Stop “hiding” your NBN policy, Conroy tells Turnbull


news Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has told his opposite Malcolm Turnbull to “stop hiding” and release the Coalition’s rival broadband policy, as Australians “deserve to know” the basics of how the Coalition would handle the portfolio if it won the next Federal Election.

In mid-August, the Financial Review quoted Turnbull as stating that the Coalition had a fully costed policy document “ready” to be released, based along similar lines as the fibre to the node rollout currently being implemented in the UK. Turnbull also slammed certain “specialist technology journalists” who he said were “fanning a pro-NBN zealotry among tech-savvy citizens”. Conroy has previously called on Turnbull to release the policy, and yesterday renewed his attack on the Liberal MP, in a new statement entitled “Turnbull should stop hiding and release his broadband plans in detail”.

Conroy said Australians deserved to know how much the Coalition’s rival policy would cost, what broadband speeds would be guaranteed under the plan, what the coverage footprint would look like, whether Turnbull was proposing to build “a government-owned monopoly” and a range of other details.

“Last month Mr Turnbull asserted he has a fully costed broadband policy ready to go, but he has provided next to no detail,” Conroy said. “There are simple parts of his policy that he needs to explain to the Australian people. Does he accept that he is proposing to build a government owned monopoly, like he told the American Chamber of Commerce on 10 August? What speed can he genuinely guarantee to Australian consumers with his fibre to the node plan? Does he accept that speeds of up to 80 Mbps are unachievable if his nodes are up to 1000 metres from the customer?”

“Australians have a right to know what Mr Turnbull is planning for broadband in our country. After 1,093 tweets, 31 media releases and 14 public speeches in 2012 Mr Turnbull has not provided any detail on his policy or answers to any of the questions that are being asked of him.”

The Gillard Government’s current NBN policy being implemented by NBN Co predominantly focuses on using a fibre to the home rollout in which cables are deployed from centralised points (usually telephone exchanges) all the way to home or business premises around Australia. The Coalition’s rival plan appears to focus on using fibre to the node-style technology, in which fibre is deployed from telephone exchanges to neighbourhood cabinets or ‘nodes’, with the remaining distance to premises to be closed by the existing copper cable.

In the UK, BT is using a FTTN-style deployment to provide speeds of up to 80Mbps to two-thirds of UK premises by the end of 2014. Some areas are also being upgraded to FTTH infrastructure on demand.

The news also comes as Turnbull’s office has not responded to a list of questions regarding the Coalition’s FTTN plans forwarded to it last month, following a fact-checking exercise conducted by Delimiter into an article Turnbull published in July strongly pushing for the potential for the NBN project to be modified to focus on fibre to the node technology instead of its current fibre to the home rollout.

At the time, a consensus had appeared to develop amongst those commenting on the National Broadband Network project on Delimiter that Turnbull needed to provide more evidence that Fibre to the Node is the best style of broadband infrastructure rollout for Australia’s long-term telecommunications needs. The questions were:

  • What international examples of FTTN-style broadband deployments do you consider most pertinent to the Australian situation, and why?
  • How long do you estimate it would take, if the Coalition wins the next Federal Election, to deploy FTTN to more than 90 percent of the Australian population?
  • What, specifically, do you estimate would be the cost difference between deploying FTTN and FTTH as part of the NBN rollout?
  • Do you consider it possible to re-work the current Telstra/NBN contract to focus on FTTN instead of FTTH, and how long do you estimate this would take?
  • What broad details of this contract would need to change, and how long do you anticipate the ACCC would take to approve a modified version?
  • Do you have a long-term plan to upgrade a FTTN-style network to a FTTH-style network, or a medium-term plan to allow ad-hoc upgrades of this network to FTTH?
  • What do you consider to be the time frame on which a FTTN-style network would continue to be used without an upgrade to FTTH? Will there, in fact, be a need to upgrade in the long-term to FTTH? On what evidence do you have these beliefs?
  • How would you address the claim that FTTN is a short to medium-term technology that will be superceded over the next several decades by FTTH, and that Australia should only be investing for the long-term when it comes to this kind of telecommunications infrastructure? On what evidence do you feel this way?

Turnbull’s office did not immediately return a call requesting comment this morning.

The comments I wrote several weeks about this issue still stand:

It’s hard not to agree with Conroy that Turnbull should publish the Coalition’s rival NBN policy, if it has developed one and had it fully costed already. It is very hard to meaningfully debate the Coalition’s position on the issue without knowing what it is; and it is important that issue be debated at length before the next Federal Election. The differences in the two sides of politics’ broadband policies was a key deciding factor in the previous 2010 Federal Election, according to a study conducted by the Liberal Party into the results.

It is time that Turnbull released the Coalition’s rival NBN policy. I and many others are tired of the incessant shadow boxing and hinting which has been going on in this portfolio. If we’re going to have a debate, let’s have it about the Coalition’s actual policy. Having said that, I don’t expect Conroy’s comments to spur Turnbull into action. Normally substantial policies of this nature are released only during an election campaign. Releasing them early would give rival parties far too long to rip them apart. And parties in control of the Government obviously have the advantage of greater resources during this kind of combative debate.

Image credit: Kim Davies, Creative Commons


  1. The longer Malcolm hides his policy, the more he shows he is interested in the “three-year political cycle” broadband argument, rather than the “what’s best for the long term future of Australia” broadband argument.

    Show some gonads Malcolm.

    • Agreed. Given all the mixed messages from LNP MP’s, until the Coalition release a fully costed alternative policy, with real coverage maps and planned rolll out dates, I’m just going to assume they have no policy at all.

      • Oh, I have no doubt that they have a policy. It is probably fully detailed and fully costed as Malcolm suggests.

        It’s just they don’t want to allow for it to be examined and possibly ridiculed for 12 months.

