In a fiery debate between Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull on ABC's Lateline last night, the Opposition spokesperson labelled the National Broadband Network (NBN) as a "repugnant" re-nationalised version of Telecom.
(Screenshot by Josh Taylor/ZDNet Australia)
"This monopoly is so repugnant to the provisions, the competition laws of the Trade Practices Act it could never get approved [by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission], so Senator Conroy has to pass special legislation to effectively take it out of the competition laws in the Trade Practices Act," Turnbull said, reiterating his calls for a cost-benefit analysis for the project. "This is a remarkable act of government — you know, of direct government intervention."
In the course of the debate, Conroy revealed that the government plans to announce in the near future where the project will have rolled out in three years time.
"We're about to receive in the next few weeks that sort of information from National Broadband Network, and I'm sure there's a whole range of information that we'll be making available very, very shortly on some of these key questions and we'll be very, very happy to put it out into the public domain," Conroy said.
If the Opposition wins the next election and the roll-out of the NBN is halted, Conroy said it would lead to disparity of access to broadband across Australia, and higher prices for those already connected to the network.
"The entire business model collapses. All of the packages, all of the speeds, the download limits, the prices would collapse if the Opposition won government and stopped and froze the project."
Turnbull said that should the Coalition win the next election, it would assess what infrastructure has been put in place before deciding what would be done with it.
"Whatever has been built, if we come into government, we will obviously have to make the very best possible use of it."
Turnbull argued that the "build it and they will come" approach to the NBN was a "recipe for losing tens of billions of dollars" when many Australians already had access to ADSL2+ internet connections. A point that the communications minister rejected.
"Only 500 of 5000 exchanges are ADSL2+ enabled," he said. "Malcolm's fantasy from Potts Point where he thinks, 'Well I can get everything I need. I can get everything, all the speeds I want.' He is living in a fantasy world about the state of broadband in this country and the state of broadband particularly in metropolitan Australia."
The NBN yesterday also came under fire from the world's richest man, Mexican telecommunications tycoon Carlos Slim Helu, who said the Australian public was paying too much for the $43 billion project.
"It's too much money," he said at the Forbes Globes CEO Conference in Sydney.
"It's just not necessary to spend so much money."
AAP contributed to this article