Communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has signalled the imminent release of a timeline around the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) in October or early November, revealing how many Australian homes and businesses will receive fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connections within the current term of government.
Appearing on ABC’s Lateline program with shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, Conroy said he expected the information to be releases shortly.
“We're about to receive in the next few weeks that sort of information from National Broadband Network, and I'm sure there's a whole range of information that we'll be making available very, very shortly on some of these key questions,” he said.
The information will form part of the business case to be submitted to government by network wholesaler NBN Co once the government issues a reply to the $25 million NBN Implementation Report it commissioned from McKinsey & Company and KPMG. Conroy has stated the case will not be released publicly, but a spokesperson for the senator confirmed some aspects - including rollout data and costings - will be released into the public domain.
It is expected the information will be available in four to six weeks.
NBN Co did not confirm the release at time of writing.
A delay in the release of the timeline has been attributed to the agreement with the independent MPs, which saw a reprioritisation to regional areas. It is also potentially subject to approval of the non-binding Financial Heads of Agreement between NBN Co and Telstra, which is expected to be finalised by June next year.
The new information is likely to qualm some criticisms of the project, largely surrounding fears the digital divide could widen between those who receive fibre connections under the project, and those who may miss out should the Coalition win power in future elections and cancel further rollouts.
Labor released a blueprint of how the fibre, fixed wireless and satellite technologies would be distributed across Australian towns and cities during the Federal election this year, but did not indicate when construction would begin in each area.
“The entire business model collapses,” Conroy said. “All of the packages, all of the speeds, the download limits, the prices would collapse if the Opposition won government and stopped and froze the project.”
Conroy’s comments came during a heated debate with Turnbull, during which the Opposition frontbencher continued to demand the government commission a cost-benefit analysis for the project. Conroy remained unable front the question directly, pointing instead to reports from IBM and Access Economics around the benefits of a cheaper fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) project, and existing case studies of South Korea and Japan.
Turnbull, who pushed for the public debate, was unable to confirm whether he or the Coalition would support the project if a potential cost-benefit analysis settled in favour of the NBN.
Lateline presenter, Tony Jones, also called the per-house costs of the project in question, which have often been used by the Coalition and NBN critics to undermine the project. The costs, which have varied between $4000 and as much as $7000 per house, didn’t represent the total costs of the build, according to Jones.
“That's a completely false representation,” Conroy conjectured. “This is investing in an asset that will last up to 40 years. If you take even Malcolm's $4,000 and stretch that across 40 years, it's about 13 cents a day.
“So, you can't say that you add up the whole total cost for asset that lasts up to 40 years and suddenly try and bemuse and trick ordinary Australians that that's the actual cost. This is an asset over 40 years, Tony! 13 cents a day!”