Play stupid games, win stupid prizes

From the Australian Financial Review, 29-30 July – ‘Slow Connections’:

When Stephen Sims hears one of his clients is getting the National Broadband Network installed, he sends them a wireless router and a 4G dongle.

“The NBN connections have been causing us so much pain, we just assume now that we’ll need an emergency back-up,” the chief executive of Brennan IT, which runs information technology for over 1000 Australian businesses, told AFR Weekend.

Mr Sims recounts multiple situations where NBN technicians have not shown up at the appointed time, only for the monopoly to then reschedule for days or weeks later.

“In the meantime they have shut off the ADSL, there’s no service level agreement, so it’s chaos. One of our clients is a jeweller, staffed by teenagers selling mainly to teenagers, and for days they were using credit card imprinters and writing paper receipts that none of them knew existed before.” …

Of the 2,010,210 premises which had ‘activated’ their NBN connection as at the end of March 2017, out of 4,621,404 premises ‘passed’, 82 per cent have opted for plans offering speeds of either 25 megabits per second (mbps) for download and 5 mbps for upload, or 12 mbps on downloads and 1 mbps on upload.

“For the same money in New Zealand you will get 100 mbps,” said ASsociate Professor Mark Gregory, from the School of Engineering at RMIT University.

There has been a blame game going on between the NBN Co and its retail service providers over Australia’s relatively expensive household and small business internet plans, for average speeds which recently fell out of the top 50 countries in the world …

“[NBN Co chief executive] Bill Morrow can talk all he wants about internet service providers not buying enough bandwidth to deliver the speeds they want. What he won’t talk about is that design imposed on him by the government means that people more than 400 metres from a node can never get the speed they want even if the ISP buys enough bandwidth to provide it,” [disgruntled NBN user David Vernon] said …

The heavy reliance on FTTN would become “a train wreck” as data consumption continued to grow, said founder of NBN reseller Barfoot Telecom, David Fazio.

“You’ve got data consumption growing at 51 per cent year-on-year; people are crying out for faster speeds but we can’t afford to give it to them at a price they will accept,” he said. BArefoot offers a 100mbps download speed plan at $100 a month, but tells any customer on a FTTN connection to start with a 25 mbps plan and work up from there if their experience is good.

“Anywhere copper is involved, that’s where you get the complaints,” he said.

And from the same newspaper’s 22-23 July edition – from the aptly named column ‘NBN complaints? We’re receiving what we voted for’, by Paul Smith:

Suddenly you cannot turn around for stories about Australians dissatisfied with their broadband lot …

The problem is that now the previously ill-informed or disinterested public are seeing the NBN in their own streets instead of in headlines that they flock past, they aren’t happy with what we have collectively signed up for.

Complaints can be split largely into three camps: those that have been connected and are realising that the experience is largely similar to or even worse than they already had (when’s the brave new future coming?!); those that have been connected and had it messed up by NBN, their internet service provider or both (can I have my old internet switched back on, please?); and those that are still waiting for any sign that the NBN is coming to them and are feeling increasingly like they are in an endless queue at a food stand, where they can already see people ahead of them spitting the food in the bin …

We are finally seeing the reality of a flawed policy being realised, with the frustrating thing being that there has been no shortage of people pointing out that it was flawed to begin with.

One of the country’s most knowledgable internet entrepreneurs, Bevan Slattery, has told the government that to get the job done properly they must stop forcing NBN to make a commercial return. That way NBN could stop charging ISPs so much and make higher speeds more affordable.

However, there is away too much political water under the bridge to make that a feasible move for either party, because whichever treasurer or finance minister puts the NBN on the books will have big deficit numbers to explain to a population that doesn’t understand enough not to simply bloame the government of the day.

So we are stuck with the situation we have today. Great, isn’t it?

Plenty of the people who are now complaining voted for the government to be doing exactly what it is doing, and probably tut-tutted along as shock jocks spoke of Labor’s “white elephant” NBN …

The ironic thing is that Labor’s initial NBN plan was electorally popular, so feasibly they could have sold it as a necessary infrastructure investment in the nation’s future, without all the ROI nonsense to begin with. It’s not like the promised national surplus arrived anyway.

The National Broadband Network was ill-conceived from conception: an idea dreamt up in a short conversation between two ill-informed, cynical morons seeking to solve a political problem which, although simple, was well beyond their intellectual upper threshold – how to solve the problem of a telecommunications monopolist which, under Sol Trujillo, was acting like a monopolist?

And that problem was the result of an inexcusably poor decision by the Howard government in 1997 to privatise the telecommunications monopolist without splitting it into an infrastructure company and a service company.

I was only a mediocre economics student at the time, and even I could see this was a dumb idea that would create no end of problems in future.

And so, twenty years later, here we are. And ordinary Australians wonder why the quality and speed of their internet connections – when they are working! – are deteriorating. They can’t fathom that the reason for their frustrations stems from two poor decisions made by two relatively new prime ministers, one twenty years ago, one seven (I think) years ago.

Note that both of those prime ministers live well off both public pensions and the money that accrues to them from private institutions as a result of their time in the Lodge. They don’t lose a wink of sleep over the problems that they created for ordinary Australians.

Decisions have consequences. Some more important than others. Best to spend the time getting them right.

For those with an interest in this subject: my December 2015 post on the NBN clusterfrack.


About Stebbing Heuer

A person interested in exploring human perception, reasoning, judgement and deciding, and in promoting clear, effective thinking and the making of good decisions.
This entry was posted in Critical Thinking, Decision-making, Epistemic Rationality, Esau Problem, Instrumental Rationality, Moral Hazard, Principal-Agent Problems, Prize for Myopia, Sunk Cost Fallacy. Bookmark the permalink.

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