Liberal win "a disaster" for Tasmanian economy: Premier

The Tasmanian economy could be in dire straits, should the Liberal Party win the Federal election on 21 August

A Liberal Party win in the Federal election on 21 August would be a disaster for the Tasmanian economy and risk thousands of jobs, according to the state's Premier, David Bartlett.

Bartlett told Computerworld Australia that Liberal leader, Tony Abbott, would "rip the rig out" from the Tasmanian economy if he became Prime Minister and followed through on election promises to scrap the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The Liberal Party has promised to ditch the Government's $43 billion fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network if it wins government, with those close to party policy saying that it would instead revive the terminated OPEL project and institute a fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) project at a reduced cost but slower speeds.

Abbott has said he would honour existing construction contracts to roll out the NBN, but remove any future tenders and plans for its construction.

This would leave the stage 1 Tasmania rollout intact, which covers about 5000 premises in the towns of Smithton, Midway Point and Scottsdale. It is also likely to see the rollout continue to the first five mainland trial sites, where construction was expected to begin last month.

However, stages 2 and 3 of the Tasmania rollout - covering the remainder of the 200,000 premises eligible for fibre in the island state - will not go ahead under a Liberal Government.

"A vote for the Liberals is a vote to send Tasmania back to the dark ages of telecommunications," Bartlett said.

"It would be a disaster for the Tasmanian economy, it would be hundreds of jobs lost over the coming years and potentially thousands of jobs lost over the coming decade."

Bartlett said a culled NBN would not slow down those who have already signed up to services from one of four service providers under the network, but could severely risk those undecided from being able to take the opportunity.

About half of eligible residents in the stage 1 areas have had optical network terminals (ONTs) installed, accelerating beyond the State Government's initial estimates of 16 per cent up-take.

The possibility of making NBN installation at premises opt-out rather than opt-in for residents remains on the table, with Bartlett hoping to see Cabinet and Parliament approval in the near future. Under such a proposal, the Government could mandate ONT installation, or residents would be required to either actively opt-out of it.

"Even if it's mandatory you'd want to give the customer some say about where you're putting the thing," Bartlett said. "But it's also logical for us because they've already got power through [state-owned utility] Aurora, it makes logical sense that it's near that."

There is no firm contingency plan should the NBN be culled, but Bartlett said he would continue to push the government's decade-old strategy to introduce wholesale telecommunications competition against dominant telco, Telstra, on the island. However, he said that strategy would see slower implementation without the Federal Government's financial backing.

The Premier has boasted the NBN would make Tasmania "the most connected place on the planet", and recently returned from a 12 day, $100,000 trip to the US centred around the benefits of the NBN and possibilities for collaboration with the US Government as well as Google, Microsoft, Cisco and other companies.

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Tags NBNFederal Election 2010tasmaniaNational Broadband Network (NBN)David Bartlett

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