Communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has labelled the Coalition's plan as a 'failure of imagination' and slammed its proposed technology as second-rate as the Australian Greens maintain its support for the NBN.
Under the Coalition's plan, it will roll out 12Mbps Internet as a minimum for 97 per cent of Australians if it wins. This will be done through a 60-70,000km backhaul fibre optic cable network, existing hybrid fibre-coaxial (currently used for cable television services), wireless broadband and satellite links.
Shadow Communications Minister, Tony Smith, contrasted the variety of delivery methods featured in the Coalition’s plan against the fibre-based technology of Labor’s NBN. He also claimed wireless broadband uptake was increasing and to ignore it made no sense.
“There are a whole range of technologies that we want to compete with each other,” he said. “Wireless has peak speeds today of about 12 Mbps but it’s heading in one direction – up – and the prices are coming down.
“We have in our capital cities today a HFC network that passes 2.5 million homes capable of delivering very high speed broadband.”
But in a press conference held after the ICT debate in Canberra, Conroy said the Coalition was offering a plan that was both impossible to build and inadequate for a digital economy.
“Small businesses in Australia deserve the right to compete with international competitors on the same footing,” he said. “[Tony Abbott's] policy is to shut down the National Broadband Network...it will consign Australia to the digital dark ages.
“It’s certainly a simpler plan, that much is true...but this is about the capacity to deliver educational services, aged care services, health services, smart grid and Government services and he is promising a network that cannot deliver the next generation of services.”
Although HFC networks could theoretically provide up to 100Mbps to a household, Conroy claimed this speed was very hard to achieve when a large number of users were located close to each other, such as in cities.
“Is that the headline rate or burst speed? Yes – but what you actually get is entirely different,” he claimed. “Tony also won’t mention what spectrum he’ll use...there is no more available spectrum in Australia, especially in metropolitan areas.
“The number of towers needed for the coverage he’s talking about are thousands upon thousands upon thousands,” Conroy said. “This is connected by a piece of fibre so he has to build a huge network that doesn’t exist at the moment and actually put fibre to all of those.”
Greens communications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, also backed the Government’s plan and said he was worried about the delivery methods used by the Coalition.
“There’s no real structure there and there’s no proposal on how to get people off ADSL and copper outside the areas where the market is already providing it,” he said. “So I think they’ve missed the boat to a degree.
“To me it looks as though they would wind back the clock to three years ago. They want the money that’s been earmarked for the NBN to spend on other things,” he said. “I also think [the Coalition’s plan to keep Telstra unseparated] will throw the market into a degree of uncertainty.”