Labor to restore NBN 'original vision': Shadow regional comms minister

Labor is 'committed' to restoring its original NBN vision, with a concrete policy to be announced in the coming weeks, according to the shadow regional communications minister.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Labor is eyeing a return to its "original vision" for the National Broadband Network (NBN), according to Shadow Minister for Regional Communications Stephen Jones.

Jones' claims during his address to the Broadband in the Bush Forum in Brisbane on Wednesday came despite Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare's previous comments that it would not be possible for Labor to go back to a full fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) NBN rollout.

While Labor has yet to announce its formal NBN policy less than four weeks prior to the federal election, Jones said it would be made clear by Clare "in coming weeks".

"Our plans will be announced soon. But I will say this: Malcolm Turnbull has made a diabolical mess of the NBN," Jones said.

"Fixing this mess will take some doing. We need to be upfront about that. There are contracts that are currently in place and they have been signed in good faith. It will not be our policy to breach those contracts; we are committed to governing responsibly.

"But we are committed to getting the NBN back on track, and to restoring our original vision for this critical infrastructure project."

By contrast, 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.

"I can't fix the mess this government has made with the flick of a switch or pull out every node or stop all the work NBN is currently doing without potentially causing more problems and wasting a lot of sunk investment," Clare said.

"If anyone thinks I can just click my fingers the day after the election and we can go back to the way it was, they will be disappointed."

Instead, he correctly predicted a move to more fibre to the distribution point (FttDP) making use of G.Fast technology.

The only policy guidance that Labor has revealed until now has been that it will utilise "more fibre" than the Coalition's multi-technology mix, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten confirming in April that his party is looking towards a "hybrid" NBN policy.

"We won't rip up everything that Mr Turnbull has done," Shorten said at the time.

"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.

"Labor leader Bill Shorten last night confirmed that Labor has backflipped on the National Broadband Network," Fifield said at the time.

"For two and a half years, Labor has attacked anything other than a network that built fibre to the premise, and attacked any use of the existing copper network. Last night, Mr Shorten confirmed that Labor would adopt the Turnbull government's multi-technology mix.

"The position outlined by Mr Shorten, to use more fibre, is already possible under the current multi-technology mix. This also confirms that Labor will utilise the existing copper network."

While the previous Labor government had planned to roll out a full FttP NBN for fixed-line premises, upon being elected at the end of 2013, the Coalition moved to its "technology-agnostic" model involving FttP, FttDP, fibre to the node (FttN), fibre to the building, and hybrid fibre-coaxial for fixed-line, as well as retaining fixed-wireless and satellite services.

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

"In recent weeks, when asked about Labor's broadband policy, the shadow communications spokesman simply said that Labor will roll out 'more fibre'. Not all fibre, just more fibre, which is tantamount to an admission that the Coalition's technology-agnostic business model is right," Fifield argued.

Jones on Wednesday also criticised the Coalition's management of the NBN satellite policy for rural Australians by putting 400,000 premises on them instead of the original 200,000 planned, and added that a fixed-line rollout relying on "last century's copper wire" is causing widespread disconnections.

Despite finding itself briefly in the spotlight when the Australian Federal Police (AFP) conducted raids on the office of former Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy and the home of a Labor staffer over leaked NBN documents, an exclusive ZDNet survey undertaken by Metapoll earlier this week revealed that the NBN was named the least important issue for the upcoming federal election.

Speaking on the ABC's Q&A program, both Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Christopher Pyne have defended the Coalition's NBN policy, saying the 25Mbps speeds on the satellite service are "good enough", and that consumers "simply didn't need the speeds that Labor was promising".

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