news Federal Parliament erupted into a fiery debate yesterday over Malcolm Turnbull’s reshaping of the NBN project, with Labor MP Lisa Chesters stealing much of the show with a furious diatribe in which she labelled the PM’s NBN plan as “incompetent, hopeless, useless and a joke”.
The original version of the NBN as envisioned by the previous Labor Government called for most Australian premises to be covered by a full Fibre to the Premises rollout, with the remainder to be covered by satellite and fixed wireless technology.
The Coalition’s controversial Multi-Technology Mix instituted by Malcolm Turnbull as Communications Minister has seen the company switch to a technically inferior model re-using and upgrading the legacy copper (Fibre to the Node) and HFC cable networks owned by Telstra and Optus.
Earlier this week, during Senate Estimates hearings, Labor revealed it had received about 60 complaints from early adopters of the Government’s preferred Fibre to the Node NBN rollout model, many of whom were receiving such poor service that they would prefer to have their original ADSL broadband back.
Following the hearings, a debate was held in Federal Parliament yesterday afternoon on the topic of Turnbull’s version of the NBN. You can read the full debate here in PDF format (it starts on page 71).
Although various Labor figures spoke in the debate, including Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare and Canberra’s Gai Brodtmann, a long-term advocate for better broadband in the ACT, it was the Member for Bendigo, Lisa Chesters, who proved one of the more passionate debaters of the afternoon.
Chesters (see the MP’s full speech in video above), blasted the Turnbull Government for its NBN policy, saying constituents in her area in central and regional Victoria commonly described the policy as “incompetent, hopeless, useless and a joke”. The Labor MP went on to highlight a number of specific issues she believed the Coalition policy suffered from.
Firstly, Chesters pointed out that several NBN Fixed Wireless towers had been built in 2013 in her electorate under the previous Labor Government, but had not actually been turned on.
“Under this Government, two and a bit years on, they have not been switched on,” Chesters said. “How incompetent are you as a government not to even switch these towers on? Businesses look out their window to a tower that has not been switched on. Homes look out their window to a tower that has not been switched on.”
In her area, because of the lack of clarity about the future of Australian broadband, Chesters said people were confused as to how they were supposed to access the Internet.
“There is one street in Woodend where they have been offered four different types of internet services. Some homes are on ADSL2; some homes are on ADSL1; some homes have been told, ‘Just use your internet on your mobile phone’; and some homes have been told, ‘You’ll have to get satellite services.’ That is one street in one town in my electorate,” she said. “What a mess — five different options, including none at all, which is option No. 5,” she said.
Chesters said because of the NBN company’s failure to provide broadband to Victorians in her area, many were relying on their mobile phones for broadband instead. That practice, in turn, was clogging up the mobile phone network, she said.
The Bendigo MP said she had written to Turnbull in his former role as Communications Minister, as well as the current Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, asking each to come to central Victoria and examine the issue.
“The former minister cancelled the meeting … yet during the election he came to Bendigo and promised the people of Bendigo that they would get fast-speed broadband sooner and cheaper,” said Chesters.
“What a con! It is an absolute con and it is a lie. He promised they would get it in 2016, and here we are in 2016 and the people of Bendigo and central Victoria still do not have it.”
Chesters pointed out that the Fibre to the Node model which the Government prefers was relying on Telstra’s existing copper network. “How incompetent are you to buy back old, ageing technology?” she said.
“Telstra think it is great. They have sold a dud asset back to a government. There is nothing but incompetence when it comes to the NBN. People in central Victoria know it, as does regional Victoria. Coalition MPs can bury their heads in the sand and pretend it is not an issue, but it is, and every single day there are people in their electorates, like in my electorate, complaining. ”
In response, Coalition MPs pilloried Labor’s record on the NBN.
Member for Robertson Lucy Wicks — a former Telstra PR staffer — highlighted what she said was a poor history of delivery from Labor on the NBN (see the video below).
“Labor claimed that a massive 90 per cent of premises in and around Gosford were so-called open for business with the NBN when in actual fact 90 per cent of them were classified service class 0 or service class 1, meaning that, despite the fanfare and the press release, a lot of work was required before those people who wanted a service could actually connect,” said Wicks.
“What is even worse, despite all of this fanfare during the election and during their time in government, when we came into government there were little more than 200 premises connected in my electorate.”
“What a farce—to tell businesses and families that Gosford was ‘open for business’, only to discover that, despite Labor’s press releases, they could not actually access it at their premise.”
Wicks said Labor was so obsessed with delivering “Fibre to the press release” in areas like Gosford that they forgot to actually focus on delivering broadband to people. “Labor sold people in my electorate a dud deal,” she said.
In contrast, Wicks said the Coalition Government had focused on rolling out the NBN to more homes and businesses sooner, cheaper and more reliably than Labor.
“This government has a responsible strategy to roll out a more affordable Multi-Technology Mix,” said Wicks. “The case for the Multi-Technology approach is clear. It is far better for productivity on the Central Coast, for instance, to get fast broadband to premises quickly, than to deliver extremely fast broadband to just an exclusive few years and years down the track. It is like waiting for Godot!”
Wicks said it was possible to see the benefit of the MTM approach to the NBN in the fact that the NBN company’s Net Promoter Score ratings system had recently shown the same levels of customer satisfaction from customers on Fibre to the Node services as those on the original Fibre to the Premises model.
“The half-yearly results are a ringing endorsement of our approach,” said Wicks. “In fact, the NBN rollout is accelerating, with 1.7 million homes and businesses now able to order a connection. We are finally back on track with the NBN rollout, with plans to expand the footprint by 15,000 premises per week, rising to 25,000 per week by the middle of the year.”
Video credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting