Turnbull’s satellite claims bunk, says Conroy


news Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has blasted Coalition Senators for not asking a single question in Senates Estimates sessions that would test the claims of Opposition Communications Spokesman Malcolm Turnbull about the adequacy of current satellite capacity to serve Australia’s remote and regional communities.

In a media release issued this week, Conroy said: “In more than one hundred minutes of the Senate Estimates hearing, Coalition Senators did not ask a single question to test Mr Turnbull’s claims regarding existing capacity as a viable alternative to NBN Co’s satellite investment.”

Last week, the Gillard Government had announced that NBN Co would invest $620 million for building two dedicated broadband satellites to service the most remote three per cent of Australia. However, Turnbull disputed the need to invest so much in fast and affordable broadband for regional Australia, calling the investment wasteful. “There is enough capacity on private satellites already in orbit or scheduled for launch for the NBN to deliver broadband to the 200,000 or so premises in remote Australia without building its own,” he wrote on his blog. Turnbull had also claimed that outsourcing or leasing capacity would be more appropriate.

Conroy demanded that Turnbull explain to Australians exactly what this entailed. Answers were needed for: which of the existing satellites had the capacity to service regional and remote Australia; the names of the Ka-band satellites that were scheduled to be launched and the orbital slot they would occupy; and how much of their capacity would be focussed on Australia.

He also demanded that the Australian public be told exactly what the Coalition’s actual broadband policy was and how much it would cost them. “It is about time Mr Turnbull came clean with details and facts rather than offering up a continued spurious, predictable and negative campaign on the NBN,” said Conroy.

Speaking to Delimiter last week about Australia’s current satellite capacity and how NBN Co should best meet its government policy demands, NBN Co’s Project Director Matt Dawson had said, “We’ve taken two years to go through this every which way, [seeing] what’s available, what’s becoming available, where the bandwidth is laid down. Is it C-band, is it I-band, is it KA-band.” He had also explained that apart from servicing outlying areas, the proposed satellites would boost speeds, and ensure there was no loss of signal, by migrating users off one satellite to the other in case either satellite partially or totally failed.

Conroy went on to say, “Given the lack of detail from Mr Turnbull, it is hardly surprising when it came to his colleagues having the chance to back him in Estimates by questioning the Government and Mike Quigley, the CEO of NBN Co, they did not ask a single question about it.” He further added that Estimates was the key forum for Parliament to hold accountability of management of Government programs.

“You would think, given the noise created by Mr Turnbull after this announcement, his colleagues would ask at least one question on the issue. Could it be that they simply do not believe him?” asked Conroy. He ended by saying that Turnbull had put his credibility on the line when he questioned the credentials of NBN Co’s management team, and that his colleagues had abandoned him.

Image credit: NBN Co


  1. David Braue wrote a great piece over at ABC Technology on just how inaccurate Turnbull’s claims really are:


    And of course, even Optus – (owner/operator of most of the AU focussed satellite capacity in the air, and the company who would have the most to gain out of NBN using existing capacity) – has indicated that the NBN Co satellites are the best way to go:


    • To be honest, this is the only time that Turnbull can actually be considered “wrong”, and Conroy was just as “wrong” in many of his statements (and people resorted to twisting what he said to try and say, nah uh, hes really not that wrong)

      I have also stopped reading David Brau’s articles, they are full of rhetoric and partisanship, and he has gotten his facts wrong many times as well

        • What you call factually wrong is almost always a misunderstanding or a overly simplistic degradation of the topic at hand (and in fact, your article defending NBNCo being delayed is actually factually incorrect in the same sense Turnbull is factually incorrect about his statement on satellites)

          • Look, Deteego,

            I unbanned you to be polite, but if you’re going to just attack me without explaining your reasoning then I’ll put you back in the sinbin permanently.

            I don’t require that you agree with me. Far from it. But I do require that you logically lay out your arguments on Delimiter. Otherwise my patience will very quickly run thin.

            This is not a News Ltd site. We rely on evidence here. If you have some, present it or leave.


          • The point I was making, is that whenever you claim something is “factually incorrect”, every time it has been far from being so clearly incorrect (this article is the only exception)

            When you claim something is factually correct, you are saying that
            1. There are no assumptions whatsoever
            2. You know enough about the subject matter to make such a claim

            In regards to pricing for example, you can’t claim that Turnbull is factually incorrect, because NBN offering lower prices then equivalent services depends on all of the assumptions in the business case getting a tick. Obviously the prices are lower right now, but there are many reasons why (such as a market not really existing, the areas where NBN is being offered, etc etc)

            Again on the point of the Abbot saying he would cancel the NBN to get savings, this is not factually incorrect. Yes NBN is off budget because its considered a financial investment, but again NBN making money is based on the assumption that it passes everything in the business case. While it is not making a return (which it won’t be for a while), you can actually save money for the short term by cancelling the NBN, both bonds and direct cash investments are pulling the NBN up so far

            In regards to NBN being behind schedule (which you also claimed people making that claim was factually incorrect), you missed the point in that thread where you mistook BOT’s with premises, and its something that Quigley has conceded in parliament, and there is a direct quote in that thread

            I dont have an issue with you putting forward contrarian opinions, but calling something as factually incorrect, is a very strong and bold claim (as opposed to saying, for example, that for now this is the case, and it appears so, etc etc). Of course in the above points, just because Turnbull (or Abbot or whoever) is not factually incorrect, it doesn’t mean they are factually correct. They are just arguing what they think will happen in the future, and there is a lot of grey area between factually correct and factually incorrect

          • “there is a lot of grey area between factually correct and factually incorrect”

            NO. NO. NO.

            This is the whole problem with the NBN debate at the moment. There are quite a few facts which we know to be true, and yet politicians and others, often with vested interests, are making it out as though things are merely a matter of opinion.

            There is opinion, and there is fact. It is a FACT that the NBN is projected to make a return. It is a FACT that NBN broadband pricing is not more expensive than ADSL/HFC broadband pricing. It is a FACT that there is not enough satellite capacity in Australia to meet Turnbull’s claims. With respect to being behind schedule, it is a FACT that 99% of articles claiming the NBN is behind schedule are based on the BOT numbers, which are clearly obsolete.

            I have had a FUCKING GUTFULL of people claiming that this project is somehow delayed, expensive, worthless, or whatever the latest claim is this week. And I am not the only one. If you want to claim such things, provide some fucking evidence or get out of the debate.

          • There is opinion, and there is fact. It is a FACT that the NBN is projected to make a return.

            Thats analogous to saying that “It is a FACT that this is an assumption”, which is my point. A projection is an assumption, all business cases are assumptions. If they were all facts, then there would be no such thing as bankruptcy, and every business would be a winner

            Just because a projection is written on paper, doesn’t mean that it will always come out this way. If you want to talk about facts, then talk about the actual figures in NBNCo’s reports that they release (which for example does FACTUALLY show that they are behind schedule). Calling facts off assumptions however is highly fallacious for obvious reasons

          • Yup, but in the absence of other evidence, we take projections as a reasonable facsimile of what the future is going to hold.

            Mate, you’re questioning my argument, but not advancing any argument of your own. You’re questioning my evidence, but not presenting any of your own. By your argument, there is no way to ascertain “fact”, and that’s not a rational way to view things.

            Franky, I’ve had enough of this bullshit non-factual, irrational non-debate on Delimiter. Maybe I am over-reaching a bit here, but it’s my site and I’ve had enough. You’re banned.

          • “I have had a FUCKING GUTFULL of people claiming that this project is somehow delayed, expensive, worthless, or whatever the latest claim is this week. And I am not the only one. If you want to claim such things, provide some fucking evidence or get out of the debate”

            Agree 100% Renai,

            This is why I’d really like to see …… actually no ….. NEED to see Mr Turnbull roll up his sleeves and take it to Conroy with hard evidence. His politicking is impressive (he plays the statesman so well) but that’s his only trick up until now with his arguments. I’ve never met the man (indeed I had very little knowledge of him before he had his Comms portfolio handed to him), but I have revised my opinion of him several times usually in a more positive direction up until this point. I’m starting to lean the other way again now, simply because he’s making himself look like a sock puppet. Additionally, what’s getting to me is that I’m pretty sure (my opnion only) he’s more capable than this.

            Where’s his evidence for:

            – Leasing is cheaper than launching and maintaining our own birds? For someone of his calibre (and his executive ability to selectively use whatever metrics he likes to support his argument) I would not have thought it much of a stretch for him.

            – Where’s his hard numbers on existing and planned capacity for this part of the world to support his plan?

            – Why oh why does he continue to mention OPEL? Yes it was cancelled, yes, Labor cancelled it, but Labor was thinking bigger. Recycling OPEL is not a step forward now, perhaps revise it as the new OPEL and publish hard figures?

            With Optus smacking him down about the satellite situation this week, Delimiter giving him a roasting every so oftern (a little more often these days than you used to), ZDNet giving him a mouthful, heck, even register.co.uk are laughing at him, I have been hoping for him to take up the challenge with some facts instead of sound bites, then we’d have a real dust up going ….. and best of all, Australia’s better off for it.

            But this impotent swinging ……. does he have bigger fish to fry (plans for a leadership challenge close to election perhaps?) ?

            P.S. Excuse me if I sound like I’m rambling …. but this post was focussed on two things, 1. To beseech Mr Turnbull for hard information when sticking it to his counterpart and 2. Wonder out loud about whether the Comms portfolio is really his focus right now, or if he’s cooking something up on the Coalition stove internally.

      • So sorry to hear that Deetego – I do try to be as accurate and factual as possible so perhaps you could let me know when you’ve spotted a big error and I’ll see what I can do about it.

        As for partisanship, well, I’m just trying to help keep the NBN debate honest. If that means I end up sledging one side more than the other because they prefer to poison the debate with FUD rather than verifiable fact, I’m not sure that’s really my fault.

        Do keep in touch.

  2. The ‘existing’ Malcolm Turnbull, will…

    Utilise ‘existing’ copper, ‘existing’ HFC and now suggests using ‘existing’ satellites. Separate into two and rename the ‘existing’ incumbent and then let the ‘existing’ incumbent utilise their ‘existing’ networks and also give them the ‘existing’ NBN networks.

    I wonder if he’s as keen to see the ‘existing’ opposition leader, become PM?

  3. Turnbull is relying on Telstra and the private sector to “magic” up something to match his (back of napkin) broadband policy.

    That’s an unfortunate choice, as almost all of those private sector, and or publicly funded businesses are actually heading off down the fibre and NBN path.

    He’s left holding the poisoned chalice.

  4. (as a precursor, I can’t believe i’m saying this about a politician…)

    Well done to Conroy on this matter, his comments are insightful, clear, concise and, most importantly, verifiable.

    I am suitably impressed.

    It is also with a sense of regret that I find myself increasingly distant in opinion and regard of Malcolm Turnbull, an individual and a politician who for a long time had been a relatively bright beacon in otherwise murky waters.

    As an aside, I think what I find most frustrating is that it would actually be fantastic to see the opposition stump up a well considered alternative to a very expensive deployment, a deployment that will eventually be a monopoly that will (ironically) need to be dismantled and set to the free market to realise maximum benefit.


    (for clarification for those wondering, my heart is pro-NBN [I have yet to see a great nation building project that would have gone ahead had we run it through an NPV model], however my pro-business side would like to have seen real structural separation of Telstra and then let the market go to town on building out service offerings in a free market on a viable commercial return basis …..)

