The Coalition will roll out 12Mbps peak speeds around Australia, but will not promise anything more. The announcement is set to anger the technology industry, which has been supportive of higher speed Internet across the country.
Under the proposal, 97 per cent of Australians can expect a minimum of 12Mbps, which is less than the theoretical maximum currently provided by ADSL 2+ services. The final 3 per cent in rural and regional Australia will be connected to satellite services.
Coalition shadow communications minister, Tony Smith, announced the rival $6 billion broadband policy at the party's room in Canberra.
According to Smith, the proposal will balance the needs of Australian businesses and users with financial responsibility. The coalition said it would use regulatory reform to increase competition and exisiting infrastructure as much as possible.
“It's proportional, sensible and responsible,” he said.
Finance spokesperson, Andrew Robb, said many of the promises made by the company currently rolling out the National Broadband Network, NBN Co, would remain.
“The private sector is quite capable of finding where there is a demand for fibre to the home,” he said. “There is a capacity ...for the private sector to provide given the competition and given the basic backbone that we will provide.
“It will be no different [to the NBN] but we won't be wasting tens of billions of dollars.”
The central planks of the policy are:
- $2.75 billion for an open access, fibre-optic backhaul network that will provide competition to Telstra’s existing services, with further expected private sector investment of $750 million
- $1 billion for a wireless network that will address broadband problems in outer metropolitan Australia
- $1 billion for regional wireless networks
- $750 million for fixed broadband optimisation to address areas serviced by telephone exchanges where Australians cannot currently get sufficient broadband speeds over Telstra’s copper network
- Funding for satellite services to cover the small proportion of Australians who won’t be able to access fixed or wireless broadband
- Existing NBN policy to be cancelled, NBN Co to be wound up and assets sold to the private sector
The entire system will be managed by a National Broadband Commission made up of industry experts, which will in turn be managed by the Communications minister. The body will get $115 million over eight years.
In the press conference, both Robb and Smith emphasised the ability of the competitive telecommunications market to solve the national broadband debate — with Government to step in to provide services where it was not economical for the private sector to do so.
They emphasised the fact that both Optus and Telstra are offering speeds of above 80Mbps in some areas using their HFC cable broadband networks.
Robb claimed Labor had already wasted three to four years with its NBN policy and said the Opposition’s policy would deliver the same speeds as Labor’s fibre rollout could — but without “betting the house on a single technology” — fibre to the home — and without “wasting tens and tens of billions of dollars”.
The finance spokesperson also pilloried Labor’s National Broadband Network Company, describing it as “a bureaucratic, stodgy, cumbersome and unresponsive govt monopoly” that was ironically operating in the most innovative industry sector — technology.
Robb also labelled NBN Co “a dumping ground for highly paid Labor apparatchiks”, referring to the controversial appointment of Mike Kaiser early in NBN Co’s life. Kaiser left a role as Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s chief of staff to join the fledgling broadband startup.
The press conference became quite heated as journalists questioned the pair. Smith — who appeared tired after weeks on the campaign trail - appeared to visibly lose his temper several times.
“How many households will get 100Mbps? Is it that you don’t know?” asked one journalist.
“You can’t just walk out of here and start digging a trench,” Smith answered at one point in relation to the Coalition’s lack of network maps for its policy. “NBN Co already has its tractors out there digging trenches,” the questioning journalist fired back.
Another pointed out the Coalition’s biggest ticket item in its policy — its backhaul plank — would not be delivered until 2017 — by which point most of Labor’s NBN policy is scheduled to have been delivered.
Renai LeMay contributed to this article