news Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended the NBN company’s purchase of 1800km of brand new copper from repeated attacks by the Opposition in Question Time, telling the Parliament yesterday that the copper cable was “simply part of the architecture” of the NBN company’s new Multi-Technology Mix approach.
The Opposition spent much of yesterday’s Question Time in the House of Representatives repeatedly hounding Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull regarding what Labor described as his “second-rate” National Broadband Network vision, with the NBN company’s purchase of 1800km of brand new copper cable a particular topic of ridicule.
In the hour that is allocated for Questions without Notice in the House of Representatives on each Parliamentary Sitting Day, it is usual for the the Opposition to put a wide variety of questions to various Government ministers, including the Prime Minister.
However, in yesterday’s session — provoked by a number of details about the current state of the NBN project revealed in the prior night’s Senate Estimates hearings — the Opposition repeatedly pursued Turnbull over the NBN issue. As Communications Minister, Turnbull was the driving force behind changing the NBN from a near-universal fibre model to a ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ approach that re-uses the copper and HFC cable networks owned by Telstra and Optus.
In Senate Estimates hearings on Tuesday night, NBN chief executive Bill Morrow revealed the NBN company had purchased some 1800km of brand new copper cable at a cost of about $14 million, to ensure that the Fibre to the Node technology model preferred by Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition Government would function correctly.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said in Question Time: “Last night in Senate estimates it was revealed that the government has already ordered 1,800 kilometres worth of copper to make its second-rate NBN work. That is almost enough copper to run between here and Alice Springs!
Prime Minister, how much more copper will you need to make your second-rate version of the NBN work? And why is the government investing in 20th century copper when Australia really needs a 21st century national broadband network?”
This question was followed up several more questions from Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare. Clare said: “Before the last election, the Prime Minister promised that he would build his second-rate version of the NBN for 29½ billion dollars. The NBN corporate plan now reveals that the cost of his second-rate version of the NBN will now cost almost double that, up to $56 billion. Does the Prime Minister admit that this massive blow-out is a broken promise?”
And in a second, later question, Clare added: “Before the last election the now Prime Minister promised that all Australians would have access to internet speeds of 25 megabits per second by the end of 2016. Does the Prime Minister admit that this is another broken promise?”
In response, Turnbull defended the use of copper.
“The design of the fibre-to-the-node network does require some new copper to connect the nodes to the existing pillars. That is simply part of the architecture,” he said, echoing comments by Morrow in Senate Estimates.
“The NBN has ordered additional copper, but I have to say that so far the existing copper network between the nodes to customers’ houses has not required anything like the level of remediation that had been assumed. Now, it is early days, but it may be that rumours of the terrible state of the Telstra copper network have been a little exaggerated.”
The Prime Minister also spent a great deal of time criticising the previous Labor Government’s model for the NBN.
“The simple fact of the matter is this: had we continued with the Labor Party’s approach to the NBN, the project would have taken another $30 billion more and taken six to eight years longer. That is a fact,” Turnbull said.
“The simple fact of the matter is this: if Labor were to win the next election then Australians who are waiting for good broadband now would have to wait up to eight years longer. Labor’s policy is more money and more waiting.”
“The Labor government, incumbent with the company, with access to the company systems, did not even know how much it was costing to connect a premises with fibre. They were clueless—absolutely clueless; clueless, and wasting billions of dollars.”
“We actually now know what the project is costing, and we know what the alternatives are, and the facts are that if we were to proceed with the Labor Party’s alternative it would take six to eight years longer and cost up to $30 billion more. So I say to honourable members opposite: to your constituents who do not have access to very fast broadband now and want it, your message is, ‘Vote Labor and wait longer.”
“The honourable members go on about copper. The approach that we are taking—the mixed technology approach—is the same as is being taken by British Telecom, by Deutsche Telekom, by Swiss telecom and by AT&T. It may be that honourable members opposite know more about telecommunications than all of those big telcos, but I doubt it.”
“I actually think that those big telcos and other nations have got a pretty good handle on this, and the approach we are taking is a very powerful one. I can give one example, just on the Central Coast where the FTTN rollout is occurring, where a gentleman who lived some distance from the node had said he wanted to pay to have fibre pulled to his house nonetheless. And the NBN can do that. Once he was connected and was getting over 60 megabits per second download speed, he said, ‘That’s fantastic. I don’t need fibre to the premises.”
Video credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting