news Federal Shadow Education Minister Christopher Pyne has inaccurately claimed on national radio that the National Broadband Network has not connected any customers at speeds of 100Mbps, despite the fact that in fact, 44 percent of NBN customers connected so far to the project’s fibre infrastructure have taken up such speeds.
In an interview this week broadcast on Triple J’s Hack program (the audio is available online in MP3 format; Pyne’s comments are around the six minute mark), Pyne was asked to respond to a recent suggestion by Prime Minister Julia Gillard that the delivery of the Labor Federal Government’s flagship National Broadband Network infrastructure would make it easier for teachers to deliver instruction in Asian languages to students through technologies such as videoconferencing.
Pyne responded: “The National Broadband Network is not up and running. They have connected six and a half thousand households in three years under the National Broadband Network, and not one household or school has been connected at 100 megabits per second, which was the promise.”
However, unfortunately Pyne’s claim regarding the lack of 100Mbps connections on the NBN is demonstratably false. NBN Co’s corporate plan published in December 2010 previously predicted that in the early years of its fibre rollout, the majority (52%) of customers who signed up for its fibre services would have picked the entry level speed tier it’s offering — a 12Mbps service which is slower even than current theoretical ADSL2+ speeds. The remainder were to be split largely between the next speed tranches of 25Mbps (17%) ad 50Mbps (23%), with only a small number (8%) taking the highest speed 100Mbps plans.
However, NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley told a Senate Committee several months ago that, when it came to the actual uptake experienced by NBN Co in the real world so far, this predicted trend had been somewhat inverted. “Overall, 38 percent of active services on our fibre network have been on the fastest speed tier, which is 100Mbps down,” he said. “Only 16 percent of the active services on our fibre network are for the entry-level speed tier of 12Mbps.”
In a new Senate Estimates hearing several weeks ago, NBN Co head of product development and industry relations Jim Hassell revealed that the proportion of NBN customers signing up for 100Mbps speeds had grown even higher over the past several months. “What we have seen is that the top tier – the 100Mbps service – has attracted 44 percent of services,” said Hassell. Delimiter has invited Pyne’s office to retract the inaccurate comment.
The truth of Pyne’s comment that only about 6,500 Australians had connected to the NBN in total so far is unclear, as NBN Co has not disclosed the break-up of connected customers on its fibre networks, as opposed to its wireless or satellite infrastructure. In NBN Co’s corporate plan released in August this year, the company said at that stage it had some 3,500 active services connected to its fibre networks, and a further 10,000 connected to its fixed wireless and satellite networks. However, as the company has entered its rapid rollout phase, NBN Co has started rapidly connecting more users.
For example, NBN Co’s head of Government, Communications and Stakeholder Relations Kieren Cooney told a Senate Estimates hearing on 16 October this year that NBN Co had bolstered the total number of active users on its network to 24,000 over just a three month period. Over the next nine months to mid-2013, that number of active users is expected to increase four-fold, to reach some 92,000 active connections. By mid-2013, NBN Co is planning to have covered some 661,000 premises in total with its network infrastructure, with about half that amount being fibre infrastructure and about half being satellite or wireless. Not all those premises will immediately start using the infrastructure, however.
Pyne’s comments come as a number of senior members of the Coalition continue to make demonstratably inaccurate claims with respect to the NBN in the media. For example, last week Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey repeated several times an inaccurate claim that the NBN’s funding could be treated as an expense in the Federal Budget, despite the fact that accounting standards require it to be treated as a capital investment.
Hockey’s comments come as the latest in a long line of inaccurate and misleading statements the Shadow Treasurer has made about the NBN project. Earlier this month, for example, Hockey claimed the National Broadband Network could cost as much as $100 billion to build, despite the company’s own estimates showing that it will require around $37 billion of capital injection from the Government and eventually make a return, paying back the investment with some profit on top. In June, in another example, Hockey inaccurately claimed that 4G mobile broadband had the potential to be “far superior” to the fibre technology of the NBN.
Similarly, several months ago, speaking on Channel Ten’s Meet the Press program, Nationals Leader Warren Truss made a number of major factually inaccurate statements about the project, as detailed in this article by Delimiter at the time. In addition, Truss had previously made a number of inaccurate statements about the NBN over the past several months.
In mid-May, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott misrepresented the cost of connecting to the NBN, in comments which the Government claimed represented a deliberate attempt to mislead the Australian public on the issue. Turnbull similarly made a number of factually incorrect statements on the NBN throughout March, and in January Abbott got quite a few facts about the NBN wrong in a radio interview.
Christopher Pyne should retract his comment that no users have connected to the NBN at speeds of 100Mbps. They are simply untrue; this is not an opinion, it is a fact. The fact that the Shadow Education Minister made this statement at all either illustrates that he does not understand the NBN rollout well; or that he is willing to grossly misrepresent the project in public. Either is not a great outcome for the Australian public.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull