Labor pledges fibre NBN for Tasmanian west coast if elected

'Labor will make it happen,' Jason Clare has said in regards to the west coast of Tasmania receiving fibre NBN connections.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Shadow Minister for Communications Jason Clare has announced Labor's plans to spend AU$29 million on constructing a fibre National Broadband Network (NBN) connection for the west coast of Tasmania if elected in July.

Clare did not detail whether this "fibre link" would entail a fibre-to-the-premises (FttP), fibre-to-the-node (FttN), fibre-to-the-basement (FttB), or fibre-to-the-distribution-point (FttDP) network, however.

Under Labor's plan, Queenstown, Rosebery, and Zeehan would all be connected to fibre. Those areas -- which were due to receive FttP connections under Labor's original NBN plan, along with the rest of Australia -- are currently slated to receive the NBN as part of the Coalition's long-term satellite solution or under the fixed-wireless network.

"Before the election, Mr Turnbull promised Tasmanians he would 'honour all contracts' for the fibre rollout in Tasmania, and roll out the NBN to all Tasmanian homes and businesses by 2015. In government, Mr Turnbull broke these promises," Clare said in a joint announcement with Tasmanian Senator Anne Urquhart and Tasmanian Labor MP Justine Keay.

"Mr Turnbull and Brett Whiteley then said that the West Coast would be connected to the second rate fibre-to-the-node network, with construction to start by June 2016. They broke this promise, too.

"In 2015, Mr Turnbull quietly put the West Coast on the NBN satellites without even informing the community -- it only came out in Senate testimony."

Labor would also look towards leasing capacity on the TasNetwork fibre network for redundancy purposes, Clare added.

Back in 2012, NBN trialled network extensions to roll out fibre to the 7 percent of Tasmanian premises not covered by its FttP network plans, but would not reveal the costs associated.

NBN construction across the rest of Tasmania was then slowed down during 2013 when it became plagued by claims that its Visionstream sub-contractors had not been paid, resulting in a months-long halt to FttP network construction.

In February 2014, NBN's switch to the so-called multi-technology mix (MTM) under the Coalition saw all of Tasmania moved away from a full-FttP area to one utilising FttN for most premises connected as of the end of 2014, with the more remote areas moved to satellite or fixed-wireless in 2015.

"There is a contract with Visionstream to connect 225,000 Tasmanian homes to high-speed broadband. It doesn't specify the technology, but obviously, in the previous model, the infrastructure was going to be an all-fibre infrastructure," NBN chairman Ziggy Switkowski said at the time.

"We've now agreed on a multi-technology mode, where we will seek to use existing copper network where we can."

In February this year, one Tasmanian council declined to upgrade two regions from FttN to FttP due to the costs involved, adding that it would also be requesting a refund on the AU$10,000 fee it was charged by NBN for the cost analysis, because it was not detailed enough to warrant such a fee.

NBN's estimate said that between AU$2.75 million and AU$3.3 million would be needed to upgrade the Westbury and Hagley region, and that it would cost AU$2.2 million to AU$2.75 million to upgrade Hadspen and Traveller's Rest.

Earlier this month, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten confirmed in a speech that Labor is looking towards a "hybrid" NBN policy with more fibre.

"We won't rip up everything that Mr Turnbull has done," Shorten said at the Sky News People's Forum.

"We will do a hybrid of some of what he's done, but we will have in our announcement -- which we will be putting out pretty soon -- a greater proportion of the use of fibre, and we will also look at the proportions of fibre, and we think we can provide more of that to more Australians."

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield labelled this statement a "backflip" from Labor's previous stance on the NBN.

Clare admitted late last year that should Labor be voted into power during the 2016 election, an all-fibre approach would be impossible to return to. Instead, he predicted a move to more FttDP making use of G.Fast technology.

NBN in October signalled its intent to deploy FttDP for premises that are located more than 1 kilometre from a node, and last month announced a VDSL-based three-month trial of FttDP as a solution for a niche problem -- premises in more remote areas, with lead-ins of between 50 metres and 300 metres, where it is too expensive to roll out either FttN or FttP.

Fifield has also said that the "technology-agnostic" NBN being implemented by the Coalition is the only way to ensure it is delivered on time and on target -- and claimed that Labor had as good as conceded this.

Others in the industry, meanwhile, have complained that too much time has been spent politicising, debating, and criticising the broadband technologies being used for the rollout, instead of realising its benefits.

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