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Published 09 April 2013 12:24, Updated 10 April 2013 13:14
Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbot say the Coalition’s alternative broadband network plan will save $60 billion compared to Labor’s network. Photo: Angus Mordant
The federal opposition has announced details of its broadband policy, promising to complete a scaled-down version of the national broadband network with minimum speeds of 25Mbps by the end of its first term in government.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott and his communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull revealed details of the Coalition’s alternative NBN plan for the first time at an event in Sydney on Tuesday morning.
Total cost for the alternative network would be less than $30 billion, compared with Labor’s current $90 billion broadband network, they said. For that, they promised most homes would get speeds of more than 50Mbps.
They said the priority was to deliver fast broadband to Australians and also to get the NBN ready for sale as soon as possible.
Turnbull says Australians should understand that the Labor NBN policy is “unique in the world”.
“There is no government, not in China, not in North Korea as far as I’m aware even, that is actually building a new government-owned telecoms monopoly and prohibiting anyone from competing with it,” he says. “Paul Keating and Bob Hawke would never have done this.”
Paul Keating and Bob Hawke would never have done this.
He adds that the Coalition would make the best of the situation, completing the build to a point that would ensure decent broadband for all citizens and a commercial return on investment for taxpayers.
“Tony and I are inheriting the NBN Co but we’re not about just moaning and groaning the bad decisions made preceding it,” Turnbull says. “What we’re going to do is get this job done and we will bring very fast broadband to all Australians sooner, cheaper and more affordably. We would not have gone about [it] this way and there will be many billions of dollars that Labor has wasted that we cannot recover, but we will save many billions of dollars, at least $60 billion, taking the approach that we’ve described in this policy.”
The savings would be achieved by abandoning the current plan to lay fibre optic cable to nearly every home and business in Australia at no cost to the end user.
Instead, a Coalition NBN would take fibre to the “node” – street cabinets – and rely on the copper network for the final 100 metres for the majority of the country.
Fibre-to-the-premises would be restricted to new developments and business parks and areas where the existing copper network was in bad condition and could not be repaired. Individual home owners would also have the option of paying several thousand dollars to upgrade their connection.
Turnbull says the return on the taxpayer’s investment would be just as good as Labor’s plan and the funding would not be considered as expenditure on the budget statements.
“The revenues that the Coalition NBN will be able to generate will be substantially the same and certainly no less than the revenues the Labor NBN will be able to generate,” Turnbull says.
“The public spending accounting treats this as a balance sheet item and we don’t have any plans to change that and that’s because it’s a commercial investment. Our argument on this point is that it’s so plainly obvious that the amount of money the government is investing in this project is so far in excess of what the value of the project will be when completed that they should be recognising the deficit in some manner.”
The revised NBN plan would require renegotiation of contracts with other companies, particularly Telstra. Turnbull says he is confident this could be achieved “speedily” and Telstra shareholders have nothing to fear from the Coalition’s NBN, particularly since Telstra doesn’t get paid until the NBN connections are live and the Coalition NBN would go live sooner.
Abbott adds that he is keen to avoid conflict with Telstra. “We aren’t interested in going to war with Telstra,” he says. “One of the problems we’ve seen is too much conflict between Telstra and the government in the past. We want to work constructively and collegially with Telstra and the other telcos.”
Abbott and Turnbull also promised a full cost-benefit analysis after the election of both the Coalition version and the existing Labor plans, to be completed by an independent entity such as the Productivity Commission or Infrastructure Australia.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says the Coalition version of a national broadband network “fails miserably”.
“If you understand broadband and you understand that it’s being used for more applications that require more bandwidth every single day then you know that Malcolm Turnbull’s network is a fail,” says Conroy, who was speaking on Tuesday morning before the Abbott-Turnbull press conference but after most of the detail had already been leaked through the media.