Turnbull would have given NBN contracts to Telstra

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that incumbent fixed network operator Telstra could be in line for NBN contracts under a Coalition government.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

A Coalition government could potentially see Telstra given a greater role in building the National Broadband Network (NBN), according to Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who said that he would have given the company some of the construction work from the very start.

At Telstra's annual results earlier this month, CEO David Thodey told journalists that the company is "working closely with NBN Co" in terms of the rollout, and had been brought in to do some work in Western Australia, as well as some design work more broadly, but said that Telstra's role is essentially ad hoc.

"We pick up the slack where necessary," he said.

He would not confirm whether the company has been meeting with Turnbull to discuss plans to construct the Coalition's fibre-to-the-node (FttN) network alternative should the party win the election on September 7, but said that Telstra "talks to any politicians who need to talk to us".

In a Fairfax-hosted Google Hangout today, Turnbull said that it is "bizarre" that Telstra, with all of its experience in building networks, has so far been excluded from work on the NBN "largely for political reasons". He said that in line with how network construction is being handled in countries such as New Zealand, the incumbent operator would have a role to play in the construction of the network under a future Coalition government.

"Would it be good for Telstra to be more involved in this project? Yes, I think it would be, but subject to a whole lot of other matters as well," he said.

"I think the fact that they were completely excluded from the construction was very odd. If I'd been in [former Communications Minister Stephen] Conroy's shoes, I would have given at least part of this project for Telstra to build. Not all of it, because you'd want other people in there to keep everyone honest, and to provide a bit of tension and competition."

Turnbull also reiterated that while the Coalition has guaranteed a minimum 25Mbps download speed on the Coalition's NBN by 2016, it would ultimately be the decision of retailers to set upload speeds on the plans. He indicated that the ratio of download to upload speeds on services on FttN is generally four to one.

Coalition government to aggressively promote cloud

Turnbull reiterated his statement to ZDNet in February that the Coalition would adopt a "cloud-first" approach in government. Unlike the current Labor government's approach to the cloud that has taken the more conservative approach of asking agencies to consider cloud adoption, the Coalition would push for government departments to use cloud services.

"We've got to aggressively promote a cloud-first strategy," he said.

Turnbull also said that he would look to move more government services online, and said that the Coalition would bring in a digital mailbox, similar to that already in the market by the government-owned Australia Post. This would be a hub for all government communications, and states and local governments would be encouraged to use it.

"We've got to aim so that as rapidly as possible, government's interaction with citizens, wherever it can be achieved, can be electronic interactions. We will provide a free electronic mailbox/pigeon hole. My goal is to make the channel for all government communications," he said.

The Coalition would also seek to promote a "culture of innovation" within the government to take on small projects aimed at improving the way the government interacts with the public through releasing more government data for apps to be built on, such as the New South Wales transport apps.

"The emphasis has to be on creativity and imagination. The focus has to be on making sure people are not punished when things don't work," he said.

"You've got to encourage an attitude where you can encourage smaller experiments."

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