NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley this afternoon denied his revelation earlier today that National Broadband Network (NBN) speeds would go up to 1Gbps had anything to do with supporting Labor's election chance, despite a Coalition policy that would see his fledgling broadband company shut down.
The planned 1Gbps speeds were revealed by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the formal launch this morning of NBN services in Tasmania, after Quigley informed Conroy last night that significantly enhanced speeds, 10 times the 100Mbps speeds initially promised, were possible.
The planned speed boost will see Labor's broadband policy offer speeds of up to 1Gbps when the NBN is built, compared with the Coalition's policy, which only promises speeds of 12Mbps.
Quigley claimed the move was normal practice for NBN Co. "We have always had a policy inside the company, when we've made decisions, we reach out to the industry at events such as this," he said today at a lunch held in Sydney by the Australian Information Industry Association.
"Do we sit on it, just because there's an election on, or do we do what we normally do, which is announce it out to the industry?" he asked. "I decided the right thing to do was to announce it to the industry."
The future of NBN Co is very much up in the air at the moment, with polls showing a close election and the Coalition promising to wind the company up and sell off its assets if it takes power. But Quigley said the company was continuing to execute on its objectives, and would do so until the government told it to stop.
"There's not much I can do about the coincidence, and it's not such a big coincidence if you think about it," he said. "We just continue to make progress. We continue to work on the product constructs and the dimensioning."
"It is no great surprise, we are going to have things evolve and change, and I have said right from the beginning, when asked the question 'Are you limited to 100Mbps?', no. We can do much more than that."
Quigley was asked whether he had made his own career contingency plans for a Coalition victory, and what the temperature was within NBN Co amongst staff who could shortly lose their jobs.
He replied that he hadn't spent any time worrying about his own career and pointed out that new staff were still choosing to join NBN Co, with the existing employees focused on the task ahead. But, he noted, the NBN Co employees were "only human".
Earlier on in the lunch, Data#3 managing director and Australian technology sector stalwart John Grant took the stage to slam the Coalition's broadband policy.
The central planks of the policy are a competitive backhaul network, regional and metropolitan wireless networks and an ADSL enrichment program that will target telephone exchanges without ADSL2+ broadband as well as cancelling the NBN project.
Grant said the Coalition's policy did not address the issue of structural problems in the telecommunications market and had not been fleshed out to the level of detail that it should have been.
"The fact is that there is a market failure in the communciations environment in Australia, and it started 10 years ago," said Grant. The government's proposal is that they're going to build it, make money from it and sell it. Sounds OK to me."