news The Digital Tasmania lobby group has accused the Federal Government of leaving the Tasmanian rollout of the National Broadband Network “in limbo” by refusing to confirm whether the state would receive a predominantly fibre to the premises-based NBN deployment in last week’s new NBN rollout orders.
In a statement issued last week, Digital Tasmania pointed out that during the Federal Election campaign, then-Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull had appeared to confirm the NBN’s previous fibre to the premises model would be fully deployed in Tasmania, as the state was already covered by existing construction contracts which Turnbull had pledged to honour. At the time, Labor had claimed the Coalition’s preferred fibre to the node deployment model would see some Tasmanians receive inferior broadband to the FTTP model used by Labor.
Last week, as Communications Minister, Turnbull issued a revised Statement of Expectations letter to NBN Co, ordering the company to continue existing construction only where build instructions had been issued to delivery partners, but not explicitly confirming the fate of the Tasmanian rollout.
Digital Tasmania, an activist group which lobbies for the development of technology infrastructure and industry in the state, issued a statement saying that despite Turnbull’s statements during the election, there was no mention of Tasmania in the Communications Minister’s announcement last week, “leaving the rollout in a state of limbo”.
Digital Tasmania spokesperson Andrew Connor said: “The Coalition government has failed to confirm their pre-election commitment that the NBN rollout in Tasmania would continue as planned”.
According to Digital Tasmania, before the election the Coalition had consistently stated that it would will continue the NBN fibre rollout to premises where construction contracts had been signed, however Turnbull had changed this promise last week, stating that the rollout would only continue where detailed designs were ready to be handed over to contractors.
In Tasmania, construction for the entire state has already been contracted; including 200,000 homes in the state via fibre to the premises where for many detailed designs are not yet ready. “Yesterday’s announcement only guaranteed that 300,000 more connections would be made by fibre optic nationwide, however if that figure also includes the 200,000 in Tasmania there can’t be many contracts signed for the whole of mainland Australia,” said Digital Tasmania in its statement. “Something doesn’t add up!!”
Connor added that regional Australians, “including all of Tasmania are also likely to lose out under the guise of wholesale competition as foreshadowed by the Coalition Government.”
Under Labor’s previous NBN policy, infrastructure-based broadband competition was highly discouraged, with Labor seeking to ensure the financial viability of NBN Co and also that most Australians were using the same unified broadband infrastructure. However, under the Coalition, infrastructure-based competition is encouraged, leading to some telcos, such as TPG, already announcing competitive broadband rollouts.
“If allowed, telecommunications providers are likely to cherry pick high profit areas such as mainland capitals and completely forget about Tasmania as previously experienced,” said Digital Tasmania. “This will remove the explicit cross-subsidy of the NBN to less commercially viable areas such as Tasmania.”
“Competition at the network or wholesale level into each home is unnecessary and wasteful… we don’t have competing water or electricity networks, why duplicate fixed-line telecommunications? Despite the advanced rollout of the NBN in Tasmania it has already been dealt severe blows by lack of competitive and reliable backhaul across Bass Strait and adverse ACCC decisions which were detailed in a recent Technology Spectator report,” said Connor.
Digital Tasmania called on the Coalition Government, particularly its Tasmanian MP’s, to confirm that the NBN rollout in Tasmania would proceed as planned using fibre to the premises for most customers. It also encouraged the Government to proceed with a FTTP rollout for the NBN, rather than the technically inferior FTTN model preferred by the Coalition.
“Tasmania is already on the fast-track to get the current NBN rollout finished by 2016, well before the rest of the country in 2021. Already 35,000-plus premises can connect to the NBN fibre optic in Tasmania, with between 25 and 50% of residents taking up that option already” said Connor. “If the rollout changes direction under a Coalition Government, what we could have is one suburb or one street able to connect with fibre to the home and the next street or suburb stuck with an inferior copper based service.”
Digital Tasmania is right to be concerned about this issue. Tasmania has always been a special case for the NBN rollout. Due to the state already suffering from poor broadband infrastructure compared to the rest of Australia, and its early engagement with the NBN process, Tasmania had always received preferred treatment when it came to the NBN. During the election campaign, Coalition MPs did infer that the state would receive a FTTP rollout under a Coalition Government, even if Turnbull didn’t explicitly state that outcome as a promise. The equity issues inherent in a dual FTTN/FTTP rollout will be particularly evident in Tasmania, due to its small geographic footprint.