The Federal Opposition has accused Communications Minister Stephen Conroy of telling “porkies” over the extent to which NBN-connected schools in Tasmania are actually using their new broadband service, more than 12 months after the infrastructure was rolled out in select locations in the state.
In mid-June, the Tasmanian State Government was forced by its own Opposition to concede that no public school in the early stage release towns of Scottsdale, Midway Point and Smithton had actually been connected to the next-generation fibre Internet the project will provide, despite the fact that the physical infrastructure was in place to allow connections to go ahead.
The delay appears to be due to the fact that Internet service to schools is provided through the state whole of government Networking Tasmania contract, which is held by Telstra and is currently being tested in the market. Like other providers, Telstra is currently trialling NBN services in Tasmania.
However, in a statement, the Opposition pointed out that during the launch of the NBN in Kiama in New South Wales last week, Conroy had told assembled media that schools in Tasmania were now using the NBN and “reporting their enthusiasm”.
“The fact is, Senator Conroy’s comments couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Liberal Senator Eric Abetz. “Of the limited number of schools in Tasmania that actually have access to the NBN, only a couple of private schools are willing and able to pay for the expensive NBN connection,” Abetz added. “As far as Government schools are concerned only one, Smithton High, has a limited trial, which is delivering a low speed connection to just a single classroom.”
Conroy has previously answered criticism on the issue by re-affirming the Federal Government’s commitment to bringing the NBN to Austrailan schools, and directing enquiries on the matter to the details of the Networking Tasmania contract.
In June, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.
The Federal Government, in addition the Tasmanian State Government, have repetitively touted the ability to bring high-speed broadband to schools as a benefit of the NBN, holding demonstrations of the fibre-optic technology in schools in both Tasmania and other early stage release sites such as Armidale over the past year.
For example, in mid-May, groups of school children in Armidale and Tasmania were filmed in a joint rendition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ sung over a videoconference link over what appeared to be a NBN link between the two states. School students using next-generation broadband services have also been regularly featured in NBN Co advertisements highlighting the benefits of the NBN to the national education system.
Last week, Abetz accused Conroy of misleading the public.
“Thanks to State Labor’s bungling, none of the other Government Schools in the NBN rollout areas are even able to connect to the service due to State Government contractual obligations with other providers,” the Liberal Senator said.
“This is typical of Labor’s bungling and its over-enthusiastic spin, tell the story sprinkled with half truths, throw in a few porkie-pies and hope the Australian people buy it. Despite Senator Conroy’s comments today, there’s not much “enthusiasm” in Tasmania at all.”