news Tasmanian Liberal Leader Will Hodgman has reportedly spoken directly to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull arguing “strongly” that Tasmania needs a full rollout of Fibre to the Premises broadband technology, as opposed to the partial FTTP and partial Fibre to the Node rollout outlined by NBN Co executive chairman Ziggy Switkowski this week.
Many Tasmanians believe the Coalition, specifically Malcolm Turnbull, committed the Coalition’s Broadband Network rollout (CBN) in the state to a full Fibre to the Premises deployment during last year’s Federal Election campaign. However, in fact, Turnbull never explicitly made such a promise; stating only that a Coalition Government would honour construction contracts signed by NBN Co. Some Tasmanians took this statement to mean that the Coalition would commit to a full rollout of Fibre to the Premises broadband in the state. However, Turnbull never committed to such a model; and such contracts are known to be able to be modified.
The Coalition has always stated that it preferred a Fibre to the Node and HFC-based approach to the NBN. In mid-December, NBN Co delivered its Strategic Review, recommending that Labor’s all-fibre approach to its broadband network be replaced by a mixed FTTN/HFC cable/FTTP approach under the Coalition.
Speaking on ABC Radio in Tasmania yesterday, Switkowski confirmed Fibre to the Node would be used in Tasmania. “Obviously in the previous model, the infrastructure was going to be an all fibre infrastructure,” he said. “Post the election and post the strategic review, we’ve now agreed on a multi-technology model where we’ll seek to use a existing copper network where we can.”
This morning, the ABC published an article (we recommend you click here for the full story) quoting Liberal Leader Will Hodgman as stating that he picked up the phone to Turnbull as soon as he heard about the Fibre to the Node plan for Tasmania.
According to the ABC, Hodgman said broadband was critical infrastructure and he wanted to see the best possible service delivered, but that it has to be efficient and affordable for the Federal Government. “It’s a federal project but I’ll argue strongly our preferred position is fibre to the home. I don’t resile from that, and that’s what I’ll argue for,” he reportedly said.
The revelation means all of the major political parties in Tasmania are in favour of an all-fibre broadband rollout for the state, with Labor and the Greens also supporting such a rollout.
In a statement issued yesteday, TasICT, the state-based industry body representing the local IT industry, urged Turnbull to come to Tasmania and explain the full repercussions of Switkowski’s comments. “It’s disappointing that the future of Tasmania’s most important infrastructure project in decades was announced by a government-owned corporation via a local radio interview,” said TasICT executive officer Dean Winter.
“Tasmanian businesses and consumers have been craving certainty around this project since the Federal Election. We expected to have a full understanding of what the NBN rollout would look like by December, but we’re now in February and all we’re certain about is that Tasmania won’t be receiving the full Fibre to the Premises (FttP) rollout it was promised.”
“Mr Turnbull must explain and justify his decision to downgrade Tasmania’s NBN rollout. If it is on the basis of cost, then he should release NBN co’s analysis of those costs so that we can have a clear understanding of why the decision was made. It’s important that areas with the highest need for superfast broadband technology are prioritised to receive FttP technology. One of the key problems with the original rollout plan was the prioritisation of suburbs and towns that did not require first access to the technology.”
“Mr Turnbull should release a list of the areas that will not get Fibre to the Premises (FttP) technology and what technology they will receive as soon as possible.”
Long-running Tasmanian issue
The Tasmanian population is highly aware of broadband as an issue and has consistently raised its voice on the NBN topic as a unified group far louder than other states have.
After the 2010 Federal Election, former Howard-era Minister Peter Reith produced a report on the Coalition’s election loss. The majority of the report does not mention the NBN, but one section quotes extensively from a similar report produced last year by Sydney academic Julian Leeser into the Tasmanian leg of the election, which has been reported in brief.
“The failure to properly explain the Liberal Party’s broadband policy and the Labor Party’s effective scare campaign was a major cause of the party’s failure to win seats in Tasmania,” the report states. “This was the nearly universal review of people making submissions to the review and is borne out by research undertaken by the Liberal Party. In the view of many, the party’s policy amounted to a threat to come into people’s homes and rip the Internet out of the wall.”
The report added that the NBN policy had a particularly strong effect on Tasmania for a number of reasons. For starters, the fibre network was already being rolled out in some towns, and Tasmania is also often behind the mainland in receiving new technology — so the early stage NBN rollout was seen as a boost to the state, as well as having flow-on effects in terms of jobs, for example.
In comparison, the Liberals’ policy was not as clear-cut as Labor’s. “One of the problems of the broadband policy was that nowhere in the policy document was there any carve-out for Tasmania or any explanation of what the Liberal Party would do with existing infrastructure,” wrote Leeser in the report. “Numerous senior Liberals in Tasmania had raised the issue of broadband in Tasmania with senior Federal Liberals in Canberra, but a carve-out for Tasmania was forgotten.”
“The broadband policy was written at the last minute without a set of Tasmanian eyes cast over it. The party needs to make a clear and unambiguous statement about its intentions on broadband infrastructure in Tasmania in the future.”
My opinion on this issue is detailed in an article published in Delimiter 2.0 (paywalled). As I wrote in October:
“Malcolm Turnbull never specifically promised Tasmanians that the all-fibre NBN rollout in the state would be completed as originally planned. But 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.
… If you compare Tasmania to the rest of the country, after all, it is inherently different. It has fewer natural economic advantages, being neither a mining nor farming powerhouse, neither a financial center nor a major seat of government. Its telecommunications infrastructure has languished behind the rest of Australia for a decade now, as has its level of retail telecommunications competition; yet it desperately needs that infrastructure in order to stimulate its economy. And its population is highly aware of that fact and politically active regarding the NBN.
For all these reasons, it would make sense for the Coalition Federal Government to continue putting Tasmania first when it comes to the NBN; and in many ways, that means guaranteeing a mostly FTTP-based NBN rollout for the state. It’s what Tasmania needs; it’s what it, more than any other state, has always been promised; and most importantly, it’s what long-suffering Tasmanians deserve.
It’s for these reasons that politicians and the general public have always viewed Tasmania as being a special case for the NBN rollout. Tasmania was always slated to get the NBN first; it was always involved at a deeper level than other states in the project, and its politicians, on both sides of the fence, have always been more enthusiastic about the initiative than politicians on the mainland — even to the extent that some Coalition politicians in Tasmania have agitated for the NBN to be rolled out faster and more widely in the state, going against the dominant narrative of their national party colleagues.
They say in Government that ideally, every policy should have both a public interest aim as well as delivering a political bonus to the Minister of the day. That opportunity certainly exists here for the Coalition, which has sometimes struggled in Tasmania, but could do much to lock its future fortunes in with the state’s residents if it supported a decent NBN rollout.
For all these reasons, it would make sense for the Coalition Federal Government to continue putting Tasmania first when it comes to the NBN; and in many ways, that means guaranteeing a mostly FTTP-based NBN rollout for the state. It’s what Tasmania needs; it’s what it, more than any other state, has always been promised; and most importantly, it’s what long-suffering Tasmanians deserve.”
Image credit: Tasmanian Liberals