The Opposition has used the Broadband World Forum to once again dismiss the Federal Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN), this time on an international stage.
Shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, addressed attendees of the forum in Paris and claimed that the NBN was unique when measured against the rest of the world as it will fail to encourage greater competition in the telecommunications sector.
“Whereas other countries are seeking to encourage greater competition in telecommunications, including at the facilities level, in Australia the NBN will not only be Government owned but will be a fixed line monopoly,” Turnbull said.
Turnbull labelled the plans to decommission Telstra and Optus’ hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) cable networks in exchange for payment from the government as an “extraordinary measure without any precedent”.
“This mandated monopoly for NBN is one reason why a number of other telcos, who initially welcomed the NBN since it would clip Telstra’s wings, are becoming much less enthusiastic.”
“Australia’s NBN offers little prospect of cheaper access to broadband,” he said. “As a heavily capitalised, Government owned monopoly the NBN has both the incentive and the means to charge high prices.”
According to Turnbull, the NBN was born out of frustration spurred by both governments' inability to meet a satisfactory arrangement with Telstra around upgrading its access network to deliver faster broadband.
He also reaffirmed his criticism of the government forgoing an independent cost benefit analysis of the project, a process he has previously accused communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, of deliberately avoiding.
“What remains most mysterious about the project is this: Every politician can understand the appeal of promising that all citizens will have access to very fast broadband,” he said “But citizens expect politicians who make such a promise to do their homework and ensure that they deliver their promise in the most cost-effective manner.”
“And yet this project, the largest in our history, has never been the subject of any cost benefit analysis.
“The government has not budged from its resolve and so there has never been any analysis, for example, of whether a fibre to the node deployment would be more cost-effective in brownfield areas, or of whether it would make more sense to continue the upgrade of the HFC networks rather than decommission them.”
Turnbull pointed to instances in Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Japan where benefits have been accrued through facilities-based competition between HFC and fibre which has driven usage and affordability.
“The current Australian government’s approach to NBN shows that a blind pursuit of superfast broadband at any cost can lead you to some very anomalous policy outcomes.”
Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW