Turnbull: The NBN is still a risky undertaking

On Friday the Communications Alliance staged a workshop to discuss the latest recommendations from the Vertigan Review. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull sat alongside economist Henry Ergas, NBNCo CEO Bill Morrow and Opticomm’s Chief Regulatory officer Phil Smith.

Although there weren’t too many surprises – infact, none – it was a useful discussion for taking stock of the issues currently on the table.

One is risk. Malcolm Turnbull flagged it. Delivering a project of this size is still not a foregone conclusion. Bill Morrow talks about his escalating rollout expectations and, though achievable, will be made more difficult if the landscape changes. That could include TPG – and possibly others – rolling out their own last mile solutions. Which gets down to the need for strong regulatory controls. Henry Ergas says, however good the cost benefit analysis is (he seems to think it’s very good), it amounts to very little if the project is rolled out with the wrong regulatory and governance framework.

That’s a teaser, perhaps, for the morsels contained in the next paper to come from the Vertigan panel – the one we hoped would be released by now, but Malcolm Turnmbull has to show it to the Cabinet first.

There’s also some further discussion – following on from Crosstalk a couple of weeks ago – about the value of willingness to pay as a measure of social benefit. Strictly applied, the findings of the cost-benefit analysis show the benefit in regional Australia is outweighed by the cost. In that case, why build it?

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