Conroy challenges Turnbull on policy costs

Summary:Ahead of Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull's National Press Club Address in Canberra today, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has demanded that his opposition counterpart reveal the costings of his alternative broadband policy.

Ahead of Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull's National Press Club Address in Canberra today, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has demanded that his opposition counterpart reveal the costings of his alternative broadband policy.

"Mr Turnbull has provided the Australian public with no details, no clear direction and — unsurprisingly for a member of Tony Abbott's Opposition — no costings regarding his proposal to dismantle the NBN, yet at the same time has claimed he will deliver fast broadband more quickly," Conroy said in a statement.

A fortnight ago at a business lunch in Sydney, Turnbull detailed some of the Coalition's preliminary policy, which the party is presenting as an alternative to the Federal Government's $35.9 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) project. The alternative would include retaining a fibre roll-out, but only laying the fibre to the node in many areas, rather than all the way to the home. The proposal would involve using Telstra's existing copper lines to each premise. Turnbull admitted that if the Coalition came into power, this would require substantial renegotiation of the $11 billion deal between Telstra and the government.

According to Conroy, Turnbull's plan would end up costing tens of billions of dollars more.

"While Mr Turnbull has now stopped spruiking his previous wireless-only policy, his current fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) policy is unworkable and will add tens of billions to Australia's budget and also deliver an inferior technological outcome to the Gillard Government's fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) NBN roll-out," Conroy said.

Conroy has demanded that his counterpart reveal the exact cost of his plan, where the money will come from, how the Coalition intends to find money to pay Telstra to "surrender its copper network" and whether this will impact the budget deficit.

Turnbull has previously indicated that costing for his own policy would not be possible until the government revealed some of the costs associated with its NBN policy.

"As Senator Conroy knows, the Coalition cannot put a definitive dollar figure on the cost of sorting out his financial disaster because he has not released sufficient financial information for anyone, including Telstra shareholders, to analyse or understand the deals with Optus and Telstra," Turnbull said in a recent blog post.

Instead of cross-subsidising the cost of broadband in regional and remote Australia with its metropolitan counterparts, Turnbull suggested that a coalition government would either seek to pay companies the cost difference to roll out broadband infrastructure in regional areas, or would introduce a voucher system to subsidise higher broadband costs for residents. Conroy said the voucher system needed to be explained, and that Turnbull should explain why people in regional areas should have to pay more in the first place.

The main thrust of Turnbull's policy proposal is that he believes that the Coalition could deliver fast broadband quicker than the NBN will, which won't finish rolling out until 2020. However, Conroy questioned Turnbull's timing calculations.

"Malcolm Turnbull says it would take six months for the Productivity Commission to produce a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN. At the time of the next election in mid-2013, the NBN roll-out will be in full swing with over a million premises passed and passing 6000 per day in FY2014," he said. "After the Productivity Commission reports, he has said he will tear up the agreements with Telstra and Optus and start again, and draw up a new regulatory framework ... exactly how he will deliver his broadband network quicker than the NBN if the only plan he can commit to is to halt and dismantle the NBN?"

Speaking to ABC radio this morning, Turnbull again promised not to tear up the NBN infrastructure should the Opposition win power at the next election.

"All of the NBN infrastructure will remain in place," he said.

"We will ensure its value is maximised."

Conroy today indicated that he will make an announcement about the wireless roll-out of the NBN at an Australian Information Industry Association lunch in Sydney.

AAP contributed to this article

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government : AU, NBN

About

Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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