Turnbull slams Conroy's 'new online BFF' over NBN claims

A website that shot to popularity this week comparing NBN policies has been slammed by the Opposition as spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

A website that purports to compare the speeds available on Labor's NBN and the Coalition's alternative has been branded as a "farrago of FUD" by Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Image: Screenshot by Josh Taylor/ZDNet

The "How Fast is the NBN" website was launched by Brisbane PhD student and self-proclaimed Liberal voter James Brotchie this week, and has already been shared over 37,000 times on Facebook, over 4,000 times on Twitter, and over 1,000 times on Facebook, according to the site's published statistics.

The website aims to provide a simple comparison of what is achievable over Labor's fibre-to–the-premises (FttP) NBN, and the Coalition's fibre to the node proposal, using the highest speed tier of Labor's NBN at 1Gbps down and 400Mbps up, and the minimum guaranteed download speed on the Coalition's proposal at 25Mbps down, with an estimated 5Mbps up.

It provides a number of example scenarios for downloading episodes of Game of Thrones, uploading videos or photos, and syncing files in Dropbox.

The site had been heavily promoted across social media by the public, as well as by Labor politicians, including by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Prime Minister Julia Gillard. But just a day after launch, Turnbull has slammed the site as promoting fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about the Coalition's alternative policy in a lengthy blog post.

Turnbull said that Conroy's "new online BFF" had created a website aimed at misleading the public, and that 25Mbps was the minimum download speed the Coalition's NBN would guarantee by 2016, while conversely, the 1Gbps plan was the highest tier NBN plan and would not be available for "almost a year".

Turnbull has previously outlined that the 25Mbps would be the minimum speed available for all premises in Australia by 2016, with a move to go up to 50Mbps by 2019. In a debate with Conroy hosted by ZDNet earlier this week, Turnbull said that more nodes would be deployed for premises that could not easily achieve 25Mbps download speeds because they were too far from the node. NBN Co also just recently announced 1Gbps plans to be launched by the end of the year.

In his blog post, Turnbull also said that the Coalition's NBN would be able to accommodate upgrades if the demand is there for higher tiered speeds down the track, and rejected the suggestion that the fibre-to-the-premises network had no power or maintenance requirements, as the fibre-to-the-node network would.

Turnbull also called out the fact that a 1Gbps connection would not come cheap, the wholesale price for a service is put at AU$150 per month, without taking into account the connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) charge that ISPs would be charged to provide capacity to that service.

According to NBN Co's corporate plan, the wholesale price would start out at AU$150 per month, but would decline to approximately AU$100 as the average speeds being taken up on the NBN increases over time.

He said that this was no different to suggesting that those who want to pay for fibre to the premises should be prepared to pay for it, as Turnbull has said would be part of the Coalition's policy.

"Price discrimination is an efficient way of making capital-intensive infrastructure viable. But when the Coalition makes the completely unremarkable claim that these high-end users might want to front load costs via a 'fibre on demand' product — and avoid imposing deployment costs on everyone else in the community who doesn't need fibre yet — we are told we are creating a digital divide."

The shadow minister also suggested that the site was misleading on the actual real-world speeds users would get on the NBN.

"Download and upload rates depend on many factors — line speed between the premises and exchange, line speed and contention further up in the network, the server at the other end of the transaction — and is always limited by the slowest link along the overall path from point A to point B."

In a fiery retort to "NBN's fans" who he said were proud to have not read his policy, Turnbull said that it was "Colbertesque", in reference to parody right wing TV host Stephen Colbert. He said that the Coalition's argument over the NBN came down to two factors: Time and money.

"Our concern with near-universal FttP is that it is costing far too much and taking far too long. If people don't care about the money, think of the time. The NBN Co will struggle to meet 15 percent of its June 30 rollout target, and be around 2 percent finished at that date," he said.

"The 2 million or so premises that couldn't watch a YouTube video in 2007 still can't. We should be focused on giving priority to people who may otherwise wait 10 or more years for any broadband, not on the selfish (but no doubt inestimable) joy and thrill of being able to download movies in seconds."

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