news Mitch Fifeld, Minister for Communications, has once again hit out at Labor over what he called its lack of policy on the NBN and the technology that best supports it.
“Today, Labor had an opportunity at a major telecommunications industry event to reveal its NBN policy. Instead, Labor squibbed it,” he said, referring to the Communications Day conference taking place this week. Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare gave a major speech at the conference, but did not outline any change in Labor policy with respect to the NBN.
Fifield has already criticised the opposition party this week, saying it is building up to a “backflip” on its stance which would see an NBN built solely on fibre to the premises (FTTP).
Again he has suggested that Labor is making preparations to abandon an all-fibre rollout and use the existing copper network – a stance he called a “carbon copy” of the Coalition’s multi-technology policy.
The Coalition’s existing broadband policy allows the NBN to decide which technology it will use to deliver fast broadband to deliver a more cost-effective service, with an expected completion date of 2020. This includes using technologies such as fibre to the distribution point (FTTdp) and ‘skinny fibre’, which can offer significant savings over FTTP.
According to IT News, tests conducted over 2014-2015 by the NBN indicated that thinner (hence “skinny”) fibre optic cables significantly reduced construction costs.
The trials indicated that skinny fibre lowered the cost of deployment by half, from around $1200 to $600 per premises, since they can more easily be passed down existing ducts and avoid the need for extra civil works.
Labor has, however, so far advocated for an FTTP-only NBN.
“Under the former Labor Government, the taxpayer picked up the $6 billion bill for a mandated gold-plated network and an incredibly slow rollout that saw just 51,000 users connected,” said Fifield.
The Coalition policy, he said, has always been to allow NBN flexibility in network and technology design decisions “as long as the economics stack up”. This approach means the NBN has “met or exceeded” financial and rollout targets for seven consecutive quarters.
On 4 April, Fifield outlined the government’s NBN business model and its agenda for wider industry reform at the CommsDay Summit 2016.
He said: “[T]he key difference between the former government’s NBN and our redesign of the project is that our approach is based squarely on a business model – not a technology choice.”
Addressing concerns that the NBN rollout was falling behind schedule, Fifield said that under the Coalition’s business model, “the company estimates the build phase will be complete by 2020. The earnings phase will also begin far sooner with peak funding expected to reach around $49 billion in FY21.”
Further, he said, it is expected that by the end of June, over 2.2 million premises will be able to order a fixed or wireless NBN service.
“Similarly, the number of connected premises is growing on average at 14,000 a week – easily in line with forecasts,” added the minister.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting