Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has labelled companies such as Google and Yahoo, as well as network vendors, as "conspirators against the taxpayer" for praising the $35.9 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) project.
(Credit: Josh Taylor/ZDNet Australia)
At the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network Conference in Sydney today, Turnbull again reiterated his belief that there were no applications that would require the high bandwidth on offer from a fibre to the home (FttH) network such as the NBN. Turnbull said that network vendors and online companies were in a "conspiracy against the taxpayer", because they were talking up a network that they ultimately didn't have to pay for.
"Let me tell you who the conspirators are. They are the vendors, who want to sell lots of kit for the NBN. They'll tell you privately they think it's bonkers, but they want to sell the kit. There are the over-the-top people like Google and Yahoo and media companies," he said, comparing their attitude to that of trucking magnate Lindsay Fox if he was to announce the Coalition government was building a free eight-lane highway just for trucks.
"He would say 'Malcolm, you are a nation-building visionary. God bless you'," Turnbull joked. "But what we forget is that we are the taxpayers and there are huge opportunity costs.
"The reason why there is an enthusiasm from a lot of sectors is that they think it is not their money. It's our money, believe me. The only people in this debate that are standing up for the taxpayer is the Coalition."
Turnbull reiterated his proposal for a scaled-back roll-out with greater telco participation for the Coalition's broadband policy, and said that the government doesn't care and was "utterly reckless" in spending money. He said that everyone in the industry had a vested interest.
"Everybody comes to Canberra with their eyes on your taxes, and somebody has got to stand up for those taxes and somebody has got to stand up for consumers."
While Turnbull argued for the government to have a lesser role in network infrastructure, Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam said that keeping the NBN in public hands, rather than privatising it as planned, would lead to greater transparency for the NBN.
"I know it drives him bonkers, but we get [NBN CEO Mike] Quigley in front of budget estimates committees, we get him on the joint committee that Mr Turnbull and I are both on, and they've got to answer questions in a way that the directors of Telstra or other private providers don't have to."
Ludlam laid out some thoughts as to what sort of applications he believed may require the bandwidth offered by the NBN.
"I think Google augmented reality, cyberspace starting to bleed across into the real world, which takes quite a substantial processing power. I think that merging of worlds is interesting, a little bit terrifying and maybe points some of the way as to what people will use this network for."
Turnbull said that Ludlam's comments had reminded him of first seeing Rocky Horror Picture Show.
"'But when worlds collide,' said George Pal to his bride, 'I'm going to give you some terrible thrills'," Turnbull recited.
"Of course, the chorus is in response, as it should have been in response to Scott [Ludlam]'s remarks, 'science fiction'," he said. "And that basically is what the absurdity of what we are contemplating here today. To spend without any cost-benefit analysis, without any effort to ask if there is a faster, cheaper [and] more cost-effective way to improve broadband services for all Australians."