NBP: we are not alone

Fibre optic cable
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When it comes to complex infrastructure programmes, we are in good company

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28 June 2019 | 0

The recent intervention by Eir in the National Broadband Plan (NBP), from which it withdrew in January of 2018, has raised its fair share of eyebrows.

Not least because it has led many to ask why its suggestion wasn’t made when it was still part of the process. Nevertheless, it has reignited controversy over the cost of the programme.

At a 5G conference in Sydney, Huawei’s Soldani told delegates that high-speed broadband for all Australians “is just not going to happen”

This hack has said, unequivocally, that the NBP is needed and should be done, but that on the one hand, it will not be a panacea for all ills, but will be transformative for business in this country.

However, as bemoan the apparent Irishness of the situation of rising costs, creeping scopes and political wrangling, it is worth pointing out that we are not the only ones struggling with this very topic.

No less a state than Australia has been wrestling with just this issue for more than od five years now.

It has been described as “the largest infrastructure project in Australia’s history,” and has arisen as a political football both in times of normal session and at election time for the country’s politicians.

The National Broadband Network (NBN) was to have started going live by 2016, with the NBN company expected to have eventual revenues of some Aus $5.5 billion.

Needles to say, that didn’t happen. Delays, cost overruns, reviews and debates have all come together to have David Soldani, Huawei Australia’s chief technology officer, label it a “catastrophe” that has “failed to deliver on its promise”. At a 5G conference in Sydney, where Soldani told delegates that high-speed broadband for all Australians “is just not going to happen”.

The expected delivery date of 2016 for the Multi-Technology Mix (MTM) option was pushed out — after an election funny enough — to 2019, and later again to 2020. The programme cost has crept steadily upward from an initial estimated Aus $29.5 billion, strangely enough, before a 2013 federal election in 2013, to some Aus $46 billion afterward, before heading for Aus $56 billion. This was revised downward by the NBN company in 2016 to Aus $49 billion, but crept back by late 2018 to Aus $51 billion, according to Wikipedia, citing various sources.

Rohan Pearce, writing for IDG’s Computerworld, reports the NBN company is now projecting revenue of Aus $3.9 billion in FY20, down $1 billion from previous forecasts.

One would not be so petty as to suggest any kind of schadenfreude, but it is at least comforting to know that Ireland is not the only country struggling with such an initiative.

However, there was another nugget that jumped out from the reportage in the issue.

In Pearce’s article, he quotes the NBN company CEO, Stephen Rue: “This is driven by the take up of NBN services, which we continue to forecast at 73 to 75% cent of all homes and businesses.”

This is very significant.

I had written about the fact that in Ireland currently, take up of broadband and the facilities it enables among smaller businesses has been very poor, even where decent broadband is available. 

A 70%-plus uptake among homes and business would be a fantastic result here.

I remain sceptical. I think there is an important job of work to enlighten and convince smaller businesses of the need, nay the imperative, to take up broadband and use it wisely. Many businesses still don’t see the need for the kind of communication, interaction, and commercial opportunities that can only be facilitated by good quality broadband. Until they are convinced of the need to have a digital
presence and channels, they will never avail of them themselves.

Until they are convinced of the need to have a digital presence and channels, they will never avail of them themselves.

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