to get so angry.

  9. There is only one hope for the NBN now, and that is a return to power for Labor in 2016. Simple as that. Leave it any later than that, and it’ll be too late.

    • I used to believe that too.. But the deadly silence from the Labor party is starting to scare me..

  10. When Turnbull was in opposition he made a lot of noise about the NBN and it was reported.

    Is the issue now that Clare is not making a lot of noise or that the noise he is making is not being reported?

    Where is Ludlam?

  11. It’s not just the NBN – this entire government is escaping public scrutiny. The telltale sign that a government is going to be secretive is when it campaigns on a platform of greater transparency.

  12. Just read the editorial in The Australian re speeds with 4th Gen Wi Fi,What I cant get my head around is speed of sound 343mps- speed of light 299,792,458 mps how is wi fi faster the fiber optics. Can any politicain answer this? Dont think so

    • If I remember correctly radio waves in the air travel faster than light does through glass. The maxium speed of light is only achieved in a vacuum.

    • Light and radio waves are essentially the same they just fall at different frequencies.

      So in terms of latency they are the same

      BUT in terms of bandwidth fibre is much faster

      The reasons for this can be explained if you would like to know just add another comment asking for more info

    • All EMR (Electromagnetic radiation) travel at the same speed in a vacuum. Transport mediums (copper/glass fibre in the case of FTTx, Air/rain/etc in the case of radio) can have a slowing effect. It’s further complicated by any analogue/digital conversions that might be involved when “translating” between different mediums. This like data compression also needs to be taken into account as that takes time to do (even though it’s only milliseconds).

      Suffice it to say, it’s not as simple as saying “Light is the fastest thing there is, so fibre is the fastest thing there is”.

      FTTP is faster than the others because there is a lot less of the other slowing factors involved with it.

      • “FTTP is faster than the others because there is a lot less of the other slowing factors involved with it.

        I think the interesting thing to note when comparing Glass as a transmission medium with Copper is that in Glass you have the entire Light spectrum range to utilise with no real external factors to mitigate (other than the main factors of fibre bend Radius’s & Distance) – Utilising Radio Frequencies travelling through copper you have a myriad of factors to mitigate from EMI from power-lines and other RF sources (radio and TV transmissions) including other copper cables running next to yours.

        Copper cables are actually really great antennas and pick up all sorts of RF crap you dont actually want. Glass Fibre is pretty much inert by comparison.

    • WiFi uses radio waves, not sound.
      As others hear have pointed out, radio is electromagnetic radiation just light light, and travels at the same speed in a vacuum.
      Latency is actually a much more complex topic. Due to the lower speed of light in glass, the actual propagation time for fiber optics is longer than for radio (about 5ns/m in fiber, compared with about 3ns/m for radio over the air). However, radio is subject to interference and multipath propagation which necessitates the use of quite complex signal processing. As a result, encoding and decoding of the radio signal takes much longer.
      For WiFi, data is coded in symbols that are 4us long, so at an absolute minimum 4us of latency is incurred. In practice, the signal processing latency is in the realm of 100us. In addition to this, contention for the over the air channel can incur milliseconds to tens of milliseconds of additional latency (even with a single user, WiFi cannot transmit and receive at the same time).
      Similar considerations apply to ADSL, which also has complex modulation to overcome the poor medium.
      In contrast, optical fiber (at least as used for most short links) is extremely simple.

      The upshot of this is that over long distances (10 km or more), using carefully optimised radios, radio can sometimes beat fiber optics for latency (e.g. radio links for low latency trading between Chicago and New York), but over short distances fiber is usually significantly better. For home internet connections, pings over fiber are typically 5ms compared with 20ms for a good ADSL connection (and potentially hundreds of milliseconds for shared cable internet).

  13. I rebutt the remark ABC is censoring. Thats just silly

    ABC meant to present a fair and balanced coverage. When you have angry and emotional people hijacking a highly produced TV show then becomes a issue when your trying to present a fair and balanced coverage according to ABC code of conduct

    What mean by balanced is. In the past Qanda spend 2 episodes talking about NBN because people was hijacking the show and not allowing other topic to be debated, Until producers and Tony said “Alright lets move on shall we. No more NBN questions”

    Since then they followed that policy and avoided the topic because open a pandora box. Entire episode NBN questions

      • What democracy? This mob only got in for the will of big business, Not for the will of the people!

    • They may not be “censoring” actively however they continue to have News Ltd propagandists on as guests/”expert commentators” for a broad swathe of their news based discussion oriented shows and allow them to peddle, with very little opposition, NBN myths and lies and generally bang the Murdoch/Liberal drum.

