Tassie FTTN decision Visionstream’s fault, says Turnbull



news Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has explicitly blamed construction contractor Visionstream for the Federal Government’s decision not to fully deploy the Fibre to the Premises model for the Coalition’s Broadband Network in Tasmania, claiming the company was not able to deliver the infrastructure at the cost it agreed to.

Many Tasmanians believe the Coalition, specifically 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.

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 last week, 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.”

In a separate statement last week posted on his website, Turnbull himself attempted to directly address the question of whether he and the Coalition in general had mislead Tasmanians on the issue.

“Did the Federal Government mislead voters when it promised to “honour existing contracts” in Tasmania?” Turnbull’s website states. “Wouldn’t it have been more accurate to state that you would “renegotiate existing contracts”? Why wasn’t it spelled out during the campaign that the contracts didn’t specify whether the NBN connection would be via fibre or via the existing copper network?”

The Minister’s response was as follows: “The NBN Co was prepared to honour the contract, the problem was that Visionstream said they could not make money at the rates which they had agreed to and demanded more money to continue construction. In fact as you know construction of the NBN in Tasmania slowed to a halt in the months leading up to the election. The NBN Co, under this Coalition Government, has got it moving again.”

The specific contract which Turnbull is referring to is a deal with Visionstream which was slated to see the company deploy most of the Tasmanian rollout of Labor’s then-National Broadband Network project. At that stage, before the Federal Election in September, the plan had been for the Tasmanian rollout to be fully based on Labor’s preferred Fibre to the Premises model.

However, late last year it was revealed that Visionstream had made little progress on the rollout. Subsequently, Turnbull published a statement implying that much of the problems with the rollout in Tasmania could be pegged to Visionstream, stating that the company has done little work in the state since July and was asking for its rates to be substantially enlarged to complete the work.

Visionstream itself has stated that it is still committed to continuing the rollout in Tasmania, and is actively working to get construction in the state back up and running.

Despite Turnbull’s comments about Visionstream, it appears that it was the Federal Government and NBN Co which made the decision to partially pursue a FTTN rollout in some areas of Tasmania. That decision appears to have been made in early December, when NBN Co published its wide-ranging Strategic Review.

The document recommended a so-called “Multi-Technology Mix” model for deploying the Coalition’s Broadband Network, which would only see Labor’s preferred FTTP model deployed to some 26 percent of the majority of the population, FTTN used for 44 percent, and the existing HFC cable networks owned by Telstra and Optus extended to cover the rest.

In a statement, NBN Co claimed this this “new look NBN” would “resemble the architecture of similar broadband rollouts in other advanced economies, embracing a range of technologies including Fibre to the Node and HFC alongside Fibre to the Premises, fixed wireless, satellite as well as future advances in telecommunications technology.”

Turnbull’s statement last week also attempted to address the question of whether this rollout was “fair”, given that “some people will be connected via fibre, while their neighbours will have a slower connection via the upgraded copper network”.

In response, the Minister wrote: “There are currently 1.6 million houses in Australia that either have no access to broadband, or access to very slow broadband. This is unacceptable – our plan places a premium on ensuring these upgrades are conducted as quickly and efficiently as possible. In terms of ‘fairness’, it should also be noted the biggest contributor to the digital divide is affordability. Under Labor’s plan, consumers would have faced price rises of up to 80 per cent.”

The news comes as all major political parties in Tasmania have criticised the decision to deploy FTTN in Tasmania, including the Liberal Party. Tasmanian Liberal Leader Will Hodgman has reportedly spoken directly to Turnbull about the issue, arguing “strongly” that Tasmania needs a full rollout of Fibre to the Premises broadband technology

While I don’t have any direct evidence to disprove his statement, I don’t personally believe Turnbull when he writes that Visionstream’s costs are behind the changes to the Tasmanian rollout. I believe that that decision was made separately by NBN Co and the Government based on the current Coalition Government’s ideological preference for a Fibre to the Node style of broadband rollout. If Visionstream’s costs have truly been the problem in Tasmania, then there were ways around that — such as taking up the State Government’s proposal to deploy fibre aerially, or sourcing other construction contractors.

I’m not sure why Turnbull feels the need to redirect the blame to Visionstream in this way. What’s wrong with simply stating that the Federal Government believes that a FTTP model for the NBN costs too much in general, and the model in Tasmania will follow the model on the mainland? What’s wrong with stating that that decision was made based on NBN Co’s Strategic Review? I don’t understand why Turnbull feels the need to spin this sort of decision in a way that blames one of NBN Co’s key construction partners, avoiding any of the responsibility for the decision himself. Isn’t that the role of a Minister, to take responsibility for major decisions?

Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting


  1. Also, they signed a contract, why isn’t Turnbull holding Visionstream to the contract? What this says is Labor actually got good value for money for tax payers dollars (for once!) in the Tasmanian fibre NBN roll out. It’s also hypocritical to say the roll-out stalled when it was the guy at Telstra that Turnbull then appointed to NBN Co who stalled the network roll-out totally because of the asbestos remediation issues he was responsible for managing.

    Turnbull should hold Vision Stream to their Tasmanian contract and if Vision Stream wants to bid for more work contracts on the mainland roll-out, they can use their ‘lessons leaned’ from their Tasmanian expenses to bid for contracts at a more cost accurate price.

    • Spot on. Also, if this was causing problems for the previous government, guess who MT would have blamed? (Hint: Not Visionstream).

  2. “I don’t understand why Turnbull feels the need to spin this sort of decision in a way that blames one of NBN Co’s key construction partners, avoiding any of the responsibility for the decision himself. ”

    This is because the backlash against this decision has been universal in Tasmania, with condemnation from every party, community and industry group on all sides of politics. It is the wrong decision for Tasmania, which sees the NBN as an opportunity to shift the economy away from resources and a reliance on any single industry sector. It’s the wrong decision for the nation, which will pay to send contractors to most streets in the country to lay fibre only part way to the premises, while NBN Co and the Coalition gamble public money on the idea that future improvements in copper services will allow them to deliver some significant fraction of the speeds that fibre can already deliver today.

  3. ” claiming the company was not able to deliver the infrastructure at the cost it agreed to.” MT and the coalition can’t deliver FTTN at the cost he agreed to either, under the same principle we have a new government contract, back to the election boys.

  4. Turnbull is lying – plain and simple. He had said many times he would honour constructuion contracts in Tasmania. NBN Co said the construction contract were for fibre and were locked . In November 2013, well after the election, Turnbull acknowledged the contracts were for fibre and he would honour existing contracts. There has never been any mention of honouring the contracts “depending on the cost” as we see now. Its been long known Visionstream has had issues, and wanted more money. Turnbull well knew this, and kept asserting he would complete contracts.

    Turnbull is using Visionstream as a scape goat to hide his clear and obvious lying. Gutless!

  5. Turnbull and the Liberal Party shifting the blame and making excuses – what a surprise.

  6. Tasmania is about setting a precedent. If they got to keep their fibre rollout then others around the country would start saying “if they got it then why can’t we, after all they’re just Tasmanians* and we would actually use it properly”. People would start doing the numbers on cost/benefit and arguing with some legitimacy that fibre should be used in more of the rollout. And you can’t have that when your real agenda is to hand effective control of the nations telecom infrastructure to Telstra without letting everybody know that is what you are really up to.

    *as an apology to Tasmanians, it is actually the best place in Australia to live – if you can find work.

  7. Not sure why we expected any different.

    Turnbull has been lying since his days at OzEmail. We so quickly forget his past: Trumpet Winsock, Russian Rainmakers, and Utegate. This all kind of fits into the same pattern: doing something bad, blame everyone but himself.

    I hate to say I told everyone so… but I told everyone so! ;)

    • “Not sure why we expected any different”

      I think they are fooled by his eligant speech and open personna. A trait of all truely evil sociopaths. Sorry, I shouldn’t say evil, most times it’s not good bad or otherwise, it’s nothing personal.

      • Nothing elegant about Turnbull’s speech, he constantly talks faster than he can think, in the “Election Hangout On Air with Malcolm Turnbull” in the 23 minutes he actually spoke the words “youknow” were used over 90 times in some cases it was doubled up like “youknow, youknow”. This a strategy used by people that talk faster than they think, it’s an upgrade to umm umm because it uses actual words rather than a vocal gesture. It’s still an utterly meaning less phrase and if this phrase is ever blurted to me, I just say “gee I don’t know I thought your were trying to tell me”.

    • You left out the strip logging company he ran, but claimed no knownledge of their strip logging.

  8. Have you tried contacting Visionstream, they have always called Turnbull out on this stuff before. Or, as not going to the senate comittee seems to indicate, has Turnbull muted them?

  9. I don’t understand why people are so surprised, this government is incapable of handling any criticism, they all have glass jaws and bruise like peaches. They’re namby pamby, conservative weaklings.

    Also, this government has a habit of hiding like cowards, hiding behind the NAVY, hiding behind “Operational Security” and now hiding behind some very weak excuses, they even hide behind the country and it’s people.

    Considering how much power they’ve given themselves, you’d think one contractor would not be an issue, all they have to do is threaten an ATO audit and watch as all the problems go away. What? They’re doing it to the unions with that ridiculous royal commission.

    But no, Rupert said it must go, so no fiber for us.

    I’m sick of politicians destroying things for their own selfish reasons.

    • and yet more lies and playing the blame game as the labor fanbois do with Rupert. please remember, labor lie just as much as everyone else.

      • “and yet more lies and playing the blame game”
        Agreed they have done nothing but try to blame labor for everything since they have got into office, will they ever accept responsibility for their own actions?
        Yes, both Liberals and Labor politicians lie. Since the Liberals are the ones that have currently lied their way into power they are the ones of concern at the moment.

  10. Oh I see.

    The buck ‘doesn’t’ stop with the Minister or NBN’s head honcho… any more!

    :/ amazing

  11. Has Turnbull got any credibility left?

    I have noticed that whenever and wherever he appears, he always plays the charmer, affable and smiling. Challenge him, however, and out come the impatient, irritable bully.

  12. Posters are saying NBNCo should have just held Visionstream to its contract. They seem to have so quickly forgotten what happened in the NT. The contractor there just walked away. And if NBNCo and the government had let that happen it just would have had to pay more to get someone else to sign up to a contract to do the job. It was faced with having to sticks to its guns, then have to find new contractors and pay them more, or reduce what the contractors had to deliver.

    But of course you lot ALWAYS blame Turnbull and the Liberals. Not that Labor built its costing of FTTP on unrealistically low construction costs.

    • It’s ok Gordon, we were all being sarcastic.

      We love the liberals and we believe it was all somebody else’s fault also.

    • Two options:

      1. Labor built it’s costings on contracts with providers like VisionStream, in which case VisionStream’s under quoting is the problem.

      2. Labor’s costing were based on industry research outside of contracts with providers, in which case VisionStream still under-quoted.

      Clearly VisionStream under-quoted in order to get the gig, and now they’ve got their hands out for more money so that they can complete the contracted work and remain solvent (according to them).

      The issue in this case, however, is the blame game. Under Labor or Liberal, the buck stops with the communications minister. This is an issue for Malcolm Turnbull. If Labor won the election it would be Stephen Conroy’s issue.

      I’d be happy to hang the Labor guy out to dry as much as MT for this kind of behaviour, but it just so happens that MT is in the seat whilst pointing fingers elsewhere.

  13. Malcolm could take a leaf out of Mike Quigley’s book; Mike Quigley quote regarding delays to NBN due to contractors missing targets: “We are accountable for the delay”

    Seems accountability only extends to the minister and the company when you’re in opposition…

  14. So they are deciding to go with the tech mix (mtm) before the cost benefit analysis is complete?!

  15. “Visionstream itself has stated that it is still committed to continuing the rollout in Tasmania, and is actively working to get construction in the state back up and running.”

    well, if they weren’t having trouble, this wouldn’t be the case. since visionstream virtually stopped work for months, what should the average person think is the problem?

    • “well, if they weren’t having trouble, this wouldn’t be the case. since visionstream virtually stopped work for months, what should the average person think is the problem?”
      Too many conflicting reports to tell. Turnbull said they had stopped, they said they hadn’t. All we know that seems to be agreed by all parties is they were held up by Telstra remediation. The guy responsible for the remediation has been rewarded with a position on the board by Turnbull (job well done?)
      Given the protests by the contractors in Tassie, asking for more work, I’d say there shouldn’t be a problem rolling out, if Turnbull gives it to them.

  16. “I don’t understand why Turnbull feels the need to spin this sort of decision in a way that blames one of NBN Co’s key construction partners, avoiding any of the responsibility for the decision himself. Isn’t that the role of a Minister, to take responsibility for major decisions?”

    It’s becoming a defining theme of this government, the same as Scott is blaming everyone else over the death on Manus Island.

    It’s very convenient for an government to off load problems when all the work is off-shored and contracted out.

  17. “What’s wrong with stating that that decision was made based on NBN Co’s Strategic Review?”
    It’s pretty easy, there’s a state election around the corner, LNP can’t be seen as the bad guy.

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