In 2009, then-Prime Minister and Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd launched the National Broadband Network — building fibre infrastructure to 93 per cent of Australian homes, the largest public works project in Australian history. In the last eight years, though, the NBN has transformed drastically — including a fundamental change in design after the 2013 election won by Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party. After a few years in the wilderness, Kevin Rudd is back in the spotlight, and he's throwing shade at the farce he thinks the NBN has become.
The 2014 overhaul of the National Broadband Network switched the majority of the network design from fibre to the premises (FTTP) to fibre to the node (FTTN), as well as introducing the 'multi-technology mix' of existing installed hybrid fibre-coaxial cables like the ones used for Telstra and Optus' pay TV networks.
That move has been plagued with headaches, including long waits for installations, a technology divide between different connections, and wildly variable speeds for similar connections on the fibre to the node network. The all-fibre FTTP network was no darling either, though — with cost overruns for early installations the latest catch-cry for critics of the plan.
The Prime Minister behind the original NBN design spoke to the ABC last night and lambasted the current state of play — and specifically targeting the now-PM Malcolm Turnbull, telling him: "the changes all lie on your head."
LEIGH SALES: One of your major policies, the National Broadband Network, is in the news today. Its CEO says it may never turn a profit. There are acres of customer complaints about its operation.
Did the Labor Party saddle the nation with a white elephant?
KEVIN RUDD: Well, Leigh, you know as well as I do that's a grossly unfair question, because what we launched as the National Broadband Network was fibre optic to the premises nationwide, because it would be that model which actually delivered the revenue stream long-term to make the NBN financially sustainable. And it was that on which it was modelled.
So what did Abbott and Turnbull then do? They turned it on its head and made it fibre optic not to the premises but to the node: that mystical point somewhere in the neighbourhood. So, in other words, they changed the model completely.
And the reason why people are not taking it up is because what we find is that people don't see the advantage in terms of reliable bandwidth and band speed on the ground.
I note in passing that the position adopted by the conservatives in the 2013 election seems to have been identical with that preferred by News Limited. It's I think a matter of historical record that News Limited did not want the National Broadband Network; that News Limited did not want fibre optic to the premises.
And the reason they didn't want that was because it would provide direct competition to the Foxtel cable television network in this country from service delivery companies like Netflix.
And so, mysteriously, by some act of God, the Liberal Party found itself adopting the same position as Mr Murdoch. I wonder why?
LEIGH SALES: So, in summary: Malcolm Turnbull is on the attack in Parliament this afternoon, making the point that I made, that: is it a white elephant? Your response, in a nutshell?
KEVIN RUDD: You changed horse in mid-stream. What we had planned and began to rollout was perfectly designed for this nation's needs: fibre optic to the home, to the premises, to the shop, to the school, to the hospital.
You cut that off. Frankly, the changes lie all on your head.