news Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has told his opposite Malcolm Turnbull to “stop hiding” and release the Coalition’s rival broadband policy, as Australians “deserve to know” the basics of how the Coalition would handle the portfolio if it won the next Federal Election.
In mid-August, the Financial Review quoted Turnbull as stating that the Coalition had a fully costed policy document “ready” to be released, based along similar lines as the fibre to the node rollout currently being implemented in the UK. Turnbull also slammed certain “specialist technology journalists” who he said were “fanning a pro-NBN zealotry among tech-savvy citizens”. Conroy has previously called on Turnbull to release the policy, and yesterday renewed his attack on the Liberal MP, in a new statement entitled “Turnbull should stop hiding and release his broadband plans in detail”.
Conroy said Australians deserved to know how much the Coalition’s rival policy would cost, what broadband speeds would be guaranteed under the plan, what the coverage footprint would look like, whether Turnbull was proposing to build “a government-owned monopoly” and a range of other details.
“Last month Mr Turnbull asserted he has a fully costed broadband policy ready to go, but he has provided next to no detail,” Conroy said. “There are simple parts of his policy that he needs to explain to the Australian people. Does he accept that he is proposing to build a government owned monopoly, like he told the American Chamber of Commerce on 10 August? What speed can he genuinely guarantee to Australian consumers with his fibre to the node plan? Does he accept that speeds of up to 80 Mbps are unachievable if his nodes are up to 1000 metres from the customer?”
“Australians have a right to know what Mr Turnbull is planning for broadband in our country. After 1,093 tweets, 31 media releases and 14 public speeches in 2012 Mr Turnbull has not provided any detail on his policy or answers to any of the questions that are being asked of him.”
The Gillard Government’s current NBN policy being implemented by NBN Co predominantly focuses on using a fibre to the home rollout in which cables are deployed from centralised points (usually telephone exchanges) all the way to home or business premises around Australia. The Coalition’s rival plan appears to focus on using fibre to the node-style technology, in which fibre is deployed from telephone exchanges to neighbourhood cabinets or ‘nodes’, with the remaining distance to premises to be closed by the existing copper cable.
In the UK, BT is using a FTTN-style deployment to provide speeds of up to 80Mbps to two-thirds of UK premises by the end of 2014. Some areas are also being upgraded to FTTH infrastructure on demand.
The news also comes as Turnbull’s office has not responded to a list of questions regarding the Coalition’s FTTN plans forwarded to it last month, following a fact-checking exercise conducted by Delimiter into an article Turnbull published in July strongly pushing for the potential for the NBN project to be modified to focus on fibre to the node technology instead of its current fibre to the home rollout.
At the time, a consensus had appeared to develop amongst those commenting on the National Broadband Network project on Delimiter that Turnbull needed to provide more evidence that Fibre to the Node is the best style of broadband infrastructure rollout for Australia’s long-term telecommunications needs. The questions were:
- What international examples of FTTN-style broadband deployments do you consider most pertinent to the Australian situation, and why?
- How long do you estimate it would take, if the Coalition wins the next Federal Election, to deploy FTTN to more than 90 percent of the Australian population?
- What, specifically, do you estimate would be the cost difference between deploying FTTN and FTTH as part of the NBN rollout?
- Do you consider it possible to re-work the current Telstra/NBN contract to focus on FTTN instead of FTTH, and how long do you estimate this would take?
- What broad details of this contract would need to change, and how long do you anticipate the ACCC would take to approve a modified version?
- Do you have a long-term plan to upgrade a FTTN-style network to a FTTH-style network, or a medium-term plan to allow ad-hoc upgrades of this network to FTTH?
- What do you consider to be the time frame on which a FTTN-style network would continue to be used without an upgrade to FTTH? Will there, in fact, be a need to upgrade in the long-term to FTTH? On what evidence do you have these beliefs?
- How would you address the claim that FTTN is a short to medium-term technology that will be superceded over the next several decades by FTTH, and that Australia should only be investing for the long-term when it comes to this kind of telecommunications infrastructure? On what evidence do you feel this way?
Turnbull’s office did not immediately return a call requesting comment this morning.
The comments I wrote several weeks about this issue still stand:
It’s hard not to agree with Conroy that Turnbull should publish the Coalition’s rival NBN policy, if it has developed one and had it fully costed already. It is very hard to meaningfully debate the Coalition’s position on the issue without knowing what it is; and it is important that issue be debated at length before the next Federal Election. The differences in the two sides of politics’ broadband policies was a key deciding factor in the previous 2010 Federal Election, according to a study conducted by the Liberal Party into the results.
It is time that Turnbull released the Coalition’s rival NBN policy. I and many others are tired of the incessant shadow boxing and hinting which has been going on in this portfolio. If we’re going to have a debate, let’s have it about the Coalition’s actual policy. Having said that, I don’t expect Conroy’s comments to spur Turnbull into action. Normally substantial policies of this nature are released only during an election campaign. Releasing them early would give rival parties far too long to rip them apart. And parties in control of the Government obviously have the advantage of greater resources during this kind of combative debate.