In 2009, then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, with Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, by his side, announced the $43 billion National Broadband Network (NBN). Originally put up for tender to the private sector, the decision to make the lucrative – not to mention expensive – network a 100 per cent Government project has garnered much praise and criticism.
It remains a polarising project with the Opposition repeating threats to halt the fibre-centric NBN dead in its tracks should Labor lose power in Parliament.
Since the NBN was announced, it has gone through a number of hurdles including construction contract issues, finalising an $11 billion deal with Telstra, and fending off criticism about every facet of the rollout. Delays have made the whole process seem more like a turtle crawl than an expedient journey.
But, now, nearly four years later, the mass rollout of the NBN is due to begin.
This time around, Senator Stephen Conroy, accompanies a different Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who unveiled plans to deliver the NBN to nearly 3.5 million premises by 2015 starting April this year.
This three-year plan will see 6000 premises either connected or prepared to be connected to the network at the peak of the rollout. Around 400 work groups will be employed to do the job.
As expected, there have been some complaints about locations selected for the mass rollout. Victoria’s Technology Minister, Gordon Rich-Phillips, has already expounded his displeasure over his state making up just 20 per cent of the three-year NBN plan. Victoria holds a quarter of Australia’s population.
Then there are suburbs, such as North Sydney, missing out in the mass NBN deployment while neighbouring locations are included. enator Conroy was quick to stress the selection process was not politically driven with Quigley adding NBN Co planners wouldn’t know what a political boundary was if they tripped over one.
The area covered by the mass rollout includes 71 Labor seats, 61 Coalition electorates and six crossbench seats.
But even with a solemn promise that the large scale NBN implementation plan will be fulfilled, there are still sceptics that are a little more than dubious about Labor’s lofty goals.
The country’s number one NBN sceptic, Shadow Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, fired off a scathing statement after the three-year plan was announced.
He attacked the fact the plan is vague on when residents in the listed rollout areas would actually receive a live NBN service.
“Labor’s spin is instead intended to make everyone feel a winner: 3.3 million premises will be in areas where work on the NBN fibre network 'is planned to commence' by 2015,” Turnbull said in a statement. “... Does it mean that these premises are in a suburb where NBN has actually dug some trenches by 2015? Suburbs where it has painted a few lines on the footpath in one street? Or merely suburbs where NBN Co hopes it might be able paint a few such lines by 2015?”
While it is his job to question everything the Government does, it is hard to fault Turnbull’s doubts over Labor’s promises made in the three-year NBN plan. The Government’s track record over this matter has been sketchy with current connected premises numbers falling well short of the figure stated in its initial corporate plan.
NBN Co will have to rapidly ramp up construction efforts if it wants the NBN to reach 3.5 million homes by 2015. It has already finalised NBN rollout contracts in Tasmania see the deployment of the network to the end in that state.
Construction contracts for the rest of the NBN rollout across the country are up for negotiations soon. The NBN is still slated to be completed some time around 2021.
Only time will tell if the NBN Co and the Government will have to eat their own words once again. For the rest of us, all we can do is patiently wait.