Two years into the job as head of NBN Co, Twisted Wire spends half an hour with Mike Quigley to talk about his role and the progress of the nation’s biggest ever infrastructure project.
Quigley is clearly enjoying his role, despite some of the challenges it provides. “There’s a sense in the company that we are doing something that’s important to the nation,” he says, “and that’s very satisfying.”
When it comes to challenges, politics is almost certainly the biggest obstacle. He admits the magnitude of debate around the project has taken him aback, but suggests most of the discussion from politicians has been around competition policy. “I don’t pretend to be a competition expert, I’m a network builder,” he says, although we know that politicians, Malcolm Turnbull in particular, are questioning the philosophy of such a widespread fibre deployment.
On the prospect of a change in government, Quigley says that becomes a question for when it happens. In the meantime, he says, NBN Co “needs to proceed to execute on the plan that it has agreed with the government of the day”. He says he hasn’t been meeting with Malcolm Turnbull or other opposition members to discuss alternatives, outside Senate hearings and joint parliamentary committees.
Quigley’s focus on delivering to government objectives is understandable — it is his one and only shareholder. But that task is being made harder with so many shifting goalposts, not least of which is the deal with Telstra. The extent to which NBN Co uses Telstra infrastructure is dependent on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission agreeing on Telstra’s approach to wholesale and retail separation. So, will delays such as this ultimately push back the roll-out schedule? Quigley says it has been necessary to suspend things but, he says, “we haven’t reached anywhere near the point where we are spinning our wheels”. In other words he expects the project to continue on schedule and within budget, at least for now.
Several Twisted Wire listeners asked why Alcatel was chosen for GPON equipment, when Alcatel still had some development work to do. Well, no vendor met all the requirements of the project, according to Quigley, so whoever was chosen would have had more development work to do. But why Alcatel, was this a case of jobs for the boys? Quigley’s quick to point out that he was removed from the decision-making process, given the potential for conflict of interest.
There are many more topics covered in the program, from the selection of first release sites, to the decommissioning of HFC networks and the danger of building a company that has the same cultural difficulties experienced by Telstra and other large monopolies.