news Prime Minister Tony Abbott has described the previous Labor Federal Government’s attempt to extend fibre broadband to most Australian homes and businesses as “wacko”, despite the fact that Labor’s Fibre to the Premises model is seen as the long-term future of most fixed telecommunications networks globally.
Under Labor’s NBN policy, some 93 percent of Australian premises were to have received fibre directly to the premise, delivering maximum download speeds of up to 1Gbps and maximum upload speeds of 400Mbps. The remainder of the population was to have been served by a combination of satellite and wireless broadband, delivering speeds of up to 25Mbps.
Originally, the Coalition’s policy was to have seen fibre to the premises deployed to a significantly lesser proportion of the population — 22 percent — with 71 percent covered by fibre to the node technology, where fibre is extended to neighbourhood ‘nodes’ and the remainder of the distance to premises covered by Telstra’s existing copper network. The Coalition’s policy was also continue to use the HFC cable network operated by Telstra and will also target the remaining 7 percent of premises with satellite and wireless.
However, the possibility of a different style of rollout has been raised by Turnbull in the several weeks since the Liberal MP became Communications Minister. In late September, Turnbull appeared to have drastically modified the Coalition’s policy stance on the NBN just weeks after the Federal Election, declaring the Coalition was not wedded to its fibre to the node model and was “thoroughly open-minded” about the technology to be used in the network. NBN Co is currently conducting a strategic review into its operations and model that will inform Turnbull’s decisions regarding the project’s future.
However, in a new interview with the Washington Post published this week, Abbott directly stated that Labor’s FTTP model was irrational.
“We’ve taken control of the national broadband network, and we will deliver faster broadband much more quickly and less expensively than would have been the case under Labor,” Abbott said, in response to a question about what he had actually accomplished as Prime Minister.
“It’s a government-owned telecommunications infrastructure monopoly, which was proceeding at a scandalous rate without producing any commensurate outcomes,” the Prime Minister added. “We are changing the objective from fibre to every premise in the country to fibre to distribution points, and then we will use the existing infrastructure to take the broadband to individual premises.”
Abbott added that the FTTN schema was “vastly” cheaper and more efficient, describing the previous paradigm as “he wonderful, wacko world of the former government.” “They were incompetent in terms of the national broadband network,” Abbott added.
The Liberal leader is correct that the previous Labor administration was broadly incompetent when it came to the implementation of its NBN policy. The rollout of the network has been delayed multiple times over its life and even this year, with NBN Co’s latest set of rollout figures to 7 October this year showing just 83,700-odd fibre premises added in the past three months. Of particular note is the company’s Tasmanian operations, which have actually gone backwards slightly over the past several months.
In addition, ex-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, the founder of the NBN project, has acknowledged that the private contractor model which NBN Co attempted to use in its national fibre rollout has failed due to the inability of the company’s partners to deliver on their commitments.
However, Abbott’s comments run contrary to the predominant opinion of global telecommunications experts, with the overwhelming majority opinion being that in the long-term, especially after the next 10 years, broadband needs globally will see even telcos that have deployed FTTN-based networks gradually upgrading them all the way to FTTP, as under Labor’s vision.
Many in Australia’s own telecommunications industry believe that the Federal Government will inevitably upgrade the NBN after 2019 to FTTP, if the Coalition is successful at delivering its FTTN network by that date.
In addition, Abbott’s comments run contrary to the statement by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the Coalition Government was “thoroughly open” to any technology being used in the NBN — including FTTP. Abbott’s comments expose a rift between the two politicians as to what each expects the Coalition’s NBN policy to deliver. Turnbull has stated that the FTTN policy the Coalition took to the election was merely an “example” of how the NBN rollout could be better conducted, whereas Abbott appears to believe it is the final policy which NBN Co will definitely pursue.
Image credit: Office of Tony Abbott