Despite the government prioritising regional areas of Australia for early phases of the roll-out, the cost for the National Broadband Network (NBN) will not increase, according to Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Stephen Conroy.
(Stephen Conroy on Lateline screenshot by
Josh Taylor/ZDNet Australia)
On ABC's Lateline program last night, presenter Tony Jones expressed concern that since there are less people in regional areas, initial revenues from people taking up the broadband service would be low and might raise the cost of the project as a whole.
However, Conroy denied that rolling out the NBN to regional areas first as part of a deal to secure the votes of Independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor would add to the $43 billion expected cost for the project.
"Look, not at all. What we're talking about with the Independents is the priority of where we roll it out," Conroy said, highlighting regional areas were already included in the first two phases of the roll-out. But Conroy stated that the next sites to be picked might be different to what was originally planned.
"And what we will be talking to NBN Co about in the next few days is instead of starting one maybe in the centre of Melbourne, we would actually do one in, picking a town, Wodonga. Instead of starting in Brisbane, we might do Mackay," he said.
Conroy also said that Oakeshott and Windsor hadn't negotiated special roll-out times for their electorates as part of the deal.
"The Independents did not put forward any plan whatsoever to prioritise their own electorates. I think what attracted them to the National Broadband Network was that this was a national benefit to all of regional Australia," the minister said. "They did not ask for nor did we give them any commitments about being focused in their individual electorates."
Conroy offered a new benefit for rolling the network out to regional Australia first, that of better organising population density across the nation.
"If we are able to deliver the services into regional Australia that are equivalent to those that they get in the city, we will begin to get a better distribution of population," he said. "We can take the pressure off the cities. We have the capacity for the sea change and tree change communities to be able to do that and still access those services."
Telstra customers key for initial revenue
Conroy said the $11 billion deal with Telstra to gain access to its existing infrastructure would see its customers provide a key stream of initial revenue to the project that would encourage private investment in the $43 billion project.
"So they in [the McKinsey] report said to us it should be $27 billion [in government investment] that allows us to complete the build and then with the revenue streams that would be coming in, particularly with the new Telstra deal, we get revenue from day one as we start bringing Telstra customers over onto our network, would allow us then to start [seeking private investment]."