Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has said that the Coalition's alternative broadband policy to the National Broadband Network (NBN) lacks proper costings, and would treat regional Australians as second-class citizens.
Earlier this week, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that if the Coalition took government, it would likely look at scaling back the project. While new housing estates and some existing premises would still get fibre to the home, the Coalition would likely move to a fibre to the node (FTTN) approach in many areas, and seek to utilise Telstra's existing copper network to link the fibre network to the premise.
The Coalition would not seek to stop companies competing on an infrastructure level with the government's own infrastructure, as is the case under the NBN. And instead of rolling out fibre to regional areas, the Coalition would either provide funding for companies to subsidise the higher costs for running a network in those areas, or would offer vouchers to regional residents to bring down the cost of broadband on par with their city counterparts.
Conroy said today that this would leave rural and regional Australians at a "severe disadvantage".
"Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull want to treat regional Australians like second-class citizens. They want to abolish the cross-subsidy to regional Australia, and force regional people to pay more for second-rate services," Conroy said in a statement.
He also criticised the lack of costings in the plans announced by his opposition counterpart.
"The Coalition's plan would be to stop the NBN's progress in its tracks and substitute it with an inferior, patchwork network that is cobbled together with bits and pieces of outdated and worn out copper infrastructure that will deliver a substandard and more costly service to many Australians," he said. "Mr Turnbull claims his plan will be more cost effective, and that any costs resulting from changes to the NBN would be dwarfed by the savings. But he hasn't even put a cost on his proposal.
"He needs to stop misleading the Australian public and come clean on costs."
Conroy said that any FTTN approach would not necessarily be a cheaper option.
"In 2008, the government tested the market for a FTTN solution and concluded that the market would not and could not deliver value for money, and that there was a better long-term option — namely, fibre to the premise," he said.
As Internode yesterday unveiled its commercial prices for services on the NBN, founder Simon Hackett warned that the decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to extend the number of points of interconnect for the NBN from 14 to 121 could lead to residents in lower-density population areas such as rural and regional Australia to pay more for NBN services than their regional counterparts.