Regional councils want to pay for broadband: Turnbull

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has suggested that councils will want to stump up cash to improve broadband in their areas.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Coalition's National Broadband Network policy will allow for local councils to co-invest in their broadband rollout, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said.

Under the policy released on Tuesday, 71 percent of premises in Australia would receive fibre-to-the-node services, while 22 percent would receive fibre-to-the-premises services, and the last 7 percent would continue to receive fixed-wireless and satellite services.

On Wednesday, Turnbull indicated that areas in the last 7 percent could potentially be serviced by fibre to the node, but he would not say how many premises he believed would be able to switch to fixed-line services. Speaking in Geelong, Victoria, on Thursday, Turnbull opened the door for regional councils to fund broadband investment along with the Federal government.

"I was talking to one of our colleagues, Bruce Scott, just this morning, who is delighted, as indeed are some of his local communities in Maranoa about the opportunity for co-investment because there are local communities there who want to put their own money, local councils want to put their own money to enhance wireless coverage and broadband coverage generally, and we've got a flexibility in our policy to accommodate that," he said.

He reiterated that regional communities moving to fibre to the node would be better off under his NBN proposal.

"Those communities are eminently suited to the fibre-to-the-node approach that we've described, ... and it's not an accident. I mean, we have by far the biggest representation of regional MPs and senators in the Parliament," he said.

"Our roots are in regional Australia as a political movement, as a Coalition. So we are listening to those regional MPs in those communities, and they have contributed to the formation of our policy.

Turnbull's argument is that the fixed-wireless and satellite services can only guarantee a maximum speed of 25 megabits-per-second (Mbps), while on the fibre-to-the-node network, the Coalition is promising a minimum of 25Mbps by 2016, and 50Mbps by 2019.

The Coalition's policy has been criticised by regional independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, who have described the policy as "madness" and a step backward in using copper instead of fibre.

Under the current NBN proposal, those living outside the fibre footprint can apply to have the fibre extended out to their premise at their own cost, but the price is much higher than the rest of the network rollout, with one customer quoted AU$150,000 for NBN Co to roll out 1.3km of fibre to his house.

Turnbull himself has said that fibre-to-the-node users who want the full fibre service could pay for it, similar to the trials underway in the UK. Labor has seized on this, stating that people who want fibre on the Coalition's NBN could expect to pay up to AU$5,000.

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