A war of words has erupted between Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Liberal Senator Guy Barnett, with the latter claiming the National Broadband Network rollout in his home state of Tasmania was taking longer than expected.
In a statement this week, Barnett — who has long kept a close eye on all matters broadband in Tasmania — demanded Conroy explain why the roll-out of the NBN in the state might be delayed “by up to seven years from what was originally promised”.
Barnett stated that when the current NBN policy was launched in April 2009, Conory had said that Tasmanians would be the first beneficiaries of the NBN, that homes would be connected ‘within a matter of months’ and that the project in Tasmania would take five years in total, with a completion date of 2014.
However, Barnett said, the roll-out in Tasmania did not begin until July 2010. In addition, he highlighted comments by NBN Co external affairs general manager Trent Williams in Tasmanian newspaper the Examiner which he said demonstrated still further delays.
The Examiner claimed in the article that the town of Launceston could have to wait until 2021 — the final date set for completion of the NBN — to be connected to the network. “Tasmanians don’t want to be reading newspaper articles about the benefits of broadband for the next ten years,” said Barnett.
NBN Co has acknowledged its plans to roll out the network around the nation are suffering delays, owing to both difficulties in negotiating with construction firms, as well as the drawn-out negotiations with Telstra over the telco’s migration of its customers onto NBN Co’s network and use of Telstra infrastructure.
However, Conroy issued his own statement this week labelling Barnett’s comments “factually incorrect and mischievous”, pointing out the NBN early stage rollout was already seeing services provided in Tasmanian towns like Scottsdale, Smithton and Midway Point.
Conroy pointed out that in the second stage of the NBN rollout, services were expected to be provided to the towns of Triabunna, Sorell and Kingston Beach by the end of March 2012, Deloraine by the end of April, St Helens and George Town by the end of June and in South Hobart by the end of August 2012.
“Stage 3 will begin construction next year and will cover a further 90,000 premises – 40,000 in Hobart, 30,000 in Launceston and 10,000 each in Devonport and Burnie,” Conroy added.
“Senator Barnett has taken comments by NBN Co external affairs general manager Trent Williams out of context,” Conroy added. “They refer to when the rollout will be completed across Australia, not in Tasmania. The rollout to Tasmania will be completed as promised within the specified five year timeline and Senator Barnett should apologise to the people of Tasmania for his shameless scaremongering.”