news Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has demanded that the Coalition disclose some basic details of its rival broadband policy, noting that Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has not substantially outlined the policy further in public since a landmark speech on the issue in the middle of 2011.
The clearest indication currently available of the Coalition’s rival telecommunications policy is contained in a speech given by Turnbull in August last year, in which he proposed focusing on upgrading the HFC cable networks operated by Telstra and Optus, splitting Telstra into wholesale and retail arms, and using wireless and satellite solutions to serve remote regions.
Since that date, Turnbull has also appeared to focus heavily on the potential for fibre to the node technology to serve Australia’s future broadband needs, in comparison with Labor’s National Broadband Network policy, which focuses on more expensive and technically capable fibre to the home technology.
However, in a statement released late last week, Conroy criticised Turnbull for not releasing significant detail of the Coalition’s policy, demanding that the Shadow Minister “come clean” on the Coalition’s plans. “Six months ago today Malcolm Turnbull addressed the National Press Club on the National Broadband Network. For the rest of 2011 and already in 2012 he has been silent on any policy detail,” Conroy said.
“In one speech, three media releases and 15 tweets this year on the NBN he has continued his negative campaign and not provided an actual broadband policy. Meanwhile, his Coalition partners continue to call for fibre to the home in regional Australia, while his leader tells Australia this week we should invest in last century road and rail infrastructure not 21st century broadband.”
Last week, Conroy pointed out, Turnbull had linked to a Financial Times article on Twitter about a fibre to the node deployment by British telco BT.
“This is the same story he told us about in December,” Conroy added. “But he gives no detail on how it would be, or even if it can be, delivered in Australia. How many powered cabinets will be required to get within 400 metres of every premise? What is the actual speed that customers get rather than just ‘up to 80 Mbps’? How much will it cost? The Coalition needs to come clean – what is their actual policy, what technology do they propose to use and what will it cost.”
Conroy said Turnbull should answer the following questions about the Coalition’s broadband policy:
- How will the coalition achieve the structural separation of Telstra?
- How much will prices increase in regional Australia without a cross subsidy? How much will his “voucher” system for regional Australia cost?
- How many households does Mr Turnbull plan to serve with HFC?
- How many households does he plan to serve with FTTN? How many FTTN nodes does he plan to build?
- How many households does he plan to serve with wireless?
- What does he really think the requirements are for bandwidth in 2020?
- When does he expect his network will need to be replaced by FTTH (he calls it a migration path)?
- How much will his network cost?
- Why does he consisently misrepresent the $35 billion capital cost of the NBN?
The Office of Malcolm Turnbull has been invited to respond to Conroy’s statements.
It must be snowing in hell today, because I find myself in complete agreement with Conroy about the lack of detail which Turnbull has so far released about the Coalition’s broadband policy. As I wrote in November last year:
“After my initial burst of enthusiasm for Turnbull’s plan, the Shadow Communications Minister’s behaviour over the succeeding months — in which he has done virtually nothing to address its criticism or expound its merits in public — has done much to sour me on it. Watching Turnbull in action in that period, I often find it hard to believe that he has the energy and determination to see his rival proposal through, should he be appointed Communications Minister in a Coalition Government.”
No doubt it feels nice for Turnbull to be featured by outlets such as the Global Mail on its launch day as Australia’s “Prime Minister in waiting”. And it’s also no doubt nice for Turnbull to make appearances on prime-time Sydney radio discussing the NBN with sympathetic hosts and taking the chance for a few below the belt potshots at Conroy and the NBN project in general.
But policy development isn’t about feeling nice. It’s about substantive outcomes. Right now it seems very likely that the next Federal Election (generally expected to be held in 2013) could see a change in government, with a Coalition team under Opposition Leader Tony Abbott considered likely to knock Labor off its perch. With Abbott having threatened several times to tear up the NBN project, I think it’s about time we get some certainty from the Coalition about just what it’s proposing to replace it with. This is not a joke. This is about Australia’s future.