news Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has launched a broadside directly against Tasmanian technology activist group Digital Tasmania, accusing the group of instigating a “misinformation campaign” regarding the rollout of the NBN’s infrastructure in the state.
In September, Digital Tasmania stated that during the Federal Election campaign, then-Shadow Communications Minister Turnbull had appeared to confirm the NBN’s previous fibre to the premises model would be fully deployed in Tasmania, as the state was already covered by existing construction contracts which Turnbull had pledged to honour. At the time, Labor had claimed the Coalition’s preferred fibre to the node deployment model would see some Tasmanians receive inferior broadband to the FTTP model used by Labor.
Subsequently, as Communications Minister, Turnbull issued a revised Statement of Expectations letter to NBN Co, ordering the company to continue existing construction only where build instructions had been issued to delivery partners, but not explicitly confirming the fate of the Tasmanian rollout.
This morning, as has been expected for some time, NBN Co updated its network rollout maps to reflect its new orders. The future of the network’s rollout past mid-2014 is currently in doubt, with NBN Co curently conducting a strategic review to determine the shape of its rollout in future. It is likely that NBN Co’s future rollout will include substantial sections of Fibre to the Node-style deployments, as well as in-between solutions such as Fibre to the Basement.
Because of the doubt surrounding the future of the NBN rollout, Digital Tasmania has been lobbying for the Tasmanian situation to be cleared up and for the state to receive a full Fibre to the Premises rollout.
“… we just don’t want to get that substandard fibre-to-the-node service,” Digital Tasmania spokesperson Andrew Connor told the ABC today.”So the money’s already committed there and we’re already due to have this rollout done by 2015, but now these rollout areas in Tassie to get fibre just disappeared from that map.”
In response to Digital Tasmania’s statements, Turnbull this afternoon issued a statement through his own website — but not his Ministerial website hosted by the Department of Communications.
“Digital Tasmania’s Andrew Connor has this morning embarked on a misinformation campaign about the rollout of the NBN in Tasmania,” said Turnbull.
“Mr Connor stated that the Coalition has put the rollout on hold for a couple of months. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, the Coalition has updated the NBN maps to show residents the true state of the rollout in Tasmania. Labor created a false and misleading metric of ‘construction commenced’, which was initiated as soon as high level planning began and was designed to create the impression that there was far more construction activity than was actually the case.”
“Mr Connor acknowledged that asbestos delays and issues with contractors had already created delays in the rollout. These delays occur between high level planning and physical construction work begins – meaning that communities who have been informed that they will be getting the NBN in a reasonable timeframe are waiting for periods of beyond 18 months.”
“The new maps reflect only areas where physical construction has begun, meaning that those communities have greater certainty about when the network will be active and when they can expect to order their services.”
According to Turnbull, Connor also said: “A lot of these areas have been handed over to contractors and those instructions have been issued to make these pits ready so we’re just bemused that that work is just going to go to waste now. To then put that on hold for, at best, a few months or more while they plan out a new network and negotiate with Telstra to get access to that copper – it’s just not going to make the rollout happen any faster or any cheaper in Tassie.”
However, the Minister said,it is wrong to say that any delays in the rollout in Tasmania are a result of Coalition policy.
“As he well knows, Labor went to the last election with the rollout forecast for June 30, 2014, cut by almost 50 per cent with only around 600,000 premises in brownfield areas expected to be passed by fibre,” said Turnbull. “The NBN Co has advised the Government that with the revised Statement of Expectations, it expects to be able to reach approximately that same number of premises by June 30.”
“However there will be more certainty concerning forecasts by NBN Co following the completion of the strategic review. The new maps are designed to create more certainty for residents and consumers so that they have reasonable expectations about when they will be order services.”
As I wrote on Delimiter 2.0 a few weeks ago (subscriber content), Malcolm Turnbull never specifically promised Tasmanians that the all-fibre NBN rollout in the state would be completed as originally planned. Andrew Connor, and several other commentators in the state, have for several months been putting words in the Minister’s mouth on this issue. The modification of NBN Co’s maps this morning is an entirely expected and legitimate move. Connor is using the change to make what I consider to be slightly inappropriate commentary, and I do agree with most of what Turnbull has written here.
However, as I also argued on Delimiter 2.0, if there is any one state in Australia that deserves to have a universal Fibre to the Premises National Broadband Network, it’s the Apple Isle, which has been a perpetual broadband backwater for the past decade and more. Tasmania should get a full FTTP rollout. The state is a special case when it comes to broadband, and it does deserve special treatment.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull