The NBN rollout has failed. Here's how we fix it

Telecommunications infrastructure — or the internet — is the backbone of the knowledge economy and critical to shaping smart cities.

Our major telecommunications infrastructure project — the National Broadband Network — is widely considered to be failing, but it is not failing all equally.

Reports of ongoing delays, and mixed quality and poor final speeds, have made it difficult for the NBN to reach its full potential.

Numerous media reports show incompetency in construction and rollout, which is unacceptable for national infrastructure of this scale.

Moreover, mixed-technology NBN is rolling out different quality service. There are clear winners and losers.

On a broader scale, regional Australia is losing. On a fine grain scale, quality of service for the fibre to the node option in each locality pretty much depends on how far you are from the node.

Indeed, research shows the NBN rollout was politically motivated and socioeconomically biased from the beginning.

Experts in state governments were overlooked

The failure of the NBN is partly due to the political treatment of the national infrastructure.

However, previous research shows a lack of integration between the NBN and broader planning, especially at the strategic and metropolitan level, since day one.

Since the introduction of the NBN eight years ago, the federal government has shown interest in capitalising on some of the potentials of the infrastructure (via policies such as National Digital Economy, and Advancing Australia as a Digital Economy).

But there was never any clear role defined for the state governments that traditionally govern urban and regional planning.

Interestingly, the main federally funded initiatives to support the NBN (mostly introduced by the previous Labor government) reached out to the local governments and not the state governments.

This lack of connection between strategic planning and the NBN means clear targets for social and economic success were not defined.

This is definitely a missed opportunity.

This is not the fault of just one party

Infrastructure is one the major pillars of urban and regional planning, alongside socio-spatial equity and economic development.

In the case of NBN, we are dealing with Australia's most dominant telecommunication infrastructure project and it has clear implications for economic development and social equity.

Yet we have somehow managed to reduce it to an engineering-only project with a strong political sideshow.

It would be convenient to blame one political party for the NBN failure.

But what we need instead is a first generation of "telecommunication planners" to work alongside transport planners, social planners, economic planners, water planners and energy planners to think through these implications for major national infrastructure.

We must restore confidence in the NBN

Telecommunication planners are the key to bringing confidence back to our city governance.

They would give telecommunication the attention it deserves — as critical infrastructure of today and tomorrow — in our strategic planning.

We need to account for it in our employment planning, economic growth and social equity debates.

This is the way forward, so the full benefits of mixed-technology NBN for our cities and regions can be understood.

We should put cities and people back into our policy making around innovation and smart cities.

Originally published by Dr Tooran Alizade, on ABC News. Dr Tooran Alizadeh is an interdisciplinary academic from the University of Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning.

Photo credit: The NBN is critical infrastructure, but it hasn't meshed well with strategic planning. (ABC News: Elizabeth Byrne)

 

 

 

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