ITEM: A scathing article from Bloomberg last week blasted Australia’s national broadband network (NBN) project as “a poster child for government mismanagement” and an international embarrassment in terms of broadband speeds.
Since the NBN was launched by the Australian government in 2009, the project has been plagued by delays, cost overruns, and political infighting over what technologies to implement, among other things. According to Bloomberg, the original plan was to spend A$43 billion to connect almost every home and enterprise with fiber by 2017. Now, in the final quarter of 2017, the NBN won’t be finished until 2020 and is expected to cost between A$47 billion and A$51 billion.
Meanwhile, the Australian media is top-loaded with complaints from customers about having no NBN connection despite being promised their home is ready to be connected, problems with installation, and of course, internet speeds that aren’t exactly what you would call fast. The latest State Of The Internet report (Q1 2017) from Akamai says that average fixed broadband speeds in Australia are a little over 11 Mbps – which is actually a 26% improvement year on year.
Even so, Australia currently ranks 50th globally in average fixed broadband speeds, according to Akamai. According to Bloomberg, some customers are giving up on fixed broadband and turning to mobile instead. (The Akamai report found that Australia’s average mobile broadband speeds are somewhat faster at 15.7 Mbps.)
Bill Morrow, chief executive of nbn co, is of course having none of it. From Bloomberg:
To be sure, Morrow says NBN Co. will ultimately be “on the right side of history.” As the former Vodafone Group Plc executive released his latest business plan in August, he said the network was more than fast enough for most users and can be upgraded to meet demand for higher speeds.
“NBN has hit its operational targets for the last 13 reporting quarters – we are on track to complete the project as promised in 2020,” NBN said in an email. The network’s mix of technologies has allowed it to start delivering services and recouping taxpayer funds much sooner than would have been possible under a nationwide fiber rollout, NBN said.
Australian communications minister Mitch Fifield is having even less of it. You can read his rebuttal to the Bloomberg article here.
Even so, Australia’s NBN seems doomed to be a punching bag for critics, if only because it has always been as much a political issue as a technology issue. But it’s not just that – it’s also a classic example of overpromising and underdelivering. That’s bad enough when it’s an operator rolling out a new whiz-bang service. It’s worse when you do it on the taxpayer’s dime.