'We had the same debate': France approves NBN blueprint

Australia's fibre-to-the-home approach for the National Broadband Network is 'the best and most sustainable solution', according to the French minister delegate for small and medium enterprise Fleur Pellerin.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Just weeks after the French socialist government announced its own €20 billion plan for high-speed broadband, the French minister delegate for small and medium enterprise, Fleur Pellerin, has endorsed the Australian Labor government's decision to proceed with a fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) rollout.

Stephen Conroy
Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

French president François Hollande said last month that high-speed broadband would be rolled out across France over the next 10 years at a cost of €200m per year. This morning, Pellerin told journalists in Sydney that she is "very impressed" with the government's AU$37.4 billion project, and said that the French government had opted for fibre to the premises for much of its rollout because it "is the best and the most sustainable solution to bring quality, very high-speed broadband to the people".

"Fibre to the home, you don't lose quality of signal according to the distance, so it is definitely the best technical solution," she said. "We had the same debate in France. Should we do some more vectoring because it is cheaper? Maybe today we don't realise what kind of speed our citizens will need in the mid term.

"All these new uses which are not developed today, you will need in five years. I think it is a very good investment to choose the best long-term technology."

Pellerin said that France's broadband rollout would also improve its "attractiveness" in Europe.

"Very high-speed broadband is an important parameter for the attractiveness of a country, and that's why we chose what we think is the best technology."

The statement comes as Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly said that Australia's fibre-to-the-premises rollout is unique in the world, and has instead suggested a fibre-to-the-node (FttN) rollout, such as that happening with BT in the United Kingdom, or AT&T in the United States. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy today suggested that under Turnbull's proposal, people who wanted to upgrade to fibre to the premises would have to pay up to AU$6,000 for the privilege.

Pellerin's endorsement of Australia's NBN was made at the signing of an AU$300 million contract for French company Arianespace to build two 777-tonne rockets in order to launch NBN Co's two Ka-band satellites. The contract is one of the first signed since Turnbull told NBN Co to prepare for a potential change of government in September this year, and to keep the contracts "flexible".

Conroy said that if the Coalition tries to "tear up the contracts" that NBN Co is signing, it would be engaging in sovereign risk. He questioned why Turnbull would want to stop NBN Co from signing new contracts if the Coalition is committed to completing the NBN project.

"They're saying that because they're not going to build the National Broadband Network," he said.

"It's a confidence trick by [Opposition Leader] Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull to pretend that they're going to complete it. And their own words are damning them every day."

Telstra CEO David Thodey reportedly told The Australian that Telstra expects to get the same AU$11 billion amount under a coalition government as it is slated to get under its current deal with NBN Co to lease its pits and ducts and shift customers from the copper network to the NBN.

Conroy said that the choice is clear.

"Where you're at now is you can get the best network in the world for the value of the Telstra contract ... or Telstra will receive the same payment and help Malcolm Turnbull build a second-rate network," he said.

Conroy said that NBN Co is engaged in negotiations over further construction contracts, as well as renewals, but wouldn't confirm whether it is looking to lock in those contracts for a four-year period. He said NBN Co is looking for the best value for money, and that these contracts would need to be signed in the next few months.

"Those all have to take place over the next few months, otherwise construction would actually stop."

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