Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday morning accused Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of not understanding the technology behind the National Broadband Network (NBN), as the fibre-based project was formally launched on the mainland in the northern NSW city of Armidale.
Last week, Abbott described Labor's plan to invest billions of dollars of equity funding in the NBN as "reckless", noting in his Federal Budget reply speech that the capital could be re-allocated to fund a number of major transport infrastructure and hospital projects.
"That $50 billion could fully fund the construction of the Brisbane rail loop, for instance, the duplication of the Pacific Highway, the Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail link, the extension of the M4 to Strathfield and 20 major new teaching hospitals, as well as the $6 billion that the Coalition has proposed to spend on better broadband," Abbott stated, referring to the Liberals' unpopular broadband plan floated during last year's Federal Election.
As Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has previously highlighted, Abbott pointed out that broadband speeds of up to 100Mbps were already potentially available to "almost every major business and hospital", as well as most schools and, referring to the HFC cable networks offered by Telstra and Optus, through high-speed cable "already running past nearly a third of Australian households".
However, speaking in Armidale yesterday at a school to launch the NBN in the city, Gillard said Abbott didn't get it.
"Well Tony Abbott just doesn't understand this technology, and he hasn't got any plans for the nation's future. I mean Tony Abbott is in the digital dark age — he is still scrabbling around trying to put a policy together as we are rolling out the NBN," she said. "I think he'll still be scrabbling around trying to put a policy together as the NBN comes on board in more sites in Australia."
If Abbott wanted to understand the NBN, Gillard said, he should come to Armidale and talk to customers about how it was transforming "their businesses, their education, their local healthcare services, transforming the way farmers go about managing their land". Gillard said farmers now had more information and more contact with agricultural researchers and scientists than they've had before.
"Tony Abbott might be in denial about the future, but the future is here right now, and he can come and see it in Armidale," the Prime Minister said.
However, despite Gillard's statement, it is not clear that any farmers in Armidale are currently connected to the NBN — given that only a small number of customers are known to be on the NBN in Armidale. Internode has two customers (both IT workers) on the NBN, iiNet has some at the University of New England and Telstra has a handful.