news The Opposition has backed comments by upstart Singaporean telco MyRepublic that the Coalition’s preferred Fibre to the Node technology is “shit”, despite acknowledging that its new National Broadband Network policy currently under development may feature the same technology.
Earlier this week, MyRepublic CEO Malcolm Rodrigues — which is on the cusp of launching in Australia — reportedly told Fairfax Media that the FTTN component of the Coalition’s Multi-Technology Mix version of the NBN was “shit” and that the current Coalition Government had “completely stuffed it” in terms of its policy model for the NBN.
MyRepublic provides its services in Singapore and New Zealand primarily over the all-fibre networks that those countries are currently rolling out, based on the Fibre to the Premises architecture. This is the same architecture that Labor’s previous version of the NBN used. However, the Coalition has significantly modified this model to incorporate in some areas the technically inferior Fibre to the Node and HFC cable models — which do not deploy fibre broadband all the way to homes and business premises.
The Opposition immediately leaped on Rodrigues’ comments, with Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare issuing a media release noting the view of the MyRepublic chief executive.
“Singaporean broadband provider, MyRepublic has delivered a scathing assessment of Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN, labelling his fibre-to-the-node technology as “shit” in today’s Australian Financial Review,” Clare said at the time. The Labor MP added that this “damning criticism” of “Malcolm Turnbull’s Fibre to the Node technology” came after Internode founder and NBN company director Simon Hackett had said in March that FTTN “sucks”.
“Malcolm Turnbull talked a big game on the NBN,” Clare said, “but now all his promises are starting to unravel. He promised that the rollout of his second-rate fibre-to-the-node network would be at-scale a year ago. He has failed.
He promised every home and business would have access to 25 megabits per second by the end of 2016. He will fail to make that happen. He promised that the NBN would be built for $29.5 billion – he has failed. He now says it will cost $42 billion. The NBN is rolling out slower than Malcolm Turnbull promised. It is also more expensive than he promised, and according to the experts all many Australians will end up with is a “shit” network that “sucks”.”
Following Clare’s comments, a number of Delimiter readers pointed out that Labor had flagged it would pursue a “two-step” process for deploying the NBN — meaning that its own NBN policy would be likely to initially support Turnbull’s FTTN technology and then support upgrading that technology to a full Fibre to the Premises rollout in the long term.
In the wake of these comments, Delimiter invited Clare to respond to this issue.
In response, the Shadow Communications Minister said: “Labor is committed to ensuring that all Australians get fast, reliable and affordable broadband, no matter where they live or do business. Wholesale prices should be the same, whether people live in the city or the bush, and broadband should not be made more expensive for those Australians who can least afford it.”
“Fibre is the end game,” he added. “A National Broadband Network for the 21st century will be rolled out across Australia, but because of the Coalition’s limited vision, it will now need to be built in two stages rather than one.”
“We are working on our NBN policy now. We are consulting with the experts and we will announce the policy closer to the election.”
What we are seeing here is the gradual development of a very difficult situation for Labor.
On the one hand, Labor is faced with the unfortunate reality that it probably does not want to completely revamp the NBN project once again if it wins the next Federal Election. It does not want to spend another two years renegotiating another $13 billion deal with Telstra. It does not want to spend another two years getting the ACCC to approve such a deal. And it does not want to have to go back to the NBN company’s many contractors and rejig their operations to support a universal FTTP rollout, rather than the planned Multi-Technology Mix.
However, on the other hand, Labor is also aware that the Australian public really does not lke the HFC cable and FTTN mix that Turnbull has injected into the NBN. It must provide a point of difference between the two parties for the purposes of the election. At the moment, it appears as though that point of difference will be a commitment towards extending the MTM NBN into a long-term FTTP rollout.
This is all pretty much as I predicted in my article on this topic a month ago. Labor is basically being forced into this position by the lack of bipartisan support on the NBN, and the reality that you simply cannot stop and start $40 billion infrastructure projects after every election.
However, it does lead to uncomfortable situations like the one Clare is in this week. If Clare attacks Turnbull’s MTM too much, he will leave Labor exposed to difficult questions about Labor’s own support for the FTTN and possibly HFC cable infrastructure.
From my point of view, Australia’s politicians are currently facing a stark choice with respect to the NBN.
Realistically, what will most likely happen is that the two major parties will both largely support Turnbull’s MTM policy, with the caveat that Labor will also support a long-term upgrade to FTTP. This will please few people, but will be the only likely chance of achieving bipartisan support on the NBN.
The right choice for Australia’s long-term interests, of course, is something completely different. Both major parties, if they were being honest about Australia’s future needs, would support the NBN returning to its universal FTTP model. This is the outcome I support. Delimiter’s Principle 2 states: “Where there is a choice of technologies to be implemented, we support the option that will be the best fit for purpose in the long-term.”
By supporting any other model than universal fibre, both parties are short-changing Australia. And it is incumbent upon us to remind them of that. If we don’t, then perhaps our neighbours from Singapore — who are already enjoying full FTTP — will.
As for our other sizable party, the Greens? On paper the Greens do support a FTTP NBN. However, they’ve been relatively absent from the debate this week and over the past few months. One wonders how much fuss they will make about a fibre future for Australia as we lead up to the election.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting