Both the Labor and Greens parties this afternoon opened fire on the Coalition's rival broadband policy in an information and communications technology sector election debate that at times saw Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and his Shadow Minister Tony Smith at each others' throats.
The Coalition this morning 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.
Speaking in a televised debate in Canberra held by the Australian Computer Society, Conroy described the policy as "a blast from the past". The previous Coalition Government had also targeted a wireless roll-out through its doomed OPEL plan.
The Coalition plan also appears to rely heavily on the hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) networks built by Telstra and Optus over the past decade to provide high-speed services comparable to the NBN.
Yet Conroy told the audience at the debate that services planned under the NBN such as video-conferencing and telehealth could not be delivered through the HFC networks, which share a certain amount of bandwidth between users.
The minister also laid into Smith for how similar the Coalition and Labor policies were on backhaul. "We appreciate that Tony has stolen part of our plans to build backhaul around the country," he said.
Communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam said at the debate there was a risk that the Coalition policy would result in "a real patchwork of service delivery" and emphasised the party's support for the NBN project, as well as its vision that NBN Co would continue to remain in public hands and not be privatised as former monopoly telco Telstra was.
But the Greens senator added he wasn't across all the fine details of the Coalition's announcement. "Like the rest of the room, we've only had five minutes to analyse it," he said.
Other topics discussed during the debate included the controversial internet filter project, an issue on which all three party spokespeople reiterated their views. But Ludlam said he was surprised that Conroy was continuing to allocate public servants to work on the project when both the Coalition and the Greens had vowed to block associated legislation when it arrived in the Senate.
At several points during the moderated debate, Conroy interjected while Smith was talking, despite the fact that it wasn't the minister's turn to speak. The interjections led Smith to return fire on the communications minister.
"Can you stop interrupting, I know you're a Collingwood supporter, but this is ridiculous," Smith said at one point. "You're not the unpaid moderator, Steve."