Labor plans to scrap the Coalition’s “second-rate” national broadband network (NBN) rollout, deploying Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) to up to two million additional Australian homes and businesses.
On the eve of early voting opening across the country, Labor leader Bill Shorten claims the expanded rollout would cost $57 billion, $1 billion more than current projections, with the same completion date of June 30 2022.
“Labor will spend exactly the same amount of public funding on the NBN as the Liberals,” Shorten said.
“The public equity contribution will be the same regardless of who wins the election. The difference is that up to two million more Australians will get a Fibre-to-the-Premises NBN under Labor.”
According to Shorten, the rollout of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s “second rate” copper NBN - Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN) - will be phased out under a Labor government.
“Construction of Fibre-to-the-Node will cease when the current pipeline of construction work is completed and design and construction of Fibre-to-the-Premises is scaled back up,” he said.
Shorten said Labor will also commission Infrastructure Australia, with input from relevant experts, to manage the development of a plan that outlines how and when the parts of Australia left with Turnbull’s NBN should be transitioned to Fibre-to-the-Premises, which will be be commissioned in the first term of a Shorten Labor Government.
Despite being tied to the full-fibre vision of the original NBN plan, Shorten remains desperate to rid the country of Turnbull’s copper-based FTTN approach, in favour of sharp transition to FTTP.
“Many Australians are getting a slower, second rate copper NBN that will not meet their needs into the future,” he claimed.
“Fast broadband creates jobs but you can’t have an innovation boom while you are still buffering.
“Australia’s global competitiveness will suffer as Malcolm Turnbull continues to roll out his second rate copper NBN, and opportunities for Australian enterprise and innovation will be lost to overseas markets - and the jobs will follow.”
Yet as Shorten bids to gain NBN momentum, Turnbull hit back in an address to reporters, claiming that Labor “completely mismanaged and bungled the NBN.”
“It was a hopelessly failed project until we took over, until we put in new management, allowed them to develop a new business plan and execute it,” he claimed.
Citing the plans as “another example of Shortenomics”, Turnbull also downplayed Shorten’s suggestions that the government had failed to deliver on its pre-election promises, insisting “we connected more premises to high-speed broadband with the NBN in the last month than Labor did in six years.”
With Australia dropping from 30th in the world for internet speeds to 60th, Shorten stuck the boot into Turnbull’s NBN policy, questioning original claims that a copper network could be rolled out for $29.5 billion.
“This has now blown out to up to $56 billion,” he claimed. “Malcolm Turnbull also promised everyone in Australia would have access to the NBN this year but currently less than 20 per cent of Australians have access to the NBN - a long way short of the 100 per cent he promised.”
Yet despite the bashing, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield rubbished Shorten’s claims, telling the media that a Coalition NBN rollout would be completed for $49 billion, by 2020.
With both parties trading blows as they sit neck and neck with 50 per cent each of the two-party preferred vote, Internet Australia, the peak body representing Internet users, expressed support for Labor’s return to a focus on the use of fibre in the NBN.
“Fibre is the only sensible way to connect the Internet to people's homes and businesses,” Internet Australia CEO, Laurie Patton, said.
“We have consistently argued that the use of ageing copper wires will deliver an inferior service which will not be fit-for-purpose even before the rollout has been completed.
“There is a limit to how much faster we can make the copper go, whereas those with fibre connections will experience significant speeds gains in coming years.”
In direct response to Labor’s plans, Patton also expressed support in having Infrastructure Australia undertake a review of the NBN rollout.
“With so much confusion, claims and counterclaims it makes sense to have an independent expert authority run its eye over things,” he said.
“We look forward to an opportunity to provide our expertise and that of our members if this occurs.”
Consequently, Internet Australia again repeated its call for a focus on the long term benefits of building a fast broadband network and for arguments about construction costs to be put into perspective.
“We didn’t have this sort of debate when it came to the Snowy Mountains Scheme or the Sydney Harbour Bridge,” Patton said.
“These projects, like the NBN, were long term investments in the country’s future and were rightly seen as such.
“How can we become an innovation nation if we don’t have the tools required? One of those tools is a competitive NBN; one that is on par with the broadband speeds in the countries in our region with whom we will need to compete in the emerging digitally-enable world economy.”