NBN rollout update a “fantasy”, says Turnbull


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


  1. If Turnbull and Abbott have their way as few of us as possible will have fibre “pass our premises” And there is no way they can deliver a minimum of 25Mbps over the copper we have.

  2. Turnbull at his usual best I see. “It has taken 4 years” blah blah blah…. when the truth is that the role out only really started about 18 months ago. The rest of the time was spent in negotiations and doing test roll outs. That is not roll out time Mr Turnbull. They may be marginally behind time at the moment but this is more likely to change than not..

  3. The Conroy / Turnbull NBN debate has just been on.
    Renai is probably smashing away another article :)

      • Just an observation these 2 articles could have been combined into one with some comments by yourself at the end as it would have fostered more discussion and more discussion is good for delimiter.

        • If renai wanted to create a large amount of comments on one of these articles he just needs to say something vaguely positive about the Coalitions position on the NBN (anything that doesn’t directly compare it to Hitler would be enough).

          In terms of creating genuine debate and discussion, all but impossible without arousing the wrath of the NBN Zealots.

          • If renai wanted to create a large amount of comments on one of these articles he just needs to say something vaguely positive about the Coalitions position on the NBN

            I like Malcolms plan…John Howard should have done it while he owned Telstra.

          • …and what would you call the type of obviously partial and oddly colourful comment you just made Michael?

          • I am all for a considered constructive bottom up debate in regards to the NBN there is middle ground and there are other options going forward BUT we can’t argue for our own NBN only either Libs or Labs I don’t agree with everything in the Labs policy and don’t agree with most of the Libs policy and that is the problem I agree more with the Labs policy than Libs.

            So if anyone wants to join a real debate I am quite happy to but I doubt any FttN people will.

          • “In terms of creating genuine debate and discussion, all but impossible without arousing the wrath of the NBN Zealots.”

            No, what make it impossible is people like you not being able to put a point of view with using provocative language.

            Try this next time, “without arousing the wrath of those who favour the current NBN model”. See, it is not that hard.

        • Journalism: The only industry where everybody has an opinion on how good a job you’re doing, and expresses that opinion every five minutes :)

          • I think you mean Journalism and the Economy. People comment on the country’s economy all the time yet they have no legal qualifications to do so. I’d just chalk it up to being jealous of the amazing Journalistic lifestyle.


          • -I- like your stuff. Even the stuff I don’t agree with. It’s written in such a way as to not beat me over the head with a lack of tech knowledge on my part but at the same time challenges me to think and go learn more.

          • +1

            There’s a reason Delimiter is on my daily reading list, even though I sometimes disagree quite strongly with the conclusions Renai draws.

  4. Sydney Harbour Bridge could have also been built much quicker if they’d gone for a more modest 2 lane bridge. Fortunately they didn’t go that way…

  5. I think Turnbull’s running out of tricks. I swear he’s recycled the “their claims are false/misleading/fanciful/naïve/fantastic etc.” line a hundred times.

    • The “fantasy world of hockey sticks” is a new one.
      I wonder what Sigmund Freud would have to say about that.

      • Nah, I reckon he’s just been reading some stuff about the climate change hockey sticks… :-P

      • Sigmund Freud conclude, that Malcolm is just envious because Conroy has a bigger NBN than Malcolm has.

      • “referring to the tribulations of life which Christian doctrine says are left behind only when one leaves the world”

        He’s telling us to all go die.
        Sacrilege and insults from MT. I guess that is all I can expect from him.

    • Actually rather than the conventional wording “vale of tears” .I consider “veil of tiers” to be an accurate description for his FTTN.
      IE lots of tiers well below their optimistic 25Mbps minimum & well hidden behind a veil of deceit.

  6. 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.

    Dear Malcolm.

    Isn’t it kind of silly to remind people that the former Liberal government actually created the situation that Labor had to fix? And now they called you out on it, you’ve jumped on the “broadband for all” band wagon as well, but only doing half the job by taking the fibre half way?

