news The Australian version of pioneering US fact-checking website Politifact has given a “mostly false” rating to Labor’s claim that the Coalition’s National Broadband Network policy will see Australians charged $5,000 for access to fibre broadband infrastructure, in one of the site’s first fact-checks on the Australian political arena after its launch this week.
The claim has been repeatedly made by a number of senior Labor politicians over the past month since the Coalition’s alternative NBN policy was unveiled in mid-April. Its basis is the fact that, as in the UK with BT’s own national fibre to the node rollout, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has held out the possibility that Australians connected to the Coalition’s proposed fibre to the node-based NBN infrastructure would be able to pay a fee to be able to have fibre extended all the way to their premises.
For example, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told the ABC on April 8: “What you have here today is another classic effort by the Coalition to try and hide the facts of their own policy. Malcolm Turnbull wants to charge Australians up to $5,000 per home to connect to the National Broadband Network. That’s what he wants to do. He wants Australian kids to be able to miss out on the best possible educational opportunities because they can’t afford the $5,000 the Coalition will charge.”
Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has previously sharply criticised the Labor claims. It is true that the Coalition is envisaging that users will be able to pay a fee to have fibre extended all the way to their premises, but it is also likely that only a small percentage of end users comparatively will initially request this service, given the fact that the Coalition’s FTTN plan will deliver speeds of between 25Mbps and 100Mbps by the end of 2016 to most Australians by the end of 2016.
“Labor’s reference to paying for a connection is classic spin,” said Turnbull in a statement earlier this month. “While we anticipate that for the vast majority of consumers in the areas serviced by FTTN the speeds offered will be more than adequate – most at 50 mbps or more, none less than 25 mbps – there is the technical possibility to run fibre to one or more customers in an area served by a node. In the UK this product, known as “fibre on demand” is made available for a fee. For a customer living 500 metres from a node, for example, the charge is GBP1500 or about $2,250.”
“Note that under our policy schools, hospitals, universities and anywhere that fibre is commercially justifiable will be connected to fibre, including Greenfield estates and business districts. FTTN is primarily a solution for cost effective service in residential areas. There will be no fee payable to the NBN Co to have a connection made possible there either.”
Politifact is a pioneering US-based website which has won awards for its approach of fact-checking major political statements. It uses a scale to rate politicians’ statements, ranging from “true” to “mostly true”, “half true”, “mostly false”, “false”. There are also other ratings such as “flip flop”. The most extreme rating is given to politicians who make ridiculous claims which cannot be supported by evidence, which Politifact rates as “Pants on Fire!”.
In Australia, the Politifact name has been licensed to a new site launched this week by former Sydney Morning Herald editor-in-chief and Sydney University professor in media and politics Peter Fray, along with a number of other journalist figures.
In one of its first articles this week, Politifact Australia used a number of sources to judge the $5,000 claim, using one particular example given by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. It concluded the claim was “mostly false”, due to the fact that Gillard’s wording stated the cost was actually $5,000 per premise, and that it also implied that those who did not pay $5,000 would not be connected to the Coalition’s NBN broadband infrastructure at all. In fact, they will be.
Politifact’s analysis of the situation matches a similar fact-checking exercise conducted by Delimiter earlier this month, based on comments made by Turnbull about the situation. Delimiter’s article stated, in the opinion/analysis section:
“Turnbull’s right — Labor MPs are currently out there making a number of misleading statements about the Coalition’s NBN policy. The $5,000 claim for getting fibre connected to your premises is being made constantly now, and I can’t even be bothered counting or reporting the number of times it’s being made. Put into context, this claim can be justified, but when you consider the fact that most of the population will doubtless be content to remain on fibre to the node instead of paying to upgrade, and that many Labor MPs are not putting the claim into the necessary context, it constitutes a misleading allegation.”
I like Politifact’s “mostly false” rating on the $5,000 claim which Labor has been throwing around recently. As many Delimiter readers have pointed out recently, there is some basis to the claim, in that the BT experience does show that some Australians could pay several thousand dollars to have fibre rolled all the way to their premises under the Coalition’s FTTN policy. However, it’s also clear that the way Labor is making this claim is often devoid of context and insight into the situation — it’s become a sound bite which is mostly false.
I’m sure that hundreds of readers will now jump on to the Delimiter comments with a thousand arguments demonstrating how both Politifact and Delimiter have gotten this one wrong — after all, it’s not as if the people writing for these sites are technical experts; we’re just journalists with dozens of cumulative years fact-checking political statements. This is something I think I am going to have to get used to whenever I write any article which even mildly points out how the Coalition has gotten something right when it comes to the NBN. But perhaps that’s just the price for telling the truth that many people don’t want to hear; nobody ever said that journalism was an easy career. Just so we’re clear ahead of time: You insult me or claim I’m a Coalition stooge in the comments below this article, you get banned for a month. Keep it polite, people — I do like to promote open discussion on Delimiter, but my patience is limited ;)
If you are unaware, Delimiter has a comments policy: I recommend you read it before you consider commenting on this article.