        That’s why their policy at the last election was revealed on the Wednesday before polling day. They knew it was a joke, and didn’t want it get much time before the polls.

        This policy should be better than that one, but clearly they don’t want it scrutinised, because if it’s so wonderful, they should be champing at the bit to release it.

        And they’re not.

        • Sorry, you’re quite right. Poor choice of words on my part. I have no doubt they have a crappy policy mostly ready to go as well and I agree about the reasons they won’t release it.

          What I meant was, given the complete lack of information about it other than Malcolm’s love for FTTN (and conflicting statements from several ignorant LNP MPs) as far as the general public is concerned, they effectively don’t have one until we see it. And that’s baacially what I’ll tell people until they release it.

          • I wont be telling people that Turnbull lacks an NBN policy. I will be telling people that his policy is based on FTTN which will end up costing a lot more to deliver a lot less.

          • And while that would be partitally true, until we know how many people will actually be able to get FTTN (let alone achieve reasonable speeds on it, depending on distance and quality of copper) all we can really say is “some people will get FTTN while the rest will remain on ADSL, HFC, LTE or satellite”. That’s no policy. Or at least it’s a policy not worth mentioning.

        • Also judging by his obvious affinity and close relationship with the Greenfields install sector you would have to suspect they will become major players in the Coalitions NPN.

          He really does need to look at what the future holds and what is starting to come available and be developed using the capabilities of the NBN.

        • I agree, there is no point airing it, as it’s irrelevant until the election. It’s like asking for the test at the end of the semester at the start so you can study, there’s a time and place for everything, and this isn’t it.

          The two parties ALWAYS work together on initial policy, then take it internal for tweaks, so I’m quite sure Conroy knows exactly what the Libs are going to smash him with at the election.

          The ALP is still to come up with a viable NBN plan, so not sure why the pressure is on the libs anyway??

          good humour this story is.

          • The two parties ALWAYS work together on initial policy, then take it internal for tweaks


          • “The two parties ALWAYS work together on initial policy, then take it internal for tweaks”

            I believe this statement to be factually inaccurate.

          • Yes great idea…

            Let’s vote for party’s (either) who don’t tell us how much worse off we may be and then cross our fingers that “someone else” will get shafted not me :/

            Imo this is the sort of apathy which has allowed politicians to hide their agendas…

  2. We do deserve to know. Conroy is right. IMO Turnbull is threatening everyone with contempt. I haven’t seen this sort of arrogance since Keating. Turnbull thinks he doesn’t have to give any details since he believes fooling the majority of people that don’t have a clue about technology is enough. That’s why we are here. Think about it we spend all that money on education at universities, TAFE, school etc so people can be qualified in this area just so a politician can disregard the experts opinions. Lovely. Protecting you fragile political ego is important. Screw the people.

  3. With respect Renai
    Steve Jenkins has taken the questions a little further, worth considering some of those other points.

    Plus from what has come out previously his beloved Opticom and Co tend to use Telstra Wholesale to provide the actual transits and interconnects, why their prices are a little higher.

    Truly the plot thickens, suspiciously like Australia and it’s future is going to be shafted by the Libs once again

  4. Why would Turnbull ever release such a policy? He doesn’t need one. He knows that there’s a legion of people who will misrepresent the Government’s policy and that there are still standing MP’s who will lie about it of their own volition; why would an injection of facts make for a better chance at winning the election when you can make vague promises which people will eat up? Rationalism is dead in Australian politics, and has been since Mr Abbott failed to win minority government.

  5. Given the inconsistencies come from sitting LNP members I can only assume if he has a policy he is keeping it secret from everyone including his own party.

    • That made me laugh. I think he’s still trying to teach Hockey that his iPad doesn’t use a 4G network.

  6. He can’t. Because he knows that his policy is the technical equivalent of replacing two cans and string with four cans and two strings.

    • Wow, just think, double the performance!

      Hey, Malcolm, have we got a deal for you…

  7. In speech at the University of Western Australia last night. Turnbull said:

    “I am not suggesting politicians are innately less accurate or truthful than anyone else. But rather that the system is not constraining, in fact it is all too often rewarding spin, exaggeration, misstatements,”

    Talking about politicians again she suggested

    “It seems to me that we don’t simply have a financial deficit, we have a deficit of trust.”

    So, let’s move away from the rhetoric Malcom and tell us what you policy really is. That would a really good start.

  8. We did not hear until after the last election about many of the government’s policies that have been since brought in, so I don’t think the opposition should to release their policies now if they don’t want to.

    On another note, if you want to keep multiple phone lines at home (which thousands of older people who want to stay in their own homes have and want to keep for security) – they will be forced to have NBN whether they want it or not in order to keep a landline, and then to keep the multiple lines they will have to pay to have their house rewired. NBN is not just the internet.

    • @Rita: ‘if you want to keep multiple phone lines at home… they will be forced to have NBN whether they want it or not in order to keep a landline, and then to keep the multiple lines they will have to pay to have their house rewired.’

      Not sure about ‘thousands’ of oldies with multiple lines; did you mean to refer to those who for convenience have several sockets on their home line?

      In any case, an NBN connection won’t make any difference, since the existing CPE will be connected to the ONT in the same way that the present line connection is made. So whether you meant to say ‘multiple lines’ or ‘multiple outlets on their home line’, there will be little change needed to what they are doing now.

  9. @Rita, do you seriously think it is appropriate that we _vote_ for these people to run the country without having first had a chance to see and comment on their policy. You think it is right for the general population to have to figure out in a matter of days or weeks who should take the country forward? Meanwhile, the Chinese are planning _50 years ahead_? That is an insane position, and my kids deserve better than that. And you are correct, the NBN is NOT just the internet. Glad you understand that seriously important point.

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