Turnbull supports user-pays fibre NBN

Australian Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that he would support an NBN scheme where residents pay to upgrade the last mile of copper to fibre.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that he would support a scheme where users on a fibre-to-the-node National Broadband Network (NBN) could pay to get their premise upgraded to fibre.

Malcolm Turnbull.
Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

Turnbull made the comments following a speech at Kickstart 2013 on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, this morning. He pointed to BT's fibre-to-the-cabinet, fibre-to-the-premise (FttP) mixed network in the UK currently trialling extending fibre out to premises under the FttC rollout to customers who are willing to pay for the privilege. Turnbull said that he would support the same proposal for an NBN under the Coalition.

"Absolutely. I don't see why you wouldn't do that. If you can offer fibre on demand, and the reason you've got that is you've got in these modern [full service access networks], you've got ports that are capable of supporting GPON and VDSL," he said.

"And so if you've got a customer that wants fibre, for whatever reason, then there's no reason, technically, why you shouldn't make it available."

Turnbull told ZDNet in an interview last week that should the Coalition win government, it would conduct a cost benefit analysis to determine the most cost-effective method of rolling out fast broadband across Australia and would likely shift to a fibre-to-the-node rollout, but letting the existing construction contracts run to completion.

He reiterated that Telstra's hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network would not be part of the Coalition's broadband policy, but those HFC areas would be a low priority for rolling out the NBN.

"What I said about HFC is that we're going to prioritise the areas that are poorly served. So areas that do have very good broadband, or very good broadband relative to the rest of Australia, and that would include most of the HFC areas, would not be the highest priority," he said.

"I've not said we would not overbuild, our intention is to continue as planned to overbuild it."

If the Coalition were to attempt to use the HFC, it would require renegotiation with Telstra, he said.

"It is extraordinary that [HFC] is being taken out of commission. In an ideal world, what I would like to see is that anti-competitive agreement with Telstra being rescinded and Telstra agreeing to give the money back, but good luck [with that]."

Turnbull said that the Coalition would not move to privatise the government-owned NBN Co "any time soon", if it wins government.

"I think the NBN Co could be ready for privatisation during Wyatt Roy's second term as prime minister," he joked.

"I don't see that the NBN could be privatised in the foreseeable future. It just isn't a shape that you could sell in any sort of satisfactory way."

NBN Co would be required to provide "at least monthly" updates on the number of premises passed or activated, he said, and details on the cost of passing and connecting premises.

Turnbull again refused to release a proposed price for his own FttN policy compared to Labor's AU$37.4 billion network, saying that the Coalition would first need access to all of NBN's financial commitments.

"If I put out a set of financials, I want them to be right," he said. "We do not know enough about the NBN's commitments."

Josh Taylor travelled to the Kickstart conference as a guest of MediaConnect.

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