news Communications Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is continuing to regularly make misstatements about the Coalition’s National Broadband Network policy in speeches and media releases around Australia, in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to deceive the public about the policy.
Under Labor’s National Broadband Network policy, some 93 percent of Australian premises will receive fibre directly to the premise, delivering maximum download speeds of up to 1Gbps. The remainder of the population will be served by a combination of satellite and wireless broadband, delivering speeds of up to 25Mbps.
The Coalition’s policy will see fibre to the premises deployed to a significantly lesser proportion of the population — 22 percent — with 71 percent covered by fibre to the node technology, where fibre is extended to neighbourhood ‘nodes’ and the remainder of the distance to premises covered by Telstra’s existing copper network. The Coalition’s policy will also continue to use the HFC cable network operated by Telstra and will also target the remaining 7 percent of premises with satellite and wireless.
According to the Coalition’s media release issued in April upon the policy’s launch, the Coalition’s policy is based on the core pledge that the group will deliver download speeds of between 25Mbps and 100Mbps by the end of 2016 — effectively the end of its first term in power — and 50Mbps to 100Mbps by the end of 2019, effectively the end of its second term. According to the Coalition’s statement, the 25Mbps to 100Mbps pledge applies to “all premises”, while the higher pledge by 2019 applies to “90 percent of fixed line users”.
The FTTN-style rollout, although technically less capable than the FTTP style used by Labor, has been shown to be viable in a number of other first-world countries, including the UK, where incumbent telco BT recently announced it had passed some 16 million premises with FTTN since 2009, delivering speeds of up to 76Mbps, as well as France, Germany and the United States. And it will see the majority of Telstra’s copper network replaced with fibre.
However, in speeches and media releases over the past week as part of the Federal Election campaign, Communications Minister Anthony Albanese has appeared to make a deliberate, concerted attempt to deceive Australians about the Coalition’s plan.
In a media release issued on Tuesday this week associated with a visit to Tasmania, Albanese pointed out that although the Coalition plans to honour existing NBN contracts, this may not mean that Tasmanians will receive fibre to the premises.
“This would leave more than 85,000 Tasmanian homes and businesses using last century’s copper for their broadband, unless they pay as much as $5,000 to connect to fibre,” said Albanese. “It is clear that Tony Abbott will cut down the NBN, dividing the Tasmania between broadband haves and broadband have nots.”
Separately, in a media release associated with Albanese’s visit to the Far North Queensland city of Cairns, Albanese alleged that if the Coalition took power, more than 50,000 homes and business would miss out on what he described as “superfast broadband”. “They will be left with one of two choices: battle on using last century’s copper or fork out as much as $5,000 to have fibre connected to their home or business – something others in Cairns will get for free under Labor’s NBN,” Albanese said. “Australians now face a clear choice: they can vote for the future and fibre under Labor or the past and copper under the Coalition.”
Separately, in a doorstop statement made in the Queensland city of Bundaberg, Albanese appeared to repeat a similar claim. “We have a huge take up of new technology,” the Communications Minister and Deputy Prime Minister said. “We simply can’t afford to have a city divided with high speed fibre to the home and business on one side, and on the other side of the city have the old, outdated, unreliable copper network of last century.”
The key implication which Albanese is making in his statements is that Labor will be upgrading Telstra’s national copper telecommunications network to fibre, while the Coalition will not upgrade the network at all, leaving Australians on what the Labor MP has continually described as “last century’s copper”. In this sense, Albanese is conflating the Coalition’s fibre to the node plan with the current broadband services (ADSL2+) already available.
However, this implication is factually incorrect, because the Coalition’s policy will see the majority of Telstra’s copper network replaced with fibre, and will also deliver substantial broadband service delivery improvements.
Most telecommunications experts currently consider that both fibre to the premises and fibre to the node rollout styles deliver what can be described as “superfast” broadband. It is extremely common in the UK, for example, for politicians and commentators from all different points of view to describe BT’s FTTN rollout as “superfast”. This is the phrase used by BT itself to describe the rollout, as well as the UK Government. Likewise, the Coalition’s FTTN solution is expected to be as affordable in terms of its retail prices as Labor’s FTTP solution.
In addition, Australia’s own Telecommunications Act defines ‘superfast’ as matching the Coalition’s broadband infrastructure, due to the fact that it will offer minimum speeds of 25Mbps, and eventually, across the vast majority of Newcastle, speeds of 50Mbps or above. The Act defines a “superfast carriage service” as being a service where “the download transmission speed of the carriage service is normally more than 25 megabits per second”.
