news Tasmanian Liberal Leader Will Hodgman has made the extraordinary admission that the Federal Coalition’s unpopular broadband policy could cost the party the upcoming Tasmanian State Election, in the latest in a series of ongoing signs that the policy is not going down well in the island state.
Many Tasmanians believe the Coalition, specifically Communications Minister Malcom Turnbull, committed the Coalition’s Broadband Network rollout (CBN) in the state to a full Fibre to the Premises deployment during last year’s Federal Election campaign. However, in fact, Turnbull never explicitly made such a promise; stating only that a Coalition Government would honour construction contracts signed by NBN Co. Some Tasmanians took this statement to mean that the Coalition would commit to a full rollout of Fibre to the Premises broadband in the state.
The Coalition has always stated that it preferred a Fibre to the Node and HFC-based alternative to Labor’s NBN project. In mid-December, NBN Co delivered its Strategic Review, recommending that Labor’s all-fibre approach to its broadband network be replaced by a mixed FTTN/HFC cable/FTTP approach under the Coalition.
Speaking on ABC Radio in Tasmania last week, NBN Co executive chairman Switkowski confirmed Fibre to the Node would be used in Tasmania. “Obviously in the previous model, the infrastructure was going to be an all fibre infrastructure,” he said. “Post the election and post the strategic review, we’ve now agreed on a multi-technology model where we’ll seek to use a existing copper network where we can.”
In a separate statement last week posted on his website, Turnbull himself attempted subsequently to pin the blame for the issue on NBN Co contractor Visionstream, which is deploying a majority of the CBN infrastructure in the state.
However, the issue is still a hot one in Tasmania, which is shortly slated to head to its state election. At this stage, every political party in Tasmania has lined up in support of a full FTTP broadband rollout in the state, including Tasmanian Liberal Leader Will Hodgman, who said last week that he had spoken directly to Turnbull arguing “strongly” that Tasmania needed a full rollout of FTTP broadband technology.
At a press conference yesterday, the situation intensified further, with multiple media outlets reporting that Hodgman was overheard telling his colleague Jacquie Petrusma the issue could cost his party the election. “It could cost us the election, anyway that’s democracy,” he said. Asked about the issue, Hodgman stated that the topic was “a critical issue for Tasmania”. You can watch the video clip online of Hodgman’s comments at the ABC here.
The Tasmanian population is highly aware of broadband as an issue and has consistently raised its voice on the broadband topic as a unified group far louder than other states have. Broadband was also a critical issue in the state during the 2010 Federal Election. Tasmania has historically suffered from very poor levels of high-speed broadband compared with mainland areas, partially due to an unwillingness by rival telcos to invest because of high backhaul prices charged by Telstra across Bass Strait.
After the 2010 Federal Election, former Howard-era Minister Peter Reith produced a report on the Coalition’s election loss. The majority of the report does not mention broadband, but one section quotes extensively from a similar report produced last year by Sydney academic Julian Leeser into the Tasmanian leg of the election, which has been reported in brief.
“The failure to properly explain the Liberal Party’s broadband policy and the Labor Party’s effective scare campaign was a major cause of the party’s failure to win seats in Tasmania,” the report states. “This was the nearly universal review of people making submissions to the review and is borne out by research undertaken by the Liberal Party. In the view of many, the party’s policy amounted to a threat to come into people’s homes and rip the Internet out of the wall.”
The report added that broadband policy had a particularly strong effect on Tasmania for a number of reasons. For starters, the fibre network was already being rolled out in some towns, and Tasmania is also often behind the mainland in receiving new technology — so the early stage NBN rollout under Labor was seen as a boost to the state, as well as having flow-on effects in terms of jobs, for example.
In comparison, the Liberals’ policy was not as clear-cut as Labor’s. “One of the problems of the broadband policy was that nowhere in the policy document was there any carve-out for Tasmania or any explanation of what the Liberal Party would do with existing infrastructure,” wrote Leeser in the report. “Numerous senior Liberals in Tasmania had raised the issue of broadband in Tasmania with senior Federal Liberals in Canberra, but a carve-out for Tasmania was forgotten.”
“The broadband policy was written at the last minute without a set of Tasmanian eyes cast over it. The party needs to make a clear and unambiguous statement about its intentions on broadband infrastructure in Tasmania in the future.”
he news comes as a new comprehensive study of public attitudes towards Labor’s National Broadband Network project published this month found the initiative still enjoys very high levels of widespread public support from ordinary Australians, despite what the study described as an “overwhelmingly negative” approach to the project by print media such as newspapers.
When asked ‘Do you have a positive or negative opinion of the National Broadband Network in general?’ respondents expressed an overwhelmingly positive opinion. 26.1 percent responded with “very positive”, 38.2 percent responded with “positive”, 14.8 percent responded with “neutral”, and only 12.6 percent and 8.3 percent responded with “negative” or “very negative”, respectively.
The analysis also considered whether political affiliation would produce any difference in attitudes to the NBN, by asking ‘Which party did you vote for in the 2010 election?’ Respondents who voted for the Liberal and/or National Parties at the 2010 election had a more negative opinion of the NBN than Australian Labor Party (ALP) voters, with ALP voters twice as likely as Liberal voters to hold very positive opinions on the NBN. However, NBN support amongst Liberal voters was still very strong, with 48 percent of that voting base supporting the project.
A number of other surveys conducted over the past 2-3 years have consistently shown strong support for the NBN project amongst Australians, and even Coalition voters.
Wow. It doesn’t get very much more high-profile than this for the broadband issue. Losing elections is a pretty big deal. We live in extraordinary times when the general population is fired up enough to change their vote depending on whether their area is slated to get Fibre to the Node or Fibre to the Premises. Incredible. Of course, I’m on record as stating that I believe Tasmania should get FTTP (Delimiter 2.0 yarn).
Image credit: Tasmanian Liberals