If the Coalition were back in power today it would bring back the $950 million rural broadband network plans which Communications Minister Stephen Conroy cancelled, Shadow Minister Nick Minchin said in a video interview with ZDNet.com.au last week.
"That's a very hypothetical question," Minchin said, when
asked what he would do if he was given the power now. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has not yet announced the timing of the next Federal election,
at which point in time anything could have happened, such as an
agreement being reached with a builder for the government's $4.7
National Broadband Network, which would change the situation.
Yet when pressed about what he thought would happen if the
Coalition were to take power today, Minchin said that he would
ignore the work which had up until this point been carried out on
the National Broadband Network and instead focus on an OPEL-like
network with about the same level of funding.
The rural contract awarded to OPEL, a consortium of Optus and Elders' telco arm, has since closed.
"If it was today — given that this process has been so
bad, I think we would still want to do what we wanted to do in
government," he said. "I think we should put in place the essence of the OPEL
contract. You might have to re-tender it now."
Minchin's rival Communications Minister Stephen Conroy
ditched the OPEL contract in April last year, leaving Optus and Elders, who
won the contract together, out in the cold. Conroy's reasons
for cancelling the contract was the claim that the network would only cover 72 per cent of
"identified under-served premises" and failed to meet the terms
of the contract.
If the deal had gone ahead, some of the network would likely have been operational this year. Whether the builders would have kept to the original timetable
in reality will never be known, but Minchin considered it an infinitely better option than the wait that rural Australians now
expected for faster broadband.
Public money should go to under-served
areas, not to areas where the market should be able to deliver
those services, Minchin said, which was why a plan targeting rural areas
In addition to OPEL, Minchin believed regulation needed to go under
the microscope while incentives were put in place so that industry would build
out fast broadband to the rest of Australia. "I don't believe
that it does require $4.7 billion of government money to do
that," he said.
In the rest of the interview, Minchin spoke about the ISP filter,
iiNet's Federal Court case, spectrum and the difficulties for a non-techie
carrying out his role.