      Frankly I think it’s a disgrace, Our ABC should be the standard bearer for accurate and well researched journalism in this country!

    • Do you have any evidence that they spent 2 whole episodes talking about the NBN because I did not see those episodes normally there may be one token NBN question and that is all.

    • The comment about the ABC not letting issues hijack the Q&A show doesn’t match the reality. I saw an episode where the Kenneth Roth from Human Rights Watch was on the panel. They let a bigot ask one question where the guy displayed an extremely xenophobic view, and let him then ask several follow-up questions! It made me ashamed that such view are given an airing in such a forum.

    • Shutting down direct questions about the NBN from another panelist to the minister for communications is censorship. If this *National* show does not want to talk about the *National* Broadband Network on the *National* stage, then inviting the minister for communications is less than ideal.

      The show was used by a politician to further his own brand, the communications portfolio was neglected.

  14. The NBN isn’t really on the public agenda, because MSM isn’t putting it there.

    Fairfax isn’t covering it because the folks there are just happy if they can keep their job, so they cover “hot/current” topics.

    News Corpse isn’t covering it, because it doesn’t suit it’s editorial direction (insert conspiracy X, Y or Z here).

    IMHO, this is one of the major reasons MSM as a whole are going down the drain. They either don’t cover stuff I’m interested in, or they are so hyper-partisan that the “news” they deliver is tainted to the point you can’t form a valid opinion on the matter because either the article has half the facts missing or it’s actually an opinion piece, not a news story.

    • Pretty near spot on Tinman..
      I don’t read “papers” anymore. Too biased, lacking detail, lacking truth, lacking fact checking. I do all my news reading via Google News.. At least that way, I can pick a selection of sources for verification. Or find pieces that msm often don’t cover.. Ie Nbn.
      Yes. Msm is appaling .. Explains why News Corpse is bleeding profits..

    • @ tinman.au
      If MSM supported the real NBN, it would be perceived to jeopardise the printed media sector.

      • MSM should have been looking for ways to adjust to the disruption of the Internet over a decade ago, instead they were lazy and thought their rivers of gold would last forever.

        No doubt someone in MSM will work out a viable model eventually, people still want news, MSM just needs to work out a way to monetise it without being greedy.

        The area that will be hardest to find a model for will be investigative journalism though, those guys spend a lot of time tracking leads and tips down, then checking everything. They may not be able to afford to do that without some sort of support from another area.

  15. I’ve always wanted the NBN, but I wanted it done better and more cheaply by a Coalition government. I live in a heavily built-up area, with telephone lines and Telstra’s cable passing my gate, but I can’t have either, as Telstra lack the technology to pass a 1 metre concrete path into the house. Therefore, I have to live with expensive, limited wireless.
    I voted for the Coalition, as I expected them to put an NBN box on my wall before the Second Coming, but it looks as though Turnbull and his mob are no better than Senator Luddite and Senator Conroy.
    Our only hope is to keep switching governments until one of them gets smart enough to do what we vote them in for.

    • I believe the Liberal plan for folks like you is to give you HFC, you’ll just need to wait till they negotiate that deal with Telstra. They were pretty clear about that even pre-election.

      • “I believe the Liberal plan for folks like you is to give you HFC”.
        Thanks, Tinman. That’s music to my ears. I admit that I’ve grown way beyond frustration during the last 10 years, but I’ll be a happy little Vegemite, if you’re right.
        My impression is that most of the Abbott government’s problems are due to them being so slow out of the starting blocks, but they do seem to avoid the impulsive and often stupid decisions of their predecessors.

        • Are you being serious DrBob? The Coalition’s plan is to systematically destroy the NBN in the least politically dangerous way. Good luck waiting for Telstra to give the government a good deal on buying all of their infrastructure, it’ll never happen, the best you will get is a shit deal and high monthly usage costs as a result. This all assumes that you will even get the network before it can be sold off. So, even if you get something it will only be, at most, a marginal improvement with much higher associated costs.

          The Coalition aren’t going to rollout anything for less than Labor, they’re just going to push the costs onto your monthly bills. All for a network that will not only pay for itself but make a return for the government.

          • Well said, Ben, but I did say “I’ll be a happy little Vegemite, if (IF) you’re right”. I’m not holding my breath, as the coalition’s record on technology is pathetic and I believe that I’ll have to wait for yet another change of government before I join the 21st century. It’s sad that democracy was such a failure and I don’t look forward to much joy under our plutocratic oligarchy. If the eventual NBN has to come with extravagance and incompetence, so be it!

        • Unfortunately, it’s not really good news if you want that access in a reasonable time frame Bob. It took NBNCo 18months to negotiate just the ducts of Telstra, this time Malcolm wants the whole thing, plus the HFC network.

