Academic challenges Turnbull over NBN satellite criticism

Turnbull's comments on capacity and cost challenged

Turnbull’s criticism of the $620 million two high-capacity satellites that NBN Co and Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) will build to provide remote Australian communities with high-speed broadband has been challenged by satellite technology expert, Elias Aboutanios.

Turnbull has condemned NBN Co's contract as “wasteful” due to the satellites' spare capacity, and costly. But Aboutanios, a senior lecturer who specialises in satellite systems engineering at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), said this depends on whether it is being assessed against today's usage or the future's usage.

Aboutanios said the satellites' potential may make the cost appropriate. “When you’re evaluating the appropriateness of spending of money, it depends on what criteria you’re evaluating that by," he said. "If you look at the Opposition’s criticism, what the Opposition looks at is the cost now per household. Whereas, if you take into account, for example, the potential that these satellites might open — which is nearly impossible to predict — the cost might become acceptable when you look at the benefits."

Aboutanios said criticism of the capacity of the satellites being “wasteful” is difficult to sustain, as this is only looking at it from a short-term point of view.

“Having the spare capacity could be a great thing if applications to fill that capacity are spawned by the availability of that capacity. At the moment, if all you want to do is cater for the people that are already in need, then you can argue that it is wasteful. But if you want to invest for the future, then it’s difficult to make that criticism… It’s really difficult to make that criticism unless you’re judging it by today’s needs."

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