There’s this little story about procrastination I read somewhere about 2 boys that passed a house each day after school. Each day that they walked past the house, one would ask the other, ‘I wonder what’s on the other side of that fence?’ So that same question kept getting asked day in day out, until one day his mate simply grabbed his hat and threw it over the fence.
‘What did you do that for?” asked the inquisitive one. ‘Well…’ said the other, ‘…you always wanted to know what was on the other side, now you have a reason to find out.’
Now boys and girls, what does all that mean? Well, as I’ve been following the developments of Australia’s $43 billion National Broadband Network (NBN), I couldn’t help but think of Kevin Rudd as being the inquisitive boy in my (very very) short story. Certainly as far as developed countries go, our sunburnt country is several rungs below countries like Singapore and Korea for example, and this plan for a NBN has been around since Coonan was fighting Telstra for Howard, but what has caught my attention is how it has leaped from a fibre to the node project to a fibre to the home project.
What that means is that, the original plan was to have new fibre optical cables laid from internet gateways to exchanges, in our case that would be like laying fibre from the Tiare gateway to the Boroko Exchange. The idea then was that ISP’s would then be able to fight over customers in how they connected houses and people from the exchange to customers locations.
The new plan now by Rudd is to forget fibre to the node but to take fibre right into people’s homes. The idea, to connect 90 percent of Australian homes, schools and workplaces with broadband speeds of up to 100 Mbps. It seems as though Rudd must have pondered and pondered on how best to do this and then he finally threw his hat over the fence and said lets go all out on this. This has obviously alarmed several politicians in the opposite camp like Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull who has accused Rudd of pushing a product to the public before he knew it would be profitable. The opposition leader went on to say that if Mr Rudd was a businessman he’d be in the hot seat at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission “very quickly”.
Politics and cautionary sentiments aside, an investment in infrastructure for a modern essential such as internet access is crucial. This will be the largest Australian infrastructure project since the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. The project will see the creation of a new wholesale-only fibre optic network across Australia and the government-majority owned National Broadband Network Corporation will work in partnership with the private sector over the next 7-8 years to build the network across regional and capital cities. Rudd has said that they plan to sell-off its stake in the operations within five years of it being established so that it “… injects a new player into the broadband market… a national, wholesale, open access broadband network.” Rudd also said that “it sets up a path for economic recovery and building a 21st century economy with 21st century jobs,” this will be achieved by the fact that the NBN will provide 25,000 jobs every year during the lifetime of the project, and up to 37,000 jobs during its peak. It should also add $37 billion to GDP.
Now if only our politicians in PNG could be this inquisitive about throwing their hats over the fence? What if we could stop procrastinating and fiddling with short term goals and what if we could start looking at 10 year or 20 year plans? If you added up all the money lost in misappropriation and all the money spent on projects and expenses that were not core to the Medium Term Development Strategy, then I would love to see some 6-7 figure sums that we could commit to a fibre to the home project here in PNG.
Yes its true that the majority of our population lives in the rural parts of PNG, but the most productive people in the formal economy and all our major educational institutions are all based in towns and cities. If they could be more productive, then you can imagine the flow on effects to the rest of the informal sector.
Our two LNG projects are not the be all and end all of our country’s economy. They are simply stepping stones for us to invest in the future. And by our future I mean our people. If Australia is looking at an estimated increase in GDP of $37 billion from a $43 billion investment and you spread the Returns on Invesment over 15-20 years. Hell, why not??!! I’ll grab a politicians sulu and throw it over the fence!