Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that the cost of the National Broadband Network (NBN) has become a second issue to the thousands of greenfields residents who are waiting for a fibre connection from NBN Co.
Turnbull yesterday launched his Faster Broadband Survey, which is being used to determine the types of connection, use for broadband, and real-world speeds that are currently available to people across Australia. Turnbull's initial attack on the NBN, when he became the shadow communications minister after the 2010 election, focused on the cost of the network. However, for over a month, Turnbull has turned his attack on the federal government's AU$37.4 billion NBN project to the delays in rolling out fibre to new housing developments of over 100 lots.
Speaking with Leigh Sales on ABC1's 7:30 yesterday evening, Turnbull again declined to state how much his own policy would cost, and said that due to the delays in greenfields sites, the cost is not the biggest issue facing NBN Co anymore.
"You've got to remember that the cost of the project, which is what everybody focused on initially, is now becoming a second-order issue, because thousands and thousands of people are simply not getting any wire-line service at all," he said. "There are housing estates — I've been to them — where the pits and pipes have been put in place ready for the NBN. Eight months later, the NBN hasn't even turned up. People don't even have a telephone other than a mobile phone."
NBN Co is the fibre provider of last resort for new housing developments with over 100 lots, as long as the developer builds the duct and pipes to NBN Co's specifications.
NBN Co has been inundated with applications from housing developers seeking to get the NBN fibre rolled out to their greenfield sites across the country. As of May this year, NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley told a Budget Estimates hearing that NBN Co had received about 2,500 different applications from developers, comprising 130,000 premises in total. NBN Co has signed up Visionstream and Service Stream to cope with the demand.
While Turnbull claims that thousands are waiting for connections in new housing developments, NBN Co's own corporate plan, released last month, states that many of the new housing lots being passed by NBN Co do not have residents yet. According to NBN Co, this is one of the reasons for a slower uptake of services.
NBN Co told ZDNet today that the number of customers waiting for a service is just a "fraction" of the thousands that Turnbull claimed.
"The backlog we're dealing with is a fraction of that suggested by Mr Turnbull. We're also making great strides to get on top of it," NBN Co said in a statement.
"The greenfields build is without doubt one of the biggest challenges NBN Co faces. It doesn't matter if a new housing estate is in the city or the desert. If it has received planning approval, has more than 100 lots, and the developer wants us to do it, then we have to install fibre. In many locations, there's no infrastructure to connect that estate to the outside world. So we have to build that as well."
NBN Co said that developers still have the option to employ a private-sector fibre provider, because NBN Co is still the fibre provider of last resort.
Turnbull's comments come as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak reportedly said that he is on the path to Australian citizenship, in part because of his love of the NBN project.