Conroy and Turnbull lock horns over NBN

Debate arises as a result of coalition announcing an alternative NBN policy

Malcolm Turnbull and Stephen Conroy

Malcolm Turnbull and Stephen Conroy

Minister for broadband and communications, Stephen Conroy, and coalition communications spokesman, Malcolm Turnbull, have spelled out their differences over the NBN issues in an online forum, Communications Debate.

The showdown follows the Coalition's announcement of an alternate NBN policy last month, sparking a string of debate between the two parties as the Coalition promises every premise in Australia will have access to at least 25mbps by 2016 with most getting fibre to the node using Telstra’s existing copper wire installation.

“You might have a larger node than is serving a couple of hundred premises, you may have say, 30 premises 2km away from that node. So, if they can’t get the sufficient speed, we’ll take the fibre out to another node that’s closer to the fibre extension module, and that then gives them the same outcome,” Turnbull said.

He said Britain’s digital economy is using the same approach that the Coalition is proposing.

“The idea to have everyone on Fibre to the Premises (FttP) to have a strong digital economy is nonsense and that’s why no other country in the world is undertaking anything as laboriously slow and massively expensive as this unanalysed exercise of Stephen Conroy.”

However, Conroy said the Coalition’s proposal is a “blind assumption” and a future proof network should be built all the way to the home.

Borrowing billions

He claimed an Abbott government would borrow $29 billion to fund its network and provide a “second rate” network that needs to be upgraded in the future.

Comparatively, according to Conroy, the Gillard government will borrow $31 billion to provide the “world’s best” network that enables it to be upgraded simply with fibre already put in place.

“All Malcolm is doing is putting billions of dollars into a technology that we know right now today, we will have to upgrade that in the future. The state of Australia’s copper is substantially corroding in the ground and the estimates from the sector are that it costs up to $1 billion just to maintain it,” he said.

Turnbull said upgrading the network to FttP may or may not be right, but questioned how far into the future it will have to be made.

He reiterated the importance of having to analyse the cost of deployment, time of deployment, level of service and the demand for service before deciding on fibre to the premise or fibre to the mode.

“Even if you assumed that you’re going to need to upgrade in 10 years, what you are saving in that intervening 10 years is all of that capital which you’re not going to get a return on. But rolling it out in the future will mean you are using the latest technology of the future.”

In response, Conroy said Turnbull’s behaviour is that of an “incumbent telco” that sweats the copper as much as they can and grab as much profitability out of that copper.

“That has got to be the dumbest piece of public policy I have seen in my 17 years in parliament – buying an asset you know is literally degrading in the ground.”

With regards to upload speeds, Conroy said it is all about the distribution of content by individuals and the Cloud.

“If you’re going to have a Cloud-based digital economy, you’ve got to be able to give viable upload speeds. Do it once, do it right, do it fibre.”

But Turnbull said there needs to be a judgement on commercial demand as the bulk of uploads consumed over the Internet is video entertainment instead of uploads to the Cloud.

“Just because you’ve got a lot more data being transmitted over the Internet, that does not mean that the size of the pipe to your house has to grow exponentially. We are very confident that we can proceed very quickly to a fibre to the node model without any additional cost,” he said.

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