Coalition unveils its broadband policy

NBN rival to include a competitive backhaul network, regional and metropolitan wireless networks and an ADSL enrichment program

The Coalition has unveiled its $6 billion rival broadband policy to Labor's National Broadband Network (NBN) project, with the central planks being a competitive backhaul network, regional and metropolitan wireless networks and an ADSL enrichment program that will target telephone exchanges without ADSL2+ broadband.

Shadow communications minister, Tony Smith, and Coalition Finance spokesperson, Andrew Robb, revealed the long-awaited policy in a press conference in Canberra, ahead of a technology portfolio debate between Smith, communications minister Stephen Conroy and Greens communications spokesperson, Scott Ludlam.

The central planks of the policy are:

  • $2.75 billion for an open access, fibre-optic backhaul network that will provide competition to Telstra's existing services, with further expected private sector investment of $750 million
  • $1 billion for a wireless network that will address broadband problems in outer metropolitan Australia
  • $1 billion for regional wireless networks
  • $750 million for fixed broadband optimisation to address areas serviced by telephone exchanges where Australians cannot currently get sufficient broadband speeds over Telstra's copper network
  • Funding for satellite services to cover the small proportion of Australians who won't be able to access fixed or wireless broadband
  • Existing NBN policy to be cancelled, NBN Co to be wound up and assets sold to the private sector

Robb said the Coalition's policy aimed to cover 97 per cent of Australian homes, with speeds of between 30Mbps and 100Mbps and satellite for the remaining 3 pe rcent. Both Robb and Smith emphasised the ability of the competitive telecommunications market to solve the national broadband debate — with Government to step in to provide services where it was not economical for the private sector to do so.

They emphasised the fact that both Optus and Telstra are offering speeds of above 80Mbps in some areas using their HFC cable broadband networks.

Slamming Labor

Robb claimed Labor had already wasted three to four years with its NBN policy and said the Opposition's policy would deliver the same speeds as Labor's fibre rollout, without "betting the house on a single technology" — fibre to the home — and without "wasting tens and tens of billions of dollars".

"The private sector is quite capable of identifying where there is a demand for fibre to the home," he added, referring to Telstra's recent decision to roll out fibre in the South Brisbane area.

The finance spokesperson also pilloried Labor's National Broadband Network Company, describing it as "a bureaucratic, stodgy, cumbersome and unresponsive govt monopoly" that was ironically operating in the most innovative industry sector — technology.

Robb also labelled NBN Co "a dumping ground for highly paid Labor apparatchiks", referring to the controversial appointment of Mike Kaiser early in NBN Co's life. Kaiser left a role as Queensland Premier Anna Bligh's chief of staff to join the fledgling broadband startup.

Smith, who appeared tired after weeks on the campaign trail, visibly lost his temper with journalists at several points during the press conference. "How many households will get 100Mbps? Is it that you don't know?" asked one journalist.

"You can't just walk out of here and start digging a trench," Smith answered at one point in relation to the Coalition's lack of network maps for its policy. "NBN Co already has its tractors out there digging trenches," the journalist fired back.

Another pointed out the Coalition's biggest ticket item in its policy — its backhaul plank — would not be delivered until 2017, by which point most of Labor's NBN policy is scheduled to have been delivered.

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