The Australian government under Labor or Liberal leadership will deliver a fibre-based National Broadband Network (NBN) solution to Western Tasmania, according to policy announced by both parties over the weekend.
On Saturday, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield announced that the Coalition will replace satellite coverage for over 2,700 premises in Tasmania with fibre to the node (FttN) in the towns of Queenstown, Rosebery, and Zeehan, and fixed-wireless for Strahan.
"I'm very pleased to be able to announce today that the federal and Tasmanian governments will put AU$18.5 million towards this project so that the West Coast of Tasmania, the major towns of Rosebery, Queenstown, and Zeehan, will be able to access fibre to the node technology and the town of Strahan will have fixed wireless," Fifield said on Saturday.
AU$4.5 million of the fibre-centric rollout will be funded through the Tasmanian government making the existing and unused state-owned TasNetworks fibre-optic cabling available to NBN under a no-cost, long-term lease model, in addition to AU$14 million in funding from the federal government.
Fifield added that the plan would fall under NBN's technology choice program, which allows people to apply to change the NBN technology being used to connect their premises by contributing to the cost difference.
"The major towns on the West Coast of the state made it clear through [Liberal MP] Brett Whiteley that they wanted the NBN delivered by fibre rather than satellite. Brett Whiteley worked hard with NBN, the federal government, state government, and local government to deliver a solution," Fifield said.
"It's important to work these things through carefully and methodically. It was a decision of NBN that operates at arm's length from government to look at satellite for the West Coast. There is what's known as the technology choice option, which allows communities to indicate if they want something different and for NBN to cost that."
If re-elected, work on the fibre connections in Tasmania is slated to begin in mid-2017.
Labor, which announced its NBN policy on Monday, backed up its previous indication to bring fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) connections to the same area.
"Labor will reverse Mr Turnbull's decision to place the West Coast of Tasmania on the satellites," Labor said in its NBN policy document [PDF].
"Under Labor, Queenstown, Zeehan, and Rosebery will be delivered 21st century fibre to the premises, as they were promised by both parties in 2013. A provision for this investment has been made."
Fifield pointed out that Labor's plan leaves the town of Strahan out, however.
Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare in April announced that Labor would spend AU$29 million on constructing a fibre NBN connection for Queenstown, Rosebery, and Zeehan, though he did not detail whether this "fibre link" would entail an FttP, FttN, fibre-to-the-basement (FttB), or fibre-to-the-distribution-point (FttDP) network.
In response to Labor's Tasmanian fibre offering, Fifield said that paying for its election promises using NBN funding would constitute a misuse of a Government Business Enterprise (GBE), saying the NBN is not an "ATM".
"Under the GBE Guidelines, the NBN is empowered to act commercially and independently when building the NBN," Fifield argued at the time.
Fifield said that Labor's pledge to use AU$29 million in NBN funding would also come at a cost to other premises' NBN rollouts.
"Labor must to come clean on which other towns will be disadvantaged by this intervention in Tasmania," he said.
"Labor also needs to clarify if this promise involves the use of fibre to the premises, which in Tasmania has been mired in lengthy construction delays and rollout challenges."
Prior to Saturday's announcement, Fifield had said there is a fibre option for those living in Western Tasmania thanks to NBN's technology choice program.
"In northwest Tasmania, local calls for fixed-line broadband are already being considered through NBN's existing technology choice policy," Fifield said.
"The significant difference between the technology choice option and the promise made by Labor today is that it is unfunded. NBN does not have a spare AU$29 million available to fund Labor's empty election promises."
The technology choice program, launched in March 2015, offers Australians a pure fibre alternative to NBN's FttN, FttB, FttDP, hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC), fixed-wireless, and satellite connections -- if they pay an application fee, a field quote fee, and then the cost of installing the fibre, which NBN said last year could average around AU$4,300 per premises.
Despite this, NBN recently revealed that it has made just three individual FttP connections, and has not proceeded with a single area switch after receiving 28 applications and providing two quotes. It has, however, received revenue of AU$31,300 without GST from application fees, and AU$22,640 without GST from design and quote fees.
In February this year, one Tasmanian council declined to upgrade two regions from FttN to FttP due to the costs involved, adding 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 for the Tasmanian council had 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.
Prior to Saturday's announcement by Fifield, west coast Tasmania -- which was due to receive FttP connections under Labor's original NBN plan, along with the rest of Australia -- was slated to receive the NBN as part of the Coalition's long-term satellite solution or under the fixed-wireless network.