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Published 08 April 2013 11:17, Updated 10 April 2013 07:32
Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull says the Coalition’s broadband policy won’t contain any surprises. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The long wait for the federal Opposition to release its broadband policy could soon be over, with shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull expected to detail the Coalition’s plans for the National Broadband Network this week.
But one business lobby group has warned that any major shifts could significantly delay a roll-out that is already behind schedule.
Last Friday Turnbull described the policy release as “very imminent” and Michelle Grattan, writing on The Conversation , says it will happen on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox has called for greater certainty about building Australia’s national broadband infrastructure.
“In this election year businesses are looking to all sides of politics for policies that guarantee a ubiquitous high-speed network,” Willox says, in a statement released on Sunday. “As a first step, Australia needs a bipartisan commitment to the roll-out of high-speed broadband.”
Turnbull has said there will be no surprises in the Opposition’s broadband policy. Previously he has said the Coalition would carry out a cost-benefit analysis once in government and look for cheaper ways to complete the network, such as laying fibre-optic cable to cabinets on the street (fibre to the node) and relying on the copper network for the final stretch.
The current NBN involves fibre-optic cable to nearly every building in Australia except in rural areas where fixed wireless networks would be used. The fibre-to-the-premises approach is likely to deliver greater broadband speeds but it is expensive and the roll-out is already behind schedule.
However, any change to the current NBN plans would be legally and commercially complex given the NBN Co’s contractual obligations with companies like Telstra.
Willox says both political sides need to demonstrate how they would maintain momentum because businesses need to plan around a “clear and certain timetable”.
“There is real concern within the business community at the potential for further delays to the NBN rollout,” he says. “NBN Co recently made significant downgrades to the ... forecasts with further updates promised in coming months. A change of policy may take up to 18 to 24 months to implement given the complex legal, commercial and policy issues involved.”
Willox says it is appropriate to question the NBN model and examine alternatives. The AIG has long supported a cost-benefit analysis to weigh up the cost of the build, the time frame, different user needs, access pricing and minimum network capabilities.
“An investment on the scale of the NBN needs to be underpinned by rigorous analysis,” Willox says. “Getting the right process, time frame and criteria for a cost-benefit analysis will be critical to ensuring good policy and investment outcomes and instilling public confidence in the model.”