    Maybe I’m just getting old and cynical :(



  7. Some of these 1.3 million extra people may be people who were supposed to get the NBN before 2016 but now won’t. Last night I checked the NBN site to see when the rollout gets to my place, only to find that the end date was extended to 2016 (was 2015). Also, the area served seemed a bit smaller. I checked a location in Sydney, the end date was extended to 2017, and the start date seemed later than I remembered. These are only the dates when the NBN will start the rollout in those areas, availability is up to a year later than that maybe even longer!

    • I just checked the schedule for my area (postcode 4341) and it’s been brought forward two years from 2015 to 2013. I’m pretty sure I last checked this no more than 6-12 months ago and it definitely said 2015 then. Obviously NBNco have been shifting the priorities around of late, don’t know when or why though.

      Still, I’m not going to complain about getting decent broadband two years earlier than expected; I’m currently stuck with heavily congested 3G as the copper in my area is too crap to support DSL services.

  8. Sure Malcolm, let’s keep going back to that original estimate and pretend that they were rolling out fibre for almost a year longer when they were actually stuck in negotiations.

    • “Sure Malcolm, let’s keep going back to that original estimate and pretend that they were rolling out fibre for almost a year longer when they were actually stuck in negotiations.”

      Damn right, Steven.

      Maybe we should get him to promise to resign the first time the LNP falls behind. Say when the Telstra dealing bogs down or costs heaps to avoid the slowdown.

      Of course he is not to ready for real promises. Think August 2012 – LNP Plan complete, costings done, ready to go.

  9. Why didn’t NBNCo deploy to metro and cbd’s first to get majority of the nation across prior to rural? Sorry, but if NBNCo did this, wouldn’t they be more sustainable and more cost effective then deploying to rural areas with less population?

    • That was essentially a political decision though not necessarily a poor one.
      If all areas are being upgraded it’s a matter of choice as to which are first, it’s not meant to be primarily profit driven so regional can make a decent case for some priority, especially considering their current sub-standard services.

      It’s only since the NLP have been distorting the debate that this has become an issue, they shifted the goal posts so their low hanging fruit based plan looked palatable. (Sequential, not mixed metaphors there)

      • Indeed, it’s just more of the old damned do/don’t, no matter which way they went.

        Deploy in cities and be damned by those who oppose for not supplying to those in need and overbuilding the more profitable areas already adequate. Roll out rurally and be damned by the same people for mismanagement, for not deploying in more profitable areas?

    • Someone had to be first, just like someone will have to be last. Everyone wants to be first and no one wants to be last. Relatively random deployment is the only thing that even approaches a fair model, but of course the only people praising this system are those who already have it, while everyone else just keeps complaining.

      I think people need to recognise good policy when it is actually implemented.

      • No, the “fairest” model, and the one that would also would have politically the smartest, would have been to start with the areas that had the worst ADSL availability. That would have actually provided people with no or poor internet connectivity something they didn’t have, made it look like the billions going to NBNCo were actually being used usefully, and prevented the other side of the politics from pointing out that pretty much everyone who didn’t have internet connectivity still doesn’t 4 years into the project. You will note also that those areas which had poor ADSL (and wireless) availability have the highest takeup rate, so it would have produced numbers which were good PR, made the NBN look popular, and produced the most benefit quicker. But Conroy and Quigley showed their usual political and commercial ineptness.

  10. Yes Alex, that seems to be what cunning old lawyers do when they become politicians.

    Apparently we are all meant to listen only to the beautifully polished word flow, and not notice that there is no substance or accuracy contained within it.

  11. Turnbull is more fantasy than the Labor Party are as a whole.

    First he claims that there are no “technical” limits on uploads speeds, THEN:

    Now he claims that there will be MORE nodes,specifically, “mini-nodes”.

    NOW he labels the rollout update as “fantasy”.

  12. I just wish I could get a stable connection of 1MB down and 0.5MB up

    While everyone else is getting upgraded from ADSL to Fiber I, and a lot of other people who aren’t located right in the middle of a city

    Is that too much to ask?

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