opinion/analysis by Renai LeMay
7 November 2013
The rapid replacement of respected NBN Co chief operating officer Ralph Steffens with a Telstra executive who appears less experienced with fibre rollouts but better politically connected represents a key signal that NBN Co’s senior executive hiring process has now become completely politicised and is no longer independent from the Federal Government.
When NBN Co hired its outgoing chief operating officer Ralph Steffens in November 2011, then-NBN Co chief executive officer Mike Quigley rightly praised the former BT executive for his skills and experience with major fibre network rollouts. And why not? After all, as NBN Co pointed out at the time, Steffens was directly involved with two major networks in Europe — the ongoing upgrade and oversight of some of BT’s infrastructure and the delivery of a 15,000km, 12 country fibre rollout for COLT Telecom.
At the time, Quigley said: “As an experienced telecommunications executive who has presided over major network rollouts across Europe, Ralph is ideally suited to the role of overseeing this vital upgrade of Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure.”
Steffens’ appointment was regarded as a coup for NBN Co. After all, skills in large-scale network infrastructure deployments are extremely hard to find in Australia. With neither Telstra or Optus (or, for that matter anyone else) really having conducted any large scale fibre network deployments in Australia since the rollout of the HFC cable networks in the late 1990′s, it would be logical for NBN Co to look overseas for such skills. Quigley’s own experience was mainly garnered in the US.