news Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has taken a pickaxe to the Coalition’s rival broadband policy released this morning, describing the plan as a “fail” on the part of Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and lambasting the Coalition for its “ignorance” when it comes to broadband policy.
This morning the Coalition published its long-awaited rival NBN policy. The policy promises Australians download speeds of between 25Mbps and 100Mbps by the end of 2016 and 50Mbps to 100Mbps by the end of 2019, at a projected reduced total cost of $29.5 billion. Unlike Labor’s NBN project, it will make extensive use of fibre to the node technology (where fibre is rolled out to neighbourhood ‘nodes’ and much of the existing copper network is maintained), but will also utilise fibre to the premise, satellite and fixed wireless solutions in some areas as the NBN is.
Key to the Coalition’s alternative NBN vision is the claim that the project under Labor has been too slow to deliver better broadband to Australians. The Coalition’s plan will ensure that all Australian households and businesses can reap the benefits of the NBN much sooner and at affordable prices for consumers,” the Coalition stated in a media release this morning.
However, Conroy sharply disagreed with the Coalition’s view of the NBN project, speaking in a doorstop interview this morning in the Canberra suburb of Gungahlin, which is one of the NBN’s early rollout zones and has historically suffered a poor level of broadband service. The full transcript of Conroy’s comments is available online here in Word doc format.
“The NBN in this area, as some of you would know, we recently turned it on, has already been switched on for over 4000 homes and businesses here in Gungahlin,” said Conroy. “And let me tell you, this is the record-breaking area, after just two months, 33 per cent, one third, 33 per cent have ordered the NBN, which is absolutely the best take-up rate anywhere in Australia so far. Work on the fibre network is also underway in around two and a half thousand premises, just nearby in Palmerston, and we expect these homes to be ready to be switched on in June. Across the ACT, work on the fibre network has commenced to more than 20,000 homes and businesses, already commenced. And across the country we’re already seeing the benefits of the National Broadband Network.”
Conroy said that 70 percent of NBN customers across Australia are paying less or the same in terms of retail prices as they were before, with those paying more obtaining a higher level of service.
“Customers using the NBN are also connecting more devices to the network, and this is where Malcolm Turnbull and [the Coalition’s] version of a broadband network fails miserably,” said Conroy. “If you understand broadband, if you understand that it’s being used for more applications, that require more bandwidth every single day, then you know that Malcolm Turnbull’s network is a fail.”
“The only limitation will be a broadband plan that does not build capacity for the future. Malcolm Turnbull is going to build a one lane Sydney Harbour Bridge, because he says he can do it cheaper and faster. Well yes, in 1927 they could have made a decision to build a one lane Sydney Harbour Bridge. But fortunately for the people of Sydney, they thought about the future. They had a vision for the future of the city of Sydney, and they built the icon that is the Sydney Harbour Bridge.”
“And I do understand – I’ve read in the Liberal Party’s press journal, known as The Daily Telegraph, that later today Mr Turnbull will be releasing the Coalition’s broadband policy. Well the Coalition is planning to disconnect nine million Australians from Labor’s NBN. Disconnect nine million Australians from Labor’s NBN. The Coalition consistently display an ignorance of the role of high speed broadband, and the role that it will have in the future. Study after study has demonstrated the social and economic impact of high speed broadband and why it is the critical infrastructure that this country needs in the 21st century.”
“But the Coalition doesn’t want to build for the future. Tony Abbott says Australia can’t afford to have the best communications system in the world. Well Labor says, we can’t afford not to have it. They are so short-sighted, that they only want to build a broadband network for today. They don’t think about the applications, the extra connectivity, the extra machines, the extra devices that will be connected up by all of you here, all of our children in the future, they don’t think about that.”
Conroy pointed out that under the Coalition’s vision, it would be possible to connect premises to fibre directly (fibre to the premise), but that, as with a similar deployment in the UK with incumbent telco BT, customers would need to pay NBN Co for the privilege of having fibre all the way to their door and not just to their neighbourhood.
“Mr Turnbull has said that if you really want high speed broadband, and he confirmed this this morning on radio, if you really want high speed broadband, if you want Labor’s NBN, you just have to pay for it out of your own pocket,” said Conroy. “He cites, as many of you know, British Telecom, BT’s model in the UK, where BT is charging up to $5000 to connect fibre to the home, $5000. So Mr Turnbull’s message this morning on radio, to small businesses, to home businesses, to every school kid is: unless you can afford $5000, you don’t get Labor’s NBN, you get a second rate broadband network which cannot deliver the needs of your small business, or your kid’s education.”
The Coalition is also promising that its version of the NBN will be substantially cheaper on taxpayers’ wallets than Labor’s NBN, although the pair’s estimates about costs differ wildly. NBN Co is currently projecting that it will require about $30 billion worth of government investment over its life, with another $14 billion to be funded through debt arrangements. The total capital expenditure required for Labor’s NBN is currently estimated by NBN Co at $37.4 billion.
However, the Coalition is estimating that Labor’s NBN will cost more than $90 billion to complete, with the Coalition’s alternative to cost just $29.5 billion.
Questioned on the issue this morning, Conroy pointed out that NBN Co had already signed more than $10 billion worth of contracts, and he had been through the company’s cost estimates “fairly rigorously”.
“Claims about cost blow outs have not been substantiated,” said Conroy. “They’ve just not been substantiated. The sort of claims that The Daily Telegraph prints ad nauseam without any reference to facts, without getting in touch with my office, and just printing as the truth Coalition claims about blow outs is just not journalism. These are false and fanciful figures. They’re concocted figures.”
The Greens have also heavily criticised the Coalition’s rival NBN policy. This morning the party accused the Coalition of perpetrating a “farce” in the delivery of its rival policy, describing the alternative vision for Australia’s future telecommunications needs as “planned obsolescence” on a vast scale and as “a rehashed ALP broadband policy from 2009″.