The passing of laws and signing of contracts will make the National Broadband Network (NBN) difficult to roll back, but the Coalition would still be unlikely to continue the fibre-to-the-home project, according to Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
"It is not going to be easy. By legislation and by contract with Telstra, [Labor is] creating a very complex Gordian knot of contract and legislation and regulation that will be very hard to unpick. But that is going to be a question of the means and practicality," he told the Communications Day Summit in Sydney today.
Turnbull flagged that the new laws also made any future sell off of the NBN more complex.
"The legislation makes it — and this is quite deliberate — extremely difficult, one would say close to impossible, for the NBN to be sold," he said. "Under statute it cannot be sold until the network is complete. That date will pass the lifespan of many of us I expect."
"Selling the NBN will be harder than privatising Telstra was," he added.
Turnbull went on to outline the Coalition policy for broadband if it wins office, stating that the party would conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the project, but said that he doubted a fibre-to-the-home policy would remain.
"I imagine that will involve a very significant change to the NBN strategy, I imagine there will be many areas where you will see fibre-to-the-node, no doubt some areas where there will be at least to the basement, but I don't believe that there will be a fibre-to-the-home network. I just don't think that will be justified economically," he said.
While supporting the structural separation of Telstra, Turnbull said he didn't believe in placing any restrictions on competition for network operators, such as that dictated by the NBN Bill's anti-cherry-picking provisions.
"We do not believe there should be any inhibitions on facility-based competition. If somebody want to roll out a fibre RIM to service a densely settled residential area, then let them do so," he said. "Why would you prevent that from occurring?"
Turnbull said that, assuming the hybrid-fibre coaxial networks were not shut down as Telstra's would be under the $11 billion deal with NBN Co, he would also "liberate" them so they could compete with other fixed networks. He said the Coalition were for fast broadband for all Australians as Labor was, but at a price affordable to taxpayers.
"A lot will depend on, of course, if and when there is a change of government. But I hope we will be able to work with all of you in the years and months ahead to come to the best outcome, so we can get this vitally important industry on track to deliver the services to all Australians but to do so in a way that promotes the competition that we know is going to be the driver of excellence, better services and innovation."