news Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has launched a new national broadband survey which the Liberal MP said would allow Australians to determine the speed of their existing broadband services and which would provide data to help make better broadband available to “those who need upgrades” the most.
In a statement issued this morning, Turnbull said the survey – available online here – would provide important information to the Coalition about the speed of existing broadband in Australian cities, suburbs, towns and regions.
“We want every Australian to have faster broadband sooner and more affordably,” the Member for Wentworth said. “Many suburbs and towns are inadequately served by existing fixed line and mobile broadband. But Labor’s NBN is not the answer. It reduces competition, will increase the monthly cost of broadband and is, for many Australian households, many years in the future.” Turnbull said that the Federal Government had originally promised some 511,000 households would be on the NBN fibre network by next June.
“But despite providing billions of dollars to the NBN, Labor now admits the real number will be just 54,000 – after almost six years in office!” he said. “So Australians have every reason to be suspicious about the Government’s promises of improved broadband. And it is households and businesses in those areas where broadband is poorest that have been hit hardest by Labor’s delays.”
Turnbull said the Coalition’s “commitment” was to fast-track upgrades in these areas – where broadband speeds were poorest – and to roll out the NBN infrastructure according to “need rather than politics”. “In contrast, the Labor NBN has not prioritised better broadband for inadequately served areas,” he said. “It will not reach some Australians until the 2020’s. And it will increase prices: the NBN business plan states that the monthly revenues it earns from each customer will triple between now and 2021.”
“The Coalition has a better plan. We will encourage competition instead of stamping it out, and leverage existing infrastructure to complete upgrades sooner. We will ensure families have more choice and pay less for their monthly internet bill. We urge all Australians to complete the broadband survey to help us ensure better broadband is available across the nation sooner, and those who need upgrades the most get it first.”
Turnbull has used the same ‘survey’ approach in the past with respect to other policy areas. For example, in April 2011 he published the results of a survey into community values on same sex marriage, receiving more than 4,000 responses in a little over four weeks.
However, more comprehensive broadband speed data already exists. For example, the broadband speed test operated by ZDNet features some 1.7 million responses from Australians – showing an average broadband speed of 7.79Mbps. Similarly, broadband forum Whirlpool conducts an annual survey featuring a comprehensive spread of questions. The survey in early 2011, for example, saw some 23,513 individuals respond.
Turnbull’s statements this morning are broadly accurate, but do not tell the whole picture with respect to the National Broadband Network rollout process. For example, the Liberal MP is correct that NBN Co’s current corporate plan estimates that some 54,000 customers will be connected to the NBN’s fibre infrastructure by June 2013. However, by that stage there will be a total of 341,000 premises passed or covered by the NBN’s fibre, with hundreds of thousands more under construction. By June 2014, the number of active connections is slated to reach 487,000, as the NBN is currently in its rapid deployment phase.
Secondly, it is not yet clear that the Coalition will be able to deploy its rival infrastructure – focusing on a Fibre to the Node-style rollout rather than all the way to the premise – in a more timely manner than Labor will be able to with its Fibre to the Home-style deployment. Turnbull has committed to commissioning the Productivity Commission to conduct a cost/benefit analysis into the national broadband situation upon a Coalition Government taking office, which would be expected to take a significant period of time – perhaps between six months and a year.
In addition, the Coalition would need to re-negotiate NBN Co’s contract to use Telstra’s existing copper infrastructure. The negotiation of that contract initially took several years and was one of the prime reasons why the current NBN rollout has been delayed by six months.
Lastly, the Coalition has consistently declined to answer a number of core questions about its own rival NBN policy – ranging from technical details to financial information. Turnbull has not presented a formal policy document with respect to the policy – but has given a number of speeches outlining its core tenets.
To be honest I’m a little befuddled by Turnbull’s broadband survey. I mean, what is the politician seeking to accomplish through publishing it?
With the limited number of responses which Turnbull will receive (probably less than 10,000, going by the previous gay marriage survey), it will be virtually impossible to use the data to show which areas of Australia currently have poor broadband speeds. The data will simply not be sufficiently detailed to show this kind of information, and therefore I’m not really sure what collecting this kind of quantitative data will accomplish.
With respect to the qualitative parts of the survey (for example, people’s views on how good their existing broadband connection is), I don’t think this will really help Turnbull or the Coalition either. I don’t think there is much likelihood of it showing that most Australians are happy with their broadband connection. And if it does, then that still doesn’t provide grounds for setting Australian telecommunications policy for the next decade, when users’ needs will have grown substantially. If it shows most Australians are unhappy with their current speeds, then that will only give impetus to Labor’s NBN policy, which is a much more comprehensive and long-term vision than the Coalition’s current rival policy.
In the meantime, there remains the fact that the Coalition has still not answered basic questions about its policy and shows no sign of doing so. How long does Turnbull plan to keep on conducting these little sideshow-style exercises before the Coalition gets to the real deal in terms of its broadband policy? Only the Shadow Minister knows. But I hope it’s soon.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull