news Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has dismissed the latest update to the rollout plans for Labor’s National Broadband Network project as a “fantasy”, pointing out that the initiative has been under way for four years but has failed to meet its targets and has only successfully rolled out infrastructure to a “miniscule” number of premises.
At an event in Western Sydney yesterday, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced an update to NBN Co’s rolling three-year deployment timetable, adding more than 1.35 million Australian premises to its plan for deploying fibre, wireless and satellite infrastructure throughout Australia. This brings to 4.85 million the number of premises that will have construction commenced or where services are scheduled to be ordered by June 2016.
Flanked by Labor MPs from the region, Conroy also officially switched on NBN fibre services in a small area in Blacktown. However, NBN Co’s fibre rollout so far covers only a small number of premises; the company recently disclosed that only about 70,000 premises had been passed by its fibre network as at the end of March this year. NBN Co was formed in April 2009 and has close to 2,000 staff, as well as billions of dollars of contracts with construction companies and network equipment manufacturers.
“Stephen Conroy has yet again distinguished himself with spin and bluster,” said Turnbull in response to the launch, in a doorstop interview in Sydney. “He’s claimed that he’s going to connect millions more households to the fibre network. This is all a fantasy. He’s living in some sort of fantasy world of hockey sticks, where month after month of snail-like progress is any moment just around the corner going to be followed by a rapid take-off.”
Turnbull said that the “facts” were that NBN Co would be lucky to meet 15 percent of its original target for 30 June this year.
“It was meant to pass, according its own plan 1.2 million premises by 30 June this year. It will be lucky if it does 15 percent; it’s more likely to [do] something around 10 percent,” said Turnbull. “This is a colossal failure. It is proceeding at a snail’s pace. So far, this year, 2013, it’s been passing 5000 premises a month. Now on that basis it wouldn’t take decades; it would take centuries to complete the job. The fact is, when Stephen Conroy became the Minister for Communications in 2007, there were 2 million premises in Australia which did not have access to broadband, did not have sufficient speed to watch a YouTube video. They still don’t.”
“Labor has committed 8 billion dollars to the NBN Co it has passed only 68,000 premises in built up areas, it has less than 20,000 premises connected to its fibre network and it has put 8 billion dollars into the NBN Co. This project is failing.”
Turnbull also labelled Conroy’s decision to hold a launch in Western Sydney, where commentators have stated that Labor faces an electoral backlash, as a “political ploy” to win votes in the area.
“But you know something?” he added. “I think the people of western Sydney are a lot smarter than Stephen Conroy. Because they know that they’ve been promised the NBN for six years. The NBN Co was started 4 years ago. And nothing has happened. [Conroy] talks about construction commencing, he talks about all these great numbers, but the number of premises that have actually been passed by the fibre is miniscule compared to the overall task of around 12 million premises, which is their target. So this project as we have said from the outset is costing far too much and taking far too long. Telling someone with no broadband that the government is going to sort you out in 10 or 20 years is very, very cold comfort indeed. Now we will take a practical, cost effective approach to this. We will ensure that all premises in Australia have access to very fast broadband by 2016. Now we can do that because we will go about this job in a business-like manner.”
The Coalition is promising vastly reduced broadband speeds compared with Labor’s NBN, with its policy pledging to deliver speeds of between 25Mbps and 100Mbps by the end of 2016 — effectively the end of its first term in power if it wins the September Federal Election — and 50Mbps to 100Mbps by the end of 2019, effectively the end of its second term. According to the Coalition’s NBN policy statement, the 25Mbps to 100Mbps pledge applies to “all premises”, while the higher pledge by 2019 applies to “90 percent of fixed line users”. In comparison, Labor’s NBN policy will eventually offer almost all Australians broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps. However, the Coalition’s NBN policy promises to be finished several years before Labor’s.
Asked about the issue at the doorstop interview, Turnbull acknowledged the speed difference.
“But the relevant thing about broadband, and this is the critical point, it is not the actual speed that matters; it is what you can do with it,” the Member for Wentworth added. “Now the government is fixated on very, very high speeds. Very high numbers. But they can’t deliver it. Now I agree, that if time and money were no object in an ideal world then you would have fibre into every house, of course you would. But in this veil of tiers, money an time are in scarce supply.”
“For some people waiting 20 years is a very long time, some people might not be there in 20 years. Those kids that want to get access to broadband will have grown up and left home. So the critical thing is to get the balance right. And so to get everyone’s speed up to a high level, which enables them to do everything they want to do online today, and then, over time as and when demand requires it upgrade the network.”
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull