Both the Labor and Greens parties have opened fire on the Coalition’s newly unveiled rival broadband policy, in an ICT sector election debate that at times saw Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, and his shadow, Tony Smith, at each others’ throats.
The Coalition earlier unveiled its $6 billion rival broadband policy to Labor’s National Broadband Network project, with the central planks being a competitive backhaul network, regional and metropolitan wireless networks and an ADSL enrichment program that will target telephone exchanges without ADSL2+ broadband.
Speaking in a televised ICT sector debate in Canberra held by the Australian Computer Society (ACS), Conroy described the policy as “a blast from the past” — the previous Coalition government had also targeted a wireless rollout through its doomed OPEL plan.
The Coalition plan also appears to rely heavily on the HFC networks built by Telstra and Optus over the past decade to provide high-speed services comparable to the NBN.
But Conroy told the audience at the debate that services planned under the NBN such as videoconferencing and tele-health could not be delivered through the HFC networks — which share a certain amount of bandwidth between users.
And the Minister also laid into Smith for the shared backhaul ground between the Coalition and Labor policies. “We appreciate that Tony has stolen part of our plans to build backhaul around the country,” he said.
Greens communications spokesperson, Scott Ludlam, said at the debate there was a risk that the Coalition policy would result in “a real patchwork of service delivery” and emphasised the party’s support for the NBN project — as well as its vision that NBN Co would continue to remain in public hands and not be privatised as former monopoly telco Telstra was.
But Ludlum said he wasn’t across all the fine details of the Coalition’s announcement. “Like the rest of the room, we’ve only had five minutes to analyse it,” he said.
Other topics discussed during the debate included the controversial Internet filter project, an issue on which all three party spokesmen reiterated their views. But Ludlam said he was surprised that Conroy was continuing to allocate public servants to work on the project when both the Coalition and the Greens had vowed to block associated legislation when it arrived in the Senate.
At several points during the moderated debate, Conroy interjected while Smith was talking — despite the fact that it wasn’t the Minister’s turn to speak. The interjections led Smith to return fire on the Communications Minister.
“Can you stop interrupting, I know you’re a Collingwood supporter, but this is ridiculous,” Smith said at one point. “You’re not the unpaid moderator, Steve.”