NBN Study: Were the right questions asked?

Earlier this month, the Australian government released the implementation study for the National Broadband Network.  The scope of the study was to:

“advise Government on how best to implement its stated policy objectives, not to evaluate those objectives, given that the policies have already been agreed by Government. This report therefore focuses on translating high-level policy objectives into tangible actions for both Government and NBN Co to implement. Explicitly, it does not:

  • Evaluate Government’s policy objectives;
  • Evaluate the decision to implement the NBN via the establishment of NBN Co;
  • Undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the macro-economic and social benefits that would result from the implementation of a superfast broadband network.” (NBN Implementation Study, 06/05/2010)

The report is clearly directed at answering the question of how to deliver the NBN in a way that meets the governments policy objectives. It very explicitly states that out of scope is if the NBN should be built, or built according to the governments objectives.

There’s a couple of ways to look at the decision to define the scope this way.

If you’re engaging expensive consultants like McKinsey and KPMG, you want to make sure you’re getting value for money. As I’ve argued in the case of engaging competitive intelligence specialists,

“To get the most value out of CI, the decision you’re engaging CI to help answer should be one that is still to be made, and not something that’s already been decided. (MinimalState 01/04/2010)

On this basis, DBCDE ‘s decision to request an implementation study, rather than a cost-benefit analysis, looks like a  smart move.  It’s a  smart use of resources – since the report addresses decisions still to be made;  and politicly astute – since there’s no chance of the report coming out with the ‘wrong’ answer. DBCDE has arguably asked the right questions in terms of making sure the NBN gets built in the way that best meets the stated policy objective.

Unfortunately, without some form of cost-benefit analysis, we’re no closer to knowing if the objectives the government are pursing are the right ones.

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