news Senator Mitch Fifield appears to have opened the door for the NBN company to change its percentage mix of broadband technologies, in his first interview since being sworn in as Malcolm Turnbull’s replacement Communications Minister on Monday this week.
One month ago, the NBN company published the latest version of its Corporate Plan. The document cut by up to 550,000 the amount of Australian premises to receive Fibre to the Premises broadband under the Coalition’s version of the NBN, with the company further shifting its model towards the HFC cable networks approach which was one technology Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull openly preferred as Shadow Communications Minister.
The company is currently planning to deploy Labor’s original FTTP model (the technically superior option) to only around 20 percent of Australian premises. Many of those have already received the FTTP service, with about one million premises connected to the NBN’s FTTP infrastructure at this point. Under the current model, some 38 percent of Australian premises will be covered by the lesser Fibre to the Node and Basement technologies, 34 percent by HFC and the remainder by fixed wireless and satellite.
|Technology||2013 NBN Strategic Review mix (% of total)||2015 NBN Corporate Plan mix (% of total)|
|Fixed Wireless||Total of 7%, including satellite||5%|
|Satellite||Total of 7%, including Fixed Wiress||3%|
However, since Malcolm Turnbull seized the Prime Ministership from Tony Abbott last week, some in Australia’s technology sector have speculated that the amount of FTTP infrastructure being deployed by the NBN company could increased under Turnbull’s leadership.
The speculation is based on the idea that Turnbull only shifted the NBN’s model towards its current Multi-Technology Mix due to the Abbott’s influence.
ABC Radio National Drive host Patricia Karvelas asked Fifield last night whether a bigger rollout of FTTP was on the cards. A transcript of the interview was distributed by the Minister’s office this morning. The full interview is available online.
“Well Patricia, I’m barely 24 hours into the seat of Communications Minister but look, Malcolm Turnbull has done an incredible job, in turning the NBN around,” the Senator responded. “It was headed for an incredibly expensive rollout, Malcolm has identified a way to deliver broadband to Australians at a much lower cost.”
“The NBN as an organisation is continually learning, They’re continually adapting. We’re not fixated with any particular technology to roll out the NBN.”
“In a sense, we’re technology agnostic, and what that means is that over time, there’s the capacity for an evolution in terms of where the balance of technological solutions lies. I’m not indicating anything by that other than to say that we’re technology agnostic and where the business leads, is where the business will go in terms of the solutions that it provides to the community.”
The comments — just one month after the NBN confirmed its current mix of technologies — appear to open the door for the company to up the percentage of FTTP it is deploying.
However, they are also consistent with previous statements by Turnbull as Communications Minister that it would be the NBN company itself — not the Government — which would decide the specific direction of its rollout.
Karvelas also asked Fifield about Turnbull’s move to remove the copyright portfolio (including Internet piracy policy) from Attorney-General George Brandis and allocate it to Fifield’s Communications and Arts portfolio.
“You’re right – copyright and classification responsibility has transferred from the Attorney General’s Department to the Communications Department,” said Fifield.
“And part of the rationale is so that you have the Communications Portfolio looking at issues of content, looking at the broad issues of intellectual property, and I’ll confess Patricia, I have not sat down to closely examine the copyright issues in the last 24 hours but that’s certainly on the agenda for the next day or two.”
So what did Fifield mean here with his comments on the NBN? There are two ways to look at the situation.
On the one hand, it is interesting that the new Communications Minister has not firmly committed to the current broadband technology mix which the NBN company outlined only one month ago. You would have to assume that Fifield has received some kind of briefing about the NBN by now. The project is, after all, his largest area of responsibility. I feel confident he would be somewhat aware of its current technology mix and recent Corporate Plan and able to comment on it.
On the other hand, Fifield’s statement is quite similar to previous statements made by Turnbull about the NBN company itself being able to determine what mix of technologies it uses (you have to presume, of course, that despite these statements, the NBN company is not free to ditch HFC cable or FTTN/B entirely).
Personally I would interpret the Senator’s comments to mean that the NBN company will definitely continue on the current path it is on — deciding in each specific area whether to use FTTP, FTTN/B, HFC cable, fixed wireless or satelllite to provide servives to end users — while also leaving the option open to tinker with the NBN’s model a bit if it is deemed politically necessary.
Turnbull stated in his interview with David Speers on Sky News this morning that he was no longer in the business of “ruling things in or out”.
I think we’ll be seeing something similar from our very politically savvy new Communications Minister over the near term — further comments avoiding the Government committing to a new policy direction with the NBN company, while still leaving its options open.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting