Alliance of Affordable Broadband hopeful on NBN changes

Broadband not a deciding factor in AAPT CEO, and AAB member, Paul Broad's vote

The Alliance of Affordable Broadband (AAB) remains hopeful its campaign to convince the Federal Government to modify its plans for the National Broadband Network (NBN) will achieve results.

The alliance, which includes telcos AAPT, Vocus, Pipe Networks and BigAir, is calling on the government to put in place policy frameworks which incentivise the market to build communications infrastructure, rather than build that infrastructure itself.

(Read the AAB's open letter on NBN 3.0 in full here)

Vocus CEO James Spencely told Computerwold Australia the AAB would continue to call for more scrutiny to the NBN deal and a more open view on technology, particularly the NBN’s heavy reliance of fibre.

“In many instances fibre isn’t the best solution, or the most cost-effective,” Spencely said. “[We’re also calling for] open and transparent interaction with the industry and government.

“That was the real advantage this 17 days of madness gave us – the ability to put some scrutiny on the how [the NBN] deals came about. The general consensus and industry vibe is that we need to discuss this more … It’s the discussion we had to have.”

Spencely added that the AAB was yet to meet with communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, but would be pushing for face time and would also be conveying the body’s views in written letters to several Labor ministers as well as independent MPs, Bob Katter, Rob Oakshott and Tony Windsor.

“Our view hasn’t changed. This NBN needs to be about sustainability and cost as much as it does about building the network,” he said.

Spenceley said a positive outcome of the current government arrangement with two of the three independent MPs was that the roll out of the NBN to regional areas of Australia would be prioritised ahead of urban areas.

“Quite possibly we now have a number of years to figure out whether we want to overbuild great networks in metro areas or not – there [would be] a lot of wastage there,” he said.

“There are 500-odd exchanges which have very competitive ADSL 2 providers there and you already have metro fibre from a number of providers in capital cities … there are HFC (hybrid-fibre coaxial) networks there and are delivering 100Mbps (megabits per second) today.”

AAPT CEO, Paul Broad, echoed Spencely’s view that the NBN’s switch to a focus on rural Australia was a positive, but reiterated the AAB’s argument that it was uneconomical to ignore fibre and other communications technology already in place and being offered by commercial providers.

“[AAPT has] 24 strands of fibre up and down the coast and we are only using two of them,” Broad said. I suspect Optus is doing the same. We have fibre into all the major CBDs and all the buildings … and we are using a fraction