Australian Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield has disputed claims by Independent candidate Tony Windsor and former NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley that the National Broadband Network (NBN) was due to be rolled out in Tamworth in 2013, saying the confusion in the rollout timetable was due to Labor's misleading wording.
"Mr Windsor and Mr Quigley are not telling the truth regarding the claims that Tamworth was about to get the NBN in 2013," Fifield told ZDNet.
"Under the former Labor government, NBN Co created a misleading metric called 'premises where construction is commenced or completed' to create the impression that there was much more rollout activity than was actually the case.
"With Mr Quigley in charge, 'construction' was deemed to have 'commenced' from the moment the first high-level desktop designs began. This is the equivalent of a person claiming that construction of their new house had commenced from the moment they call an architect. NBN's records reveal that design work for Tamworth had not even started by October 2013, let alone having actual construction contracts in place."
NBN also confirmed to ZDNet that while Tamworth was listed in the one-year construction plan in April 2013, at the time of the election at the end of 2013, no contracts had been issued or signed to signal commencement of construction in that area.
Quigley and Windsor used a joint press conference on Monday morning to discuss the lack of NBN in Tamworth, in the New England region of New South Wales, despite it appearing in rollout maps in 2013.
"Tamworth was on the schedule starting in 2013, and I think the last area of Tamworth was going to be completed by about second-quarter 2015, but an election took place. So that plan was canned," Quigley claimed on Monday.
"There's really been a two-year plateau in rollout, and it's only now, only after three years, that fibre to the node's starting to come up, and HFC's hardly started. I think it's just a consequence of that big shift in a plan.
"If you take a big project like the NBN and put a major shift in it, you're going to delay it by years, and that's exactly what's happened."
According to NBN's three-year construction plan, much of Tamworth and the surrounding region, including Calala, East Tamworth, Hillvue, Kingswood, Moore Creek, Nemingha, North Tamworth, Oxley Vale, South Tamworth, Taminda, Tamworth, West Tamworth, and Westdale, will get fibre to the node (FttN) in Q1 2017 -- almost four years later than the 2013 date Quigley and Windsor claim was originally provided.
Windsor, who announced in March that he would be challenging deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce for the seat of New England partially due to the Coalition's NBN policy, said that even if Tamworth did receive the NBN at this time, it should be fibre to the premises (FttP), because if FttN is installed, it would not be replaced for a long time.
"What's most likely to happen, when you look at the historical context of country representation, once fibre to the node is in, it's highly unlikely -- given that the current national party representatives are pushing for the second-best technology -- it's highly unlikely that someone's going to come along and say well let's rip up what we thought was a great idea and reinstate it in Tamworth, for instance ... so the likelihood of having second-class technology relating to our city cousins is looming very large," Windsor argued on Monday morning.
"What I'm trying to do is ... apply the political pressure so that before a community like Tamworth is rolled out to the node, and probably will stay there for 20, 30 years until someone comes out here and changes that again, before that happens, make sure that the correct technology is put in place to do it once, do it right, do it with fibre.
"That can still happen. That can still happen."
Earlier this month, Windsor used the ABC's Q&A program to question why Armidale has FttP NBN and Tamworth has nothing.
"I have been watching for the last few years some of these issues slip by, where we are being asked to accept a lower standard: The National Broadband Network. Why has Armidale got it? Why hasn't Tamworth got it and other communities? Why haven't they?" he asked.
"I'll tell you why. Tamworth was supposed to be rolled out in September 2013. Nothing has happened since then ... why should country kids accept second-class standards?"
By contrast, Joyce used the same program to say internet speeds of just 25Mbps are "good enough" for those living in regional and remote parts of Australia.
Joyce's comments followed those of Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Christopher Pyne on the same program a week earlier, when he claimed that the Coalition's technology-agnostic NBN enables "speeds that people want and need".
"They simply didn't need the speeds that Labor was promising," Pyne claimed.
Labor's candidate for New England David Ewings, meanwhile, has promised that under a Labor government, Tamworth will receive full fibre to the premises.
"Tamworth will have access to NBN fibre to the home and to the business under Labor's plan to build the National Broadband Network Australia needs for the jobs of the future," Ewings has said.
"Regional businesses operating in regional Australia, including in Tamworth and New England, are missing out on new markets and expansion opportunities because they cannot compete in a global market where high speed broadband is taken for granted."
Quigley also used Monday's press conference to argue that "tens of billions of dollars" were wasted on building out FttN connections, with billions more needing to be spent on upgrading all areas to FttP in order to future proof the network.
"In economic issues, my view is it literally is tens of billions of dollars that are going to have been wasted on the MTM [multi-technology mix], because that fibre-to-the-node network is going to have to be upgraded," the former CEO said.
"The problem is, there's very little that you can use, because all those nodes that have got electronics in them and have to be powered -- which is one of the problems, by the way, it's taking now so long, because you have to get power to them -- all of those nodes are redundant. You simply don't need them, because with fibre to the premise[s], you go all the way to the exchange.
"It'll be in the billions of dollars to replace that."
Quigley last week also labelled the copper-reliant NBN a "huge miscalculation" during a speech at the University of Melbourne.
"The Coalition has put their faith in what has turned out to be a short-sighted, expensive, and backward-looking MTM plan based on copper," Quigley said.
"The nation is going to be bearing the consequences of those decisions for years to come in higher costs and poorer performance in an area that is critical to its long-term future."
After being elected in 2013, the Coalition moved away from Labor's full-FttP NBN model to the MTM, which aims to cover 20 percent of the Australian population with FttP; 38 percent with FttN, fibre to the building (FttB), or fibre to the distribution point (FttDP); 34 percent with hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC); 5 percent with fixed-wireless; and 3 percent with satellite services.
The Australian Labor Party has said that if elected during the July 2 federal election, it will spend AU$3.4 billion on reinstating FttP for an additional 2 million premises once the current FttN contract commitments have been fulfilled -- with the result that it will take longer.
The Greens Party has said it would also replace FttN and HFC areas with FttP, while the Science Party, the Pirate Party, and Jacqui Lambie also favour FttP.