Your election guide to the NBN

With one week left before the federal election, we've provided a guide for which candidates support fibre to the premises and which are opting for a multi-technology mix for Australia's National Broadband Network.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

With the National Broadband Network (NBN) enjoying support from 86 percent of respondents according to a poll conducted by Metapoll exclusively for ZDNet, but just 6 percent of voters naming it as the most important issue in the July 2 federal election, ZDNet has looked into the policies for every major party, minor party, and independent candidate to compare their offerings and suggestions on the broadband technologies they would use to connect Australia.

Jacqui Lambie: 100% FttP

Under a Jacqui Lambie-led Australia, 100 percent of the population would receive a fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) connection, starting in the areas with the highest rates of unemployment.

The first stage would see fibre rolled out to businesses, and, once these are connected, homes would begin getting full-fibre connections.

Referring to the "Gig City" of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which rolled out a 10Gbps fibre connection to all premises, Lambie said Tasmania would become the "Gig State" under JLN leadership.

"The JLN supports Fibre to the Premises rolled out to every residential and business premise - much like the Gig City, Chattanooga, Tennessee," Lambie told ZDNet.

"By doing so, Chattanooga has opened itself up to unimagined ways of learning and conducting business -- and, of course, a variety of recreational uses. Chattanooga has become an investment destination for business and investors, and is leading the way for technology.

"This is the vision I have for Tasmania: To become the Gig State.

"I want to see no latency, thus encouraging greater investment, entrepreneurship, and advanced technology."

The Greens Party: Replace FttN and HFC with FttP, smaller fixed-wireless footprint, third satellite

The Greens Party is due to release its NBN policy over the weekend, but has informed ZDNet that should it come to power during the July 2 federal election, it would commence a multi-party analysis into how to roll out the network using the most cost-efficient and 20- to 30-year future-proof technology.

The party predicted, however, that such an analysis would show that much of the hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network is not fit for purpose, resulting in those areas being transitioned to FttP. Once the current fibre-to-the-node (FttN) contractual obligations are met, it would also move any further planned FttN areas to FttP technology.

The Greens also said the fixed-wireless footprint should be reduced to 4 percent of the population rather than the present 5 percent, and that a third satellite would need to be launched to match capacity demands in rural areas.

The Science Party: FttP for all

Recognising that the new economy is "increasingly becoming about the transport and trade of ideas and information", requiring a high-speed, reliable internet connection for all, the Science Party said it supports an FttP model overall.

"Science and technology advancement is heavily impacted by slow internet speeds, and this limits progress in the field. For scientists, slow upload speeds impact video conferencing, which is necessary for international collaboration, especially at home, where time zone differences mean academics could be waking up at 3am to take a call to the US, only to have it drop out or be inaudible," James Jansson, leader of the Science Party, told ZDNet.

"Startup founders, many of whom work from home, have troubles uploading their applications and data to the cloud for deployment. The Coalition's fibre-to-the-node solution does not provide sufficient speed to participate on the world stage."

The Pirate Party: FttP for majority

The Pirate Party also supports FttP, although it recognised that it may not always be economically viable.

"The current copper network is not sufficient to meet the requirements of a growing digital society," the Pirate Party's NBN policy argues.

"A fibre-to-the-premises infrastructure project that connects the majority of Australians to a fibre network, where economically feasible, is fundamental to the creation of a vibrant digital society in Australia."

Family First: 5G will be enough

The Family First party under Senator Bob Day said that due to the cost inherent in rolling out the NBN, it supports the privatisation of the project's "commercially viable aspects". However, it did concede that in regional markets, the NBN should be run by government due to a lack of competition and availability in these areas.

According to Family First, wireless and satellite technology have "come of age", with 4G and the incoming 5G to be "satisfactory for the needs of voters who are now far more smartphone-enabled or tablet-enabled than people were when the NBN was first contemplated".

