news Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has issued an angry statement rejecting Coalition criticism of Labor’s plans to deploy fibre to the home infrastructure in rural areas throughout Australia, demanding the Coalition “come clean” with its own plans for rural Australia.
This week several Coalition parliamentarians issued statements criticising the National Broadband Network Company for what they saw as a change in the company’s approach to deploying NBN infrastructure in rural Australia. In a statement, Shadow Regional Communications Minister Luke Hartsuyker claimed NBN Co had originally planned to deploy fibre to the home in towns with 1,000 people, but had recently changed its policy and would now only roll out fibre to towns with 1,000 residences.
“Page 12 of the 2010 NBN Corporate Plan reflects what Kevin Rudd announced in April 2009 – that fibre would be extended ‘to towns with a population of around 1,000 or more people’,” said Hartsuyker. “This is another example of the NBN Co scrambling to conceal the fact that the business case for the NBN does not stack up.”
“To change these guidelines from ‘people’ to ‘premises’ and then blame it on a ‘typo’ just shows the depths they will go to try and gloss over the cost blowouts and rollout delays. They are very good with the spin but they are always caught out by the facts. NBN Co’s comments again highlight the lack of transparency and complete contempt this government owned company has for the Australian people. One wonders how many other parts of the Corporate Plan have changed because of typos.”
Liberal MP Joanna Gash also issued her own media release. “Just like the promise of ‘no Carbon Tax’, Labor has now backtracked on its NBN election pledge, hanging many rural and regional voters out to dry,” Gash said. “It’s becoming more and more clear that Labor is now just pandering to its metropolitan constituency at the expense of anyone living in a rural or regional area.
Gash urged residents of smaller villages to write to the Prime Minister to express their outrage over the sudden exclusion of their homes from an NBN fibre optic broadband connection. “It’s time to let the Prime Minister well and truly know that Australians won’t stand for another election lie,” Gash said.
However, in a retaliatory statement, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy attacked the Coalition over what he said was “misleading” behavior.
“Since the Government’s press release of April 2009, an Implementation Study by McKinsey and KPMG recommended that it was cost effective to increase the coverage of NBN fibre from 90 per cent to 93 per cent of Australia,” Conroy said. “This means that under the Gillard Government, NBN fibre will reach 70 per cent of homes and businesses in regional Australia.
“This includes towns with less than 1000 premises where they are on the NBN transit network, such as Inglewood in Queensland, Brookton in Western Australia, and Trentham in Victoria. The Government announced that it would adopt this target on 20 December 2010 and released a list of towns that would receive fibre.” In the intervening eighteen months, Conroy said, the Coalition had sat on its hands and developed no broadband plan.
“The one thing we do know is that a Coalition Government won’t connect any homes or businesses in regional Australia to fibre – not to towns with 1000 people and not to towns with 1000 premises,” said Conroy. “The Coalition should explain how they plan to provide broadband to the towns that will get fibre through the NBN. The Gillard Government’s plans for the NBN are clear. It is time the Coalition came clean with theirs.”
To be honest, I’m not quite sure who is objectively right here, although I will note Kevin Rudd’s original statement regarding the issue appeared to be an approximation rather than a firm commitment for the NBN to reach towns of 1,000 people. In this context, the Coalition appears to be clutching at straws here.
However, what I do know is that it doesn’t matterly overly much, as far as the political situation is concerned. Unlike Labor, the Coalition hasn’t yet released a plan to reach these rural areas with broadband, and what we know of Coalition telecommunications policy suggests that residents in most rural areas will be far worse off long-term under the Coalition’s approach than under Labor’s. Because of this, I find it hard to accept the Coalition criticism on this issue. As far as I can see, the residents in these areas have a lot more certainty under Labor’s policy than they do under the Coalition’s.
Image credit: NBN Co