Labor seeks fibre future, but still working on NBN policy: Clare

‘The endgame is fibre,’ says Australia’s shadow communications minister, Jason Clare

Jason Clare, a Labor MP and shadow communications minister, tore into the Abbott government at the NBN Rebooted conference.

Jason Clare, a Labor MP and shadow communications minister, tore into the Abbott government at the NBN Rebooted conference.

A future Labor government cannot simply switch back the National Broadband Network to a fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) model, shadow communications minister Jason Clare has said. Even so, Labor wants to come up with a policy that moves Australia towards a fibre future, Clare said today at the CommsDay NBN Rebooted conference.

“None of it’s simple, and [Communications Minister] Malcolm Turnbull showed just how hard it is to change from one model to another,” said Clare.

“What I’ll do is spend the next 12 to 18 months working with [stakeholders] about what our policy should be.

“But the underlying principle here is that … the endgame is fibre. The question is how and when would we get there? The original policy was you do it in one stage. Now it’s going to have to be done in two.”

NBN Co yesterday released an updated corporate plan that noted significant areas of uncertainty as the government-owned corporation continues its transition to a new model for the NBN rollout.

Clare said the Abbott government underestimated the complexity of moving from FTTP to a multi-technology model, and the major holdup has been longer-than-expected negotiations with Telstra.

Turnbull had originally predicted the negotiations would be finished by June 2014, but recent NBN Co estimates place the finish line at the end of the year.

"Why's it taking so long?” asked Clare. “Well one of the reasons I suspect is Telstra's trying to protect itself.”

Also, Telstra has much greater leverage in the negotiations than it did in its previous talks with Labor, he said, warning to look out for what Telstra gets out of the final deal.

Read more: ACCC chief backs breakup of NBN Co

“The last government had a stick – a pretty big stick. Telstra could make a deal or it would be prohibited from participating in the 4G spectrum auctions or be forcibly, functionally separated.

“The current government doesn’t have a stick. It’s got an election policy.”

When NBN Co does strike a deal with Telstra, the Abbott government will not be out of the woods, he added.

Clare orated a laundry list of hurdles including an HFC deal with Optus, approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, contracts to maintain and upgrade the copper network, construction and equipment contracts, new production sets, a reworked migration plan and a special access undertaking that requires ACCC approval.

On top of that, changes to regulation and legislation could be necessary, he said.

Clare condemned Turnbull and the Abbott government’s record on the NBN over the last 12 months.

“There’s been a lot of broken promises, a lot of reviews, but not enough work done on building the NBN,” he said.

Clare acknowledged the NBN rollout was slow under Labor, but said the Coalition has not done any better.

“They’re behind schedule, the schedule they have set for themselves.”

Clare said the government’s many NBN reviews have shed little light and have been filled with errors.

“We’ve had eight reviews in the last 12 months that have cost $12 million, but we haven’t learned much more than we already knew in the Coalition’s election policy. It’s been an expensive and an unnecessary distraction.”

In a speech at the same conference yesterday, Turnbull rebuked Clare’s previous complaints about the government-commissioned reviews of the NBN.

“While the shadow communications minister, Mr Clare, has very rarely asked me a question in the House and has never sought a debate on the NBN, he does regularly complain that the government has had too many reviews into the NBN,” said Turnbull.

“Now if I had been part of a government that had made such a hash of broadband policy and had wasted tens of billions in doing so, I suppose I would not want my folly to be revisited.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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