Less than two weeks out from election day, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that he is confident the Coalition can get access to Telstra's copper line from the node to each premises under the Coalition's National Broadband Network (NBN) policy without having to pay Telstra any more money.
Under the current agreement, Telstra is paid approximately AU$1,500 per premises that is disconnected from the copper service and transferred over to the National Broadband Network. The payments are made as each premises disconnects and moves over to the NBN. The deal in its current form took the Labor government and NBN Co close to two years to negotiate with the incumbent, and Telstra retained ownership of the copper line as part of the deal.
Under the Coalition's policy, approximately 71 percent of premises will connect to the NBN through fibre to the node, with the Coalition hoping to access the last section of copper from Telstra. The AU$29.5 billion price tag included in the policy assumes that Telstra will not receive any extra money.
But given Telstra's lengthy negotiation for the current deal, many have speculated that it will seek to drag out the negotiations with a future Coalition government and seek more money from the potential government that needs to turn around the project in time to deliver at least 25Mbps download speeds by 2016.
Turnbull, however, continues to hold the belief that Telstra will not be paid any extra, telling Sky News yesterday that the copper "has no economic value" for Telstra.
"We're not proposing to pay them anything," he said. "Their copper network in the context of an NBN world is of no economic value, it can't be used anymore, so I'm very confident that we can acquire access, ownership if you like, of the last mile copper for no additional payment.
"Telstra has a very significant vested interest in this NBN being built. They negotiated a very good deal, and we're not suggesting that should be altered or mitigated in any way, but they want to get it built and of course they're frustrated as everyone is by the Labor government's absolute failure to get the job done."
Turnbull also said in the interview that should the Coalition win the election, he is looking forward to being the new communications minister.
"The answer is Tony's [Abbott] made so many commitments that I will be sorting out the NBN I think I can safely say I've got every reason to expect to remain in the portfolio I have. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm relishing the prospect, and I've got no doubt that if we win I will be the minister for communications and broadband."
At the Coalition's campaign launch on Sunday, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott committed to releasing a new business plan for the NBN within the first 100 days of taking office. NBN Co itself has not yet submitted its new business plan to the Cabinet, despite preparing the document for release in May. It is understood that part of the reason for the delay in submitting the new document to Cabinet was due to Telstra's suspension of remediation of its pits and ducts in the wake of community concern about contractors' handling of asbestos material.
It comes as Labor steps up the attack on the Coalition's broadband policy, today launching a second campaign website for the NBN. The "Abbott's Internet" site used Facebook and Vox pops in an attempt to sell 25Mbps plans to the public in Asia, the US, and Europe. The website's claim that Abbott's Internet proposes to deliver 25Mbps download speeds by 2019 is in contrast to the Coalition's actual policy proposal of delivering at least 50Mbps download speeds by 2019.