Yesterday’s announcements by NBNCo of its contracts with Optus and Telstra, and the Federal Government’s allied announcements about changes to Australia’s Universal Service Obligations, seem on reflection an astonishing win for all concerned.
The reality is that Australia has an existing copper network with Telstra, competing broadband networks with Telstra and Optus, shareholder obligations, political considerations, and the historical reality of an existing network that’s been in place for decades, all competing for headspace.
(Oh that we were an emerging or backward nation without any infrastructure at all. We could then simply build the one we do need for the future.)
After yesterday’s announcements, the market, presumably in the form of investment speculators, marked down Telstra’s share price, even though the $2 billion cost claimed in the media as the reason for this also seems to have been factored in.
In reality of course, it was a predictable knee-jerk reaction to an announcement that inevitably affects Telstra’s future financial performance.
So be it. As noted above, reality is reality. All those with considerable vested interests will undoubtedly fight their corners for every form of compensation or certainty they can win. I would not expect anything else.
But let’s remind everyone who does have a vested interest, which ultimately means either a political or a financial interest, that they invested either financial or political capital in the knowledge that nothing is certain, nothing is forever, and the world now changes more rapidly than perhaps they realized.
By the far the most obvious examples of this are the Telstra privatization tranches of the 1990s and early 2000s. The explosion of the use of the Internet, here and around the world, was still in the future, along with the use of wifi and wireless broadband and the emergence of smart mobile devices that continue to accelerate its use still further. We couldn’t (and didn’t) make these successful predictions then. And so to predict the market, consumer and technological trends 5-10 years from today would be foolhardy, so let’s not pretend that we can.
Overriding all of these considerations, realities and interests must sit the nation-building vision and commitment to build the infrastructure that protects Australia’s competitive future. I know it’s an open-ended declaration when stated this way. But it’s clear from yesterday’s contract announcements that in fact it’s not open-ended at all. It’s a commitment, and a vision, built on the realities noted above, that negotiates with the vested interests, and seeks to do so with the speed generally regarded as being vital to our future.
And this commitment to the future must resist the daily reactions of individual vested interests, even as the government and NBNCo as its appointed entity continue to negotiate in the real world.