The copper component of the Coalition’s FTTN network is inherently less reliable than an all-fibre solution, but FTTN networks are widely considered to be sufficiently reliable and delivering sufficiently high speeds for most of the benefits which Labor is ascribing to its own FTTP policy. High definition video links used in education and health, for example, can be delivered through either solution, and the latency offered on each is not significantly different as to affect service delivery.
The Communications Minister’s statement with regard to the “as much as $5,000” cost of connecting to the Coalition’s version of the NBN refers to one additional feature of the policy will see the Coalition offer Australians the choice to upgrade their connection to fibre to the premises as under Labor’s existing NBN policy.
The Coalition believes it will be possible to offer this kind of service on a similar basis as it is offered in the UK, where wholesale telco BT Openreach is offering so-called ‘fibre on demand’ extension services at a price depending on how far premises are from their nearby node. According to OpenReach’s price list, costs for the fibre extension service include a £500 (AU$823) initial connection fee and ‘annual rental’ cost of £465 (AU$765), plus a specific charge ranging from £200 (AU$329) up to £3,500 (AU$5,762), depending on the distance premises are from local nodes.
It is likely that many Australians will wish to take advantage of this ‘FTTP on demand’ option, although it is also likely that the vast majority of Australians will not upgrade in the short to medium term. However, Albanese’s implication that unless they do upgrade, Australians will not have access to next-generation broadband services, is incorrect.
It is believed that Albanese is aware of the key strengths and weaknesses of the Coalition’s NBN policy with regard to Labor’s own policy.
The comments reflect only the latest occasion on which the Communications Minister has misrepresented a situation over the past several months since his appointment. Albanese made similar statements several weeks ago about the NBN rollout in Newcastle, for example. In mid-July, for example, Albanese inaccurately claimed a firm hired by a law firm acting for NBN Co’s board of directors was a “public relations company”, despite the fact that the firm concerned, Bespoke Approach, is listed on the Federal Government’s register of lobbyists and employs former senior politicians for the purposes of providing political management services. Albanese was pushed on the issue by journalists and reiterated his claim.
Albanese has also previously strongly criticised the Coalition’s NBN policy as “bizarre” and “neanderthal”, despite the successful examples of the use of FTTN in several other major first-world countries having demonstrated that the rollout style delivers substantial service delivery benefits to residents and businesses.
Labor MPs in general are also engaging in misrepresentation when it comes to the Coalition’s NBN policy. A number of ALP election advertisements have inaccurately claimed, for example, that Liberal policy would see Australians forced to pay up to $5,000, or else they would be left “on the old, slow copper network”, while connection to Labor’s fibre-based NBN would be free.
However, the Coalition has also made a number of misleading statements about Labor’s NBN project over the past several years. In one of the more blatant examples of misleading commentary, last week Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull appeard to make a deliberate attempt to mislead the public about the cost of connecting to the National Broadband Network’s upcoming 1Gbps fibre service, claiming on national television that such connections would cost “at least $20,000″ a month, despite the fact that the Shadow Communications Minister is aware the cost is likely to be much less.
In another example, several weeks ago Opposition Leader Tony Abbott inaccurately claimed that the rollout of Labor’s National Broadband Network in Tasmania will take “80 years” to complete, in what Labor’s Regional Communications Minister Sharon Bird immediately labelled a deliberate attempt to deceive residents and businesses in the state.
Similar to the misleading infographics distributed by Labor MPs over the past several months, an infographic currently published on the Facebook page of the Liberal Party of Australia misrepresents Labor’s policy. It conflates Labor’s initial, $4.7 billion policy outlined in 2007 with its reformed 2009 policy, falsely alleging a blowout from $4.7 billion to $90 billion in the project, and a decade-long project timetable extension.
The ongoing misleading comments has led academics to label the NBN debate as having been poisoned by a constant series of inaccurate and misleading statements.
I grow very weary of hearing Australia’s Communications Minister conflate FTTN and copper/ADSL. They are not at all the same thing, as Albanese is well aware, and even Albanese must admit that the Coalition’s broadband policy, although technically inferior to Labor’s own, will still deliver Australians substantial service delivery benefits that will serve the nation well into the mid-term. It is offensive to hear Albanese claim continually that no benefits will accrue from a national FTTN upgrade. I hardly need remind the Member for Grayndler, after all, that Labor took a FTTN-based policy to the 2007 election. Labor wasn’t describing its policy back then as leaving Australians on “last century’s copper”. So why is it OK to do so now?
Of course, none of this is to say that the Coalition isn’t peddling its own half-truths, misleading statements and outright lies during the campaign — we’ve seen a fair amount of that also. But Albanese’s dogged persistence on this issue has been extraordinary. How stupid does the Communications Minister think Australians are? I’ll say it again: FTTN is not at all the same thing as copper/ADSL.