User demand and the market should drive broadband technologies, not government decisions, Family First added.

"Let's not forget the Commonwealth is running over AU$450 billion in debt and accruing AU$1 billion in interest per month on that debt, which it is not paying down. We are not in a position to be able to spend billions and billions more on rectifying an already over-budget NBN," Family First said.

The Liberal Democrats: Split up and sell off the NBN

Similarly to Family First, the Liberal Democrats also supports splitting the NBN company into multiple entities and selling them off, consisting of an HFC company, a fibre company, and a wireless company.

The resultant telecommunications companies would have government oversight consisting of core asset service obligations, however, but they would be permitted to compete outside of their designated areas.

The Liberal Party: FttX, HFC, fixed-wireless, and satellite

Upon being elected in 2013, the Coalition moved away from Labor's full fibre-to-the-premises network to a so-called multi-technology mix (MTM) involving a "technology-agnostic" rollout. It aims to cover 20 percent of the Australian population with FttP; 38 percent with FttN, fibre to the basement (FttB), or fibre to the distribution point (FttDP); 34 percent with HFC; 5 percent with fixed-wireless; and 3 percent with satellite services.

The Coalition has continually spruiked cost-efficiency and a faster rollout timeframe as being more important than the speeds attainable over an FttP network.

"One of the reasons why we're so determined to assume this multi-technology approach is because we want to get the NBN out to people," Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said during the only pre-election NBN debate with Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare on the ABC program Lateline.

"You don't get the full national macro-economic benefits of the NBN until the whole nation is expected. Now, Jason's proposal is to have people wait at least two years longer and to pay about AU$8 billion more."

Fifield added that under an FttN network, users will have speeds of up to 200Mbps, and average speeds of around 70Mbps without taking years longer to connect each premises with fibre.

"One of the reasons why we're able to move so much faster is because fibre to the premises involves the digging up of people's driveways, and fibre to the premises is about twice as costly per premises to install compared to fibre to the node," Fifield concluded.

NBN last year revealed that under the Coalition's MTM model, peak funding for the infrastructure project will reach between AU$46 billion and AU$56 billion, with a base case peak funding target of AU$49 billion.

The Labor Party: Slightly more fibre

Spitballing off the Coalition's MTM policy, Labor's main differential has simply been to suggest that once the current FttN contract commitments have been fulfilled, FttP should be reinstated for an additional 2 million premises.

"All of the research, whether it's from the World Bank, or whether it's from KPMG here in Australia, shows that fast broadband creates jobs," Clare argued during his debate with Fifield.

"It's why New Zealand is going from fibre to the node to fibre to the home; it's why AT&T in the United States, who built a fibre-to-the-node network, are now going back and building a fibre-to-the-home network, because Americans, like Australians, are demanding faster broadband, and we know that fast broadband is as important to as many businesses today as electricity is."

Labor had previously admitted it could not go back to its full FttP policy after the Coalition imposed its MTM NBN, with Clare saying, "I've made it clear that we can't click our fingers and go right back to 2013 ... it's hard to put Humpty Dumpty back together."

As a result, Labor has differentiated itself by expanding FttP as much as it could, with the result that it will cost AU$3.4 billion more and take longer.

"Under Labor, the rollout of HFC (PayTV) will continue, recognising the contracts in place, the substantial capital expenditure already sunk, and the constraints placed on future governments by Mr Turnbull in the revised Definitive Agreements," Labor said in its NBN policy [PDF].

Total funding for the NBN would be capped at AU$57 billion, with the party stating this cap will have priority over extending FttP to more homes.

"Labor will spend exactly the same amount of public funding on the NBN as the Liberals. There will be no impact on the budget from this announcement," Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said in a statement earlier this month.

"The public equity contribution will be the same regardless of who wins the election."

The Christian Democrats, Palmer United, and independents Nick Xenophon, Ricky Muir, and Glenn Lazarus did not respond to a request for comment.

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