Updated - Election 2010: The policies so far

Labor, Liberal and Greens reveal their policies on key ICT topics

Australian political parties have wrapped up the third week of the Federal election campaign but, while there has been plenty of talk, it hasn’t been the most riveting or even the most informative of periods. To the uninitiated, it can easily become confusing exactly what each of the parties’ policies are, particularly when they seem to spend more time refuting each other’s cabinet discussions than the promises themselves.

Though there are hopes all will become clear when respective ministers, Stephen Conroy, Tony Smith and Scott Ludlam go head to head in a debate on the ICT issues next Tuesday. Until then, however, Computerworld Australia has summarised and presented some of the ICT policies of each of the main parties for your perusal.

Each of the major parties were given the opportunity to put forward their policies on each major ICT topic. However, in cases where a policy was not provided, past comments and policies from relevant ministers have had to be used.

Fast broadband infrastructure

Labor

The Labor party remain committed to rolling out its proposed National Broadband Network (NBN) across Australia, which will use a variety of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), wireless and satellite technologies to deliver speeds of at least 12 megabits per second (Mbps) to all premises, and 100Mbps for fibre-connected homes. As part of the election campaign, communications minister, Stephen Conroy, extended the commitment of FTTH rollout from 90 per cent of premises to 93 per cent of premises, including an extra 300,000 homes previously under wireless, and 1.3 million greenfield estate homes. The Labor party has also released an exact footprint of which towns and cities will be connected by which technology, allowing those unsure to see what technology they will receive.

Originally announced in April 2009 after a scrapped Mark I project based on fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) technology, the NBN has, in the past 14 months, seen three Tasmanian towns covering roughly 5000 premises connected with FTTH technology. Construction on the first five mainland sites were also expected to begin in July, with a further 14 mainland sites, and 200,000 Tasmanian premises already slated to receive the NBN within the next year.

A lot of focus has been placed on the initial $43 billion costing placed on the NBN when it was first announced. However, the NBN Implementation Study released earlier in the year by consultants McKinsey & Company and KPMG forecast a peak government investment of $26 billion, with expectations the total cost will fall $5-6 billion short of the initial cost, despite claims to the contrary.

Liberal

The Liberal party will spend $6.25 billion in joint public and private investment and grant funding for its alternative broadband strategy, which is aimed at removing competition bottlenecks on the telecommunications industry as well as pitting competitive technologies against one another in hopes of lowering end-user pricing and raising technological standards.

In addition to scrapping the NBN - labelled a "white elephant" and "reckless" by numerous Liberal MPs - communications minister, Tony Smith, will oversee the establishment of a National Broadband Commission, which will design and manage a selection process of private sector companies to execute the plan. The Commission will also create and maintain a database of information on the type and availability of broadband services for each individual premises.

The funding will be directed at four separate technologies:

  • $2.75 billion of public funding and an additional $750 million private funding on building an open access, optical fibre backhaul network
  • $750 million on “fixed broadband optimisation” with a focus on upgrading telephone exchanges without existing ADSL2+ capabilities
  • $1 billion public grant funding and additional, undisclosed private funding for building a wireless network for rural and regional areas
  • $1 billion on building a metropolitan wireless network focussed on outer metropolitan areas
  • $700 million on improved satellite services for the three per cent of Australians not covered by other technologies

The Coalition expects to deliver a "national broadband baseline" of 12 megabits per second (Mbps) for 97 per cent of Australians by 2017, though since the figure has been used in the context of both "peak speed" and "minimum speed", there remains confusion on what speed guarantees will be provided to Australian residents. Smith said Australians would ultimately be given the choice of a variety of broadband technologies, including DSL, fixed wireless and technologies not covered under the broadband strategy such as hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) cable.

The Liberal party will also commit to regulatory reform to ensure access pricing and broadband competition in the market, while also ensuring universal service obligations are maintained under a new framework known as the Communications Service Standard (CSS). But the party has promised it will not forcibly separate Telstra.

Greens

Clause 19 of the Greens Media and Communications policy states '[The Australian Greens want] affordable and reliable high speed Internet connections available for all Australians'.

The Greens, voiced by Senator Scott Ludlam, have largely been in support of the NBN, with the senator taking part in the Senate select committee on the project. Ludlam has said he is not concerned about the lack of a cost-benefit analysis for the project or the commercial rate of return expected on it.

However, the party has continued to reserve concerns on some aspects of the NBN, including the Labor party’s intentions to fully privatise the network wholesaler, NBN Co, within five years of the project’s build completion. Ludlam has cited the loss of government power over the company in running the project to the best interests of the end users as a key reason for keeping it in public hands for the life of the network.

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