Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's office has said it means nothing that 35,000 Telstra copper connections have been made to houses in greenfield estates, even though it shows how many more premises it has reached than the government's National Broadband Network (NBN) fibre.
Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday seized on numbers reported by Communications Day from a submission made by Telstra to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), saying that it had laid 35,000 copper lines to greenfield estates over the last 12 months. In the meantime, it expects only 4000 premises to be passed by NBN Co's fibre by September, with 951 completed at the end of last year.
"Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the disastrous nature of the NBN Co's decision to take over the provision of fibre installations in greenfields sites," Turnbull said in a statement.
"That decision seriously undermined a thriving industry of private-sector fibre providers, and it has also resulted in 35,000 new Australian homes being installed with copper — so derided by Senator Conroy — instead of fibre."
Turnbull said that there is no argument between the government and the opposition about providing fibre to homes in greenfield developments, despite their differences over the cost of connecting all homes to a fibre-cable network.
"The failure to provide fibre to so many new homes is a direct consequence of Senator Conroy's blind prejudice against the private sector providing fibre connections in greenfields developments," he said.
Conroy said, however, that Turnbull is misleading Australians on the matter.
He pointed out that Telstra is responsible for estates where development approval was granted before 1 January 2011, as part of the definitive agreements signed in June last year. Given the lead time between approval and actually building, this is still a factor, according to his office.
The agreement also sees Telstra responsible for laying copper in new housing developments that have less than 100 premises.
"As Mr Turnbull well knows, responsibility for 35,000 greenfields lots was passed to Telstra as part of these agreements," he said.
"The provision of copper to these premises by Telstra is exactly how these agreements were meant to work.
"Under government policy, copper is an interim solution. All greenfields premises will receive fibre to the home as the NBN is progressively rolled out."
He said that NBN Co will provide connections to greenfields premises as they are needed.