          Once (if?) he get that, he’ll then get his FTTN plan rolling, and then he’ll look at other things like expanding HFC (if he thinks it needs it).

          There is a pretty good chance you’ll actually be waiting longer than it would have taken Labor to get fibre to you…

    • Had you been reading these Delimiter forums pre election you would never have voted Coalition!

  16. Hi Renai,

    I think that you should be submitting articles to The Guardian’s comment-is-free, adding your weight to Van Badham’s. The message will get through if it is repeated enough.

    • I have enough on my plate writing for Delimiter ;) Plus, I don’t think anyone is going to pay me to write for The Guardian! Or at least, not very much ;)

    • I have to agree, getting Renai’s broader NBN articles onto the Guardian or some of his D2.0 style articles into the “Saturday Paper” would be enormously beneficial.

      Perhaps Renai you could volunteer a couple of your articles to each of them to whet their appetites and prove the interest is their for a regular paid Tech spot (whithout you giving them exclusive content)?

      • “volunteer”

        Sorry mate, I don’t really tend to work for free. One of the main reasons I have my own site is so that I can:

        1. Control the content
        2. Get paid more if I do better work

        At this stage of my life I don’t really see a huge point to giving away my writing.

        • I know you bristle at the word “free”, I want you to get paid for your work too – just thinking out loud and appreciate that not all of our suggestions are palatable to you or indeed practical.

          Please just take away the message that we would like to see you get access to a broader audience via progressive publications such as the Guardian / Saturday Paper as we think your work needs to be seen outside the Tech community. If you can find a way to accomplish this without sacrificing your time for nothing or invading your family time imo (2c worth) it would be worthwhile.

          • hey mate,

            I know a lot of Delimiter readers want to see my work in mainstream media outlets. But that’s not the kind of journalist I am. I write for a certain specific audience and that’s the way I like it.

            Readers may want to bear in mind that I have spent a great deal of time writing for more mainstream audiences in the past, especially when I used to work for the Financial Review. I never found that it worked out that well — I have far more influence and readership now that I have my own site focused on one specific thing.

            If you want to see my style of article published in mainstream media so much, why don’t you write those style of articles yourself and send them in to those media outlets? ;)


          • “I know a lot of Delimiter readers want to see my work in mainstream media outlets. But that’s not the kind of journalist I am. I write for a certain specific audience and that’s the way I like it.”

            Fair enuf :-)

            If you want to see my style of article published in mainstream media so much, why don’t you write those style of articles yourself and send them in to those media outlets? ;)

            Because by comparison I’m a talentless hack, I write dry uninteresting ITIL based process documents and that’s about the extent of my skills. :-(

            Btw, What’s Nick Ross doing these days? perhaps he would be better appreciated at the afore mentioned publications than he was at the ABC as he seems to have fallen off a cliff since the Libs gained power – the conspiracy theorist in me thinks he’s been shoved into an ABC basement with no internet connection so the ABC dont incur the Abbott governments wrath? (ABC self censorship?)

      • I tell you what, why don’t you start a Pozible/Kickstarter effort. If you raise enough money, you can commission me to write articles for you and then publish them wherever you want. I’ll set a rate at 75c per word, which I think is decent for someone of my seniority — you can choose on what topic :)

  17. I wonder to what degree mainstream journalists see “The Internet” as competition for their traditional media role.

    Everyone’s always talking about how the mass media is being reduced to irrelevance by the internet… so is it really surprising that they’d be cynical or negative about any proposed network improvements?

  18. Two months ago NBN Co. Installed two cables each with 288 glass fibres down my street, Belvior Street Surry Hills.

    Now there is are Lend Lease trucks installing HFC on the power poles on the other side of the road.

    Why use the already installed Fibre which is cheap to operate when you can spend a fortune installing new HFC cable to fill in this hfc area and maintain it.

    After all those 528 by 2.488/1.244 gbps cables giving well over a million megabits per second and switch over to a single HFC cable for the area, getting at most 1,000 megabits second when upgraded to docsis3.1, so likely only be a few 100 megabits second. Wow that is 0.01% the speed of what is already installed!!

    This MTM is a nightmare.

    • If it’s HFC, it’s nothing to do with the NBN, they haven’t finished negotiating with Telstra /Optus yet.

      • But it will be and NBN will end up paying for it and under the MALCo model the fibre will be left to rot.
        Must ensure maximum market exposure/availabilty for a particular PAY TV organisation

  19. Meanwhile, the rollout is proceeding at something much slower than snail pace. Under the previous plan, my area would have been finished by September this year. Now, it is not even planned. In the whole of Adelaide, there are only three brownfield areas under construction.

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