Shorten confirms 'hybrid' NBN under Labor

Labor will retain a multi-technology mix approach to the NBN if elected, Bill Shorten has said, but with 'a greater proportion of fibre'.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has confirmed in a speech that Labor is looking towards a "hybrid" National Broadband Network (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 on Thursday evening.

"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 in a statement on Friday.

"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 fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) NBN for fixed-line premises, upon being elected at the end of 2013, the Coalition moved a multi-technology mix (MTM) involving FttP, fibre to the node (FttN), fibre to the building, fibre to the distribution point (FttDP), and hybrid fibre-coaxial for fixed-line, as well as retaining fixed wireless and satellite services.

Fifield had on Monday said 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.

"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 at the CommsDay Summit in Sydney.

"Labor is finally coming around to understand that Australian taxpayers wont be paying for a gold-plated network while languishing for years, waiting for service upgrades."

Shadow Communications Minister Jason 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 predicted a move to more FttDP making use of G.Fast technology.

Indeed, 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.

NBN has been subject to a number of leaks over the last six months, which Labor has used to criticise the MTM technologies leveraging the legacy copper network.

"Hundreds of thousands of Australians are still waiting for the NBN that Malcolm Turnbull promised them they would have by now," Clare said on Monday, in response to the latest leak.

"Malcolm Turnbull's second-rate copper NBN is a complete failure and everyone seems to know it except Malcolm Turnbull."

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.

"This is a multi-technology mix. I don't care what technology they deploy. I think it's a secondary debate, and one that's not important," said Vocus COO Scott Carter on Tuesday.

"It's not a debate that I need to be having. Technology will change. Technology does evolve."

Optus VP for corporate and regulatory affairs David Epstein added that the debate has unfortunately been "reignited" by the ongoing "de facto election campaign", which is unlikely to die down until after the federal election later this year.

"Dare I say it: Think beyond debate about NBN rollout methodologies, notwithstanding what Jason Clare had to say."

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