Labor commits to making AU$2.4b 'investment' to extend on-demand FttN upgrades

The pledge to extend current FttN upgrades to a further 1.5 million premises would still leave 10% on copper.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The Australian Labor Party has said that should it win government at the next election, it would be spending AU$2.4 billion to extend the existing NBN fibre to the node (FttN) upgrade plan to a further 1.5 million premises.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese told the ABC that 660,000 of that number would be in regional Australia.

"It will cost AU$2.4 billion. That will be provided for the National Broadband Network. This is an investment. It's an investment that will produce a return. It's an investment in our future. And it's an investment in equity as well," he said.

"Why is it that some communities and some places are just missing out? I can't, from my office in Marrickville, I can't upload and film from there through the NBN system, because it just isn't up to the task. But in regional Australia, it's worse."

Albanese said the commitment would see 90% of the fixed footprint able to have access gigabit speeds by 2025, and create 12,000 jobs.

"We know that we have a big technological repair job as a result of the negative policies of this government, who, when they came to office, of course, said that high-speed fibre was a waste," he said.

"They thought it was all about downloading videos. We know that it's not."

Labor also said it would be keeping the NBN in public hands to ensure there are "divides between haves and have nots".

"If you privatise the services, we don't want to see what happened with Telstra, which was a privatisation that led to monopoly power, privatisation that required Labor, as part of our NBN policy, to introduce the structural separation that was necessary to introduce competition into the sector," he added.

In response, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher trotted out his well-worn trainwreck trope that Labor only connected 51,000 premises when in government, before striking on the nub of Labor's announcement.

"Nothing in what Labor is now proposing adds to our existing commitment before 2023; NBN is fully committed to delivering the existing upgrade," he said.

"At least Labor has now accepted the Coalition's efficient model of fibre on demand -- abandoning its previous signature policy of fibre to every premise, regardless of whether it is wanted or not."

Fletcher then asked for Labor to explain where the funding for its plan would come from, before deeming it to be "wasteful spending".

The government, of which Fletcher is a part, currently resides over the largest deficit in the nation's history, but continues to look for more ways to shrink its taxation base.

Telco analyst Paul Budde said, overall, Labor's plan is a continuation of a decade's muddling on the NBN.

"It is not revolutionary, nothing dramatically different or extra from what the government is doing after it backflipped and started to upgrade FttN connection to full fibre. The AU$2.4 billion that they are putting on the table for it is in line with the sort of ongoing extra investments the government had to make over the last decade -- amounting to AU$28 billion -- so the extra AU$2.4 billion is not outside the ordinary," he said.

"A can-do strategy that slowly but surely will see Australia entering the leagues of countries with top quality broadband access."

Budde added that the poor fixed wireless connectivity in regional Australia still needed looking at, and the proliferation of services like Starlink in Australia could be the next stage in the NBN saga.

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