Greens ICT spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam has condemned the Coalition’s alternative vision for the National Broadband Network.
Shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott today launched the policy, under which most households would have access to connections up to 50Mbps and a minimum speed of 25Mbps, with the revamped network costing $29.5 billion to roll out.
The Coalition NBN would shift from primarily using fibre-to-the-premises, as is the case now, to an approach largely relying fibre-to-the-node – running fibre to street cabinets then using copper for the connection to most households.
“The concept that you would build something and know it will be obsolete on the day that it’s built – I don’t think has ever been attempted on a scale quite as big as this before,” Ludlam said of the Coalition vision for the NBN.
Ludlam also questioned Coalition claims that the current NBN would eventually cost $94 billion. “I think that figure is basically made up. I don’t think that’s worth the paper it’s printed on,” he said.
“A lot of NBN services are well behind, but they’re not necessarily over budget … It’s very difficult to see how the opposition thinks it’s going to come in at more than double. I think it’s basically just a stunt.”
Although the Coalition’s NBN would make extensive use of copper infrastructure, which can be more prone than fibre to damage from weather events such as flooding and more expensive to maintain than optical fibre, Turnbull said the lifespan of copper cannot be predicted.
But with the Coalition's broadband plan relying on copper for the last mile, Ludlam said: “He’s going to need to predict it because the Coalition’s plan depends intrinsically on stranding people on copper, so they’re going to need a much tighter answer than that because that is their plan,” Ludlam said.
“The Coalition now need to take a quite detailed and specific interest in the lifespan of copper.”
As part of the new policy, Turnbull and Abbott have promised a new Coalition government would conduct a cost benefit analysis. However, Ludlam said he doubted the usefulness of the exercise.
“In my experience, [you] can make a [cost benefit analysis] tell you whatever you want it to tell you. You could write the cost benefit analysis that was glowing on NBN Co or one that condemned it. That would entirely depend on the way that you monetised the assumptions about the benefits,” the senator said.
“The study will be valuable but only if the incoming government is actually prepared to listen to them. What will happen if the [cost benefit analysis] says ‘No, NBN Co [and] the original model was better’? and the Productivity Commission or [Infrastructure Australia] said ‘No, don’t do this, this would be a disaster’. Is Malcolm Turnbull seriously going to [do an] about face and abandon the government’s policy? I think that’s a little unlikely.”
Steve Dalby, chief regulatory officer at iiNet, has also hit out at the Coalition’s policy. He says in its policy the Coalition hasn’t addressed the benefits the NBN could offer Australia’s digital economy and has taken the wrong approach by simply focusing on the cost to build the network.
He believes the technology the Coalition wants to use to build the NBN will need replacing in a “few” years’ time.
“We know that the copper is already struggling. There’s many people that can’t get broadband, even though they’ve got copper,” he told Computerworld Australia.
“The ubiquitous nature of fibre-to-the-home is far superior to the patchy ‘might work, might not work’ broadband services available over the copper today.”
An NBN with a mix of FTTN and FTTH could also provide more complexity for RSPs, Dalby said.
“We’d rather have a single uniform approach, but that might not be possible [with] the costs associated with delivering services on different infrastructures. If we have different costs we may have to have different retail prices,” he said.
“As a service provider we have to build our systems to interface and interact with all of those different technologies, whether it’s copper or fibre or satellite or wireless … That doesn’t help you take advantages of economies of scale where you get with standardisation.”
Steve Waddington, CEO at ISP Exetel, said the proposal to deliver 25Mbps at the end of the Coalition’s first term is “stupid” because ADSL2 is already capable of providing speeds up to 24Mbps.
“So the promise is a 1Mbps increase for only $20 billion dollars. But without spending 1 cent, the current broadband service providers would have, if the NBN had not killed off all investment, reached that mark in the not too distant future anyway,” he said.
However, Waddington said a role for copper should not be discounted. “Ask yourself, is your desktop or office server connected by fibre? No. It is connected by copper wire. To say that high-speed data mandates fibre, at least for short distances, simply ignores physics, as well as the evidence in front of your eyes.”
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