NBN rollout still 'technology agnostic', says Fifield

Turnbull has 'done an incredible job in turning the NBN around', says new communications minister

Australia's new communications minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, has repeated prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's claim that the roll out of the National Broadband Network is "technology agnostic" under the Coalition government.

Fifield, who along with the rest of Turnbull's ministry was sworn in earlier this week, made the comments in his first interview, which was broadcast on ABC Radio.

In a blog entry shortly after the Coalition won the 2013 election, Turnbull wrote that the Liberal Party did "not regard technology as an ideological issue".

"We are technologically agnostic," the then communications minister wrote.

"We want to ensure that all Australians have very fast broadband as soon, as cheaply and as affordably as possible. The NBN project at present is running over budget and way behind schedule. At the current rate of progress it will take decades to complete and close to $100 billion."

Following a strategic review of NBN's operations instigated by the newly minted government, the rollout switched away from a fixed-line rollout based on 100 per cent fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) to a 'multi-technology mix'.

Under the MTM blueprint the rollout is currently based on, FTTP will be used to connect only a minority of existing premises.

The bulk of already built premises in the network's fixed line footprint will be connected via fibre-to-the-node (which launched earlier this week) and fibre-to-the-basement (FTTB), and hybrid fibre-coaxial (based on the network infrastructure previously rolled out by Telstra and Optus).

NBN's updated corporate plan forecasts the use of FTTP to connect 20 per cent of premises, FTTN/B to connect 38 per cent, and HFC to connect 34 per cent.

Despite having ditched the all-FTTP rollout envisaged by the former Labor government, NBN's executives have previously said that they aren't wedded to using or not using a particular type of technology.

"We are technology agnostic," NBN's CEO, Bill Morrow said at a hearing held last week of the Senate's inquiry into the network rollout.

"What we try to do is get broadband to every home in Australia as quickly as possible at the least possible cost and, while we are doing that, if we can lift the performance to its maximum capability while meeting the minimum requirements spelled out in the statement of expectations, that is what our objective is."

The government issued NBN with a new statement of expectations in April 2014.

Read more: Broadband is the key infrastructure for the 21st century

The document said that NBN should transition to the MTM rollout model with the aim of delivering minimum download speeds of 25 megabits per second to all Australian premises and at least 50Mbps to 90 per cent of premises in the fixed line footprint.

Turnbull has "done an incredible job in turning the NBN around," Fifield told the ABC.

"It was headed for an incredibly expensive rollout. Malcolm has identified a way to deliver broadband to Australians at a much lower costs. The NBN as an organisation is continually learning; they're continually adapting."

"We're not fixated with any particular technology to roll out the NBN," Fifield said in response to speculation that Turnbull's ascension to the prime ministership could lead to a more fibre-heavy rollout.

"In a sense we're technology agnostic, and what that means is that over time there's the capacity for an evolution in terms of where the balance of technological solutions lies.

"I'm not indicating anything by that, other than to say we're technology agnostic and where the business leads is where the business will go in terms of the solutions that it provides for the community."

Responsibility for copyright issues has been moved from the Attorney-General's Department into Fifield's department.

"Part of the rationale is so that you have the communications portfolio looking at issues of content , looking at the broad issues of [intellectual] property," Fifield told the ABC.

In addition, Fifield will oversee the arts portfolio.

The minister revealed during the interview that he is a fan of the Pet Shop Boys.


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Tags FTTNMalcolm TurnbullNetworkingNational Broadband Network (NBN)Mitch Fifieldnational broadband networkTelecommunicationsfibre-to-the-node (FTTN)broadband

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