The Coalition has unveiled its $6 billion rival broadband policy to Labor's National Broadband Network 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 this morning, ahead of a technology portfolio debate slated to be held this afternoon in the nation's capital 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 scrapped, with 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 per cent. In the press conference, 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.
Smith added that the investments in addition to reforms of the telecommunications industry would also help to remove the "bottlenecks" and unaffordability for companies to access current broadband backhaul.
They emphasised the fact that both Optus and Telstra are offering speeds of above 80Mbps in some areas using their HFC cable broadband networks.
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 roll-out, but without "betting the house on a single technology" 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 (NBN Co), describing it as "a bureaucratic, stodgy, cumbersome and unresponsive government monopoly" that was ironically operating in the most innovative industry sector — technology.
Robb said that should Labor be returned to government after 21 August, the NBN would be "this $43 billion white elephant will be a monument to Labor's waste and mismanagement of taxpayers money".
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 start-up.
Journalists at the press conference did not go easy on the Coalition pair. At times, the questions turned almost hostile, causing Smith — who appeared tired after weeks on the campaign trail — to visibly lose his temper at several points. "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 questioning 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.