  5. In response to deteego (because for some reason I cant reply directly to it), this strategy of saying that no projection or theory is 100%, so we should not do anything about it, is pervading all facets of modern life. Look at Climate change, look at evolution, look at the NBN, look at anything where the conservatives are not getting their way.
    In the real world, we look at a projection, determine if it is the best data available, and act on what is requireed to make the outcome. If this didn’t happen, no business ever would even try.
    This pseudo-science of discrediting everything that is not 100% verified is completely bogus and is preventing our society from reforming anything of value.

    • +1 Chris.

      Yes, this ploy by many whom oppose the NBN, of demanding more than measured projections from a construction build which is incomplete and will take 10 years to complete, beggars belief.

      But to then make their position even more ridiculous, they then claim because there aren’t actuals (whilst of course blindly refusing to accept these projections or even refusing to acknowledge current pricings/situations, for any number of prosaic reasons) this somehow proves their opposition to have basis?

      Strangely convenient angle. They demand actuals which can’t possible exist, whilst totally dismissing everything which does exist.

      It has me wondering how any rational person can be so bluntly against anything (apart from those with the apparent vested interests, as Renai points out) that they will willingly relinquish their complete common sense in opposition?

      I suppose the only other reason could be that the NBN is actually going along so well that they really have nothing else?

    • I sort of agree with Deteego in the regards to the projections, I think that the investment angle is more to remove the NBN from the budget rather than a firm belief that it will be profitable according to the ‘projections’. To me it seems like that the Govt has worked out the figures to avoid putting the NBN on the books and worked back the assumptions from there.

      I think the NBN is the best idea Labor have got but I wished they included it in the budget (whilst keeping it in the black) and trimmed their spending from elsewhere. I feel this would have removed an area of attack from the Libs in regards to Labor spending.

      This is because I dont believe the NBN will ever become profitable if they are intent on supplying Australia with ubiquitous broadband. It doesn’t bother me if it does run at a loss, as long as that loss is part of the budget figures, rather than some blackhole that is going to appear in the future due to the assumptions not being met.

      I also feel Labor missed the prime opportunity to train a new generation of skilled workers to roll out the NBN rather than by competing with mining, oil and gas companies for the same workers.

      • If we put “further unfounded conspiracy theories aside”, one would suggest the sums were done by NBNCo, McKinsey etc and not the government.

        But then I suppose it would be perceived as naive to believe that.

        • Why naive? You can choose to believe whatever you want, NBNCo is a reasonable place to start.

          Why would the NBNCo particularly care about the 7% ROI unless it was at the behest of the Government? The Government would have said this needs be an investment so NBNCo would have planned the project accordingly. If the figures have to be tweaked to get there so be it, it occasionally happens.

          If the NBN works out as predicted then that will be terrific, I just don’t believe it will as there will be too many variables out of control of the NBNCo. Hardly a conspiracy that a Government project might not live up-to its promise.

          If the Libs get in the first thing that will occur is the NBN will be declared a black-hole in the budget and the roll-out will be altered/stopped, if only for political reasons.

          • Oh for sure, it could be under or over. To hit exactly 7% at some future date would be near on impossible. Either way, in the end it will not be 43 or 50 billion or whatever the Coalition are claiming will be the cost. Even taking sensibly worst case scenarios we get a complete network upgrade at a bargain price. And as time goes on it can onyl get better as the network costs less to maintain than the copper network. A very important point, as the US is finding out. It’s all well and good to have lots of infrastructure but in the long run you have to maintain it. The cost now will be chicken feed compared to maintainance in 50 years.

      • Hey, you believe that if you like. I am not sure it will meet projects either, but I am not and accountant or analyst or whoever they call the bean counters that look at these figures. I like to understnad it for myself to be 100% sure on something.
        What I haven’t seem however is a good argument why it won’t meet projections. All the arguments I have seem invariable involve some bogus maths to make them miss.
        Surely, if it is going to miss projections for a reason Turnbull can say why, so far he has not been able to. He spins shit over and over.
        As for Deteego, fine he can have his belief, but unless he can back it up he should stop constantly attacking people, using it as his pivotal argument. Every time he has tried to argue why it will miss he will produce of reams of utter crap, point to known bogus articles then resort to insulting people.

      • “This is because I dont believe the NBN will ever become profitable if they are intent on supplying Australia with ubiquitous broadband. ”

        Why not? the previous two government started businesses tasked with supplying Australia with ubiquitous communications (Telstra for phones and Australia Post for mail) are both very profitable. And both those companies have the requirement to supply ubiquitous service as well.

        • I think talks of on/off budget are just a continuation of the baseless damned if you do and damned if you don’t, sad and desperate scare mongering, from the opposition and their faithful, which Delimiter has really started to allude to over the past few weeks.

          Of course this scaremongering has led to talks of on/off budget and just how sneakily the government are apparently trying to ‘hide’ the NBN funding?

          But you can imagine the opposition and co if the NBN was on budget.

          Firstly there’d be the daily mismanagement claims, due to the continuing deficit, regardless of whether that’s actually a bad thing – as we have been brainwashed to believe deficits are the work of the devil himself.

          Secondly, the damned if you do/don’t would kick in. Turnbull would be in the media suggesting, by having the NBN on budget it is clearly an admission by the government that the NBN is indeed a white elephant, which will never make a ROI. Because after all, if the NBN was aimed to make a return, they would have had it off-budget, wouldn’t they!

  6. Firstly I believe the reason none of Turnbull’s colleagues asked any questions is purely and simply they have no idea. They have no alternative policy because they are too stupid to go out and obtain some knowledge in order to put forward an intelligent and informed argument. God help us all if they get into power. It is like everything else with the Liberals, they are just a spiteful bunch of tards whose only goal is to stop Labour getting anything done, regardless of whether or not it is good for Australia.
    In saying that the biggest problem with the NBN, including what gives the opposition most of their ammunition against it, is the rollout plan. Thanks to backroom politics the NBN is being rolled out in the reverse of how it should. Rolling out first to country areas where there are few people and Tasmania is a mistake. We can already see this in the takeup figures and interesting to note how country people have long complained about missing out yet when they are given fast internet they don’t want it. Whilst it is good PR to start in country areas they should also have done a complete major city to massively improve takeup numbers. They could have covered the city country thing in one fell swoop by fitting our Canberra first and would have gotten an impressive takeup.

    • I’m not usually to keen on commenting on these topics (i prefer to read and watch the fireworks fly =P) but i’ll have to step in and correct you slightly there Pete.

      You keep making the same wrong assumption that everyone takes about the whole “they rolled out on the wrong area”. The first “test” roll-outs to Tasmania and the bush is just that – a test. The whole aim of those roll outs was not to “sell” the service or measure the commercial take up per se. Its to see the logistical issues involved in rolling out on areas w/ low demand and the engineering issues of rolling out the cable and whatnot on less favourable surfaces.

      It’s a perfectly common business practice. Think of it as more of a beta/testing phase of an engineering project where you check out the feasibility study on real world conditions. Each business would normally do this to confirm or cancel a project based on projections. In fact IIRC the test roll outs actually performed a lot more than the expected low projections.. especially for the low demand areas.

      Now that their actually doing the full roll outs thats when the actual areas their rolling out to would count on getting those early take-up customers. In fact if you check the scheduled roll outs most of the newer roll outs is a nice mix of metropolitan and country areas. The take-up numbers from those real initial deployments are the numbers that will really count.

      Of course the problem is the spill the opposition tend to use those “test” roll outs as the “real” roll out figures convincing people that the “take-up” is low even though they were meant to be initial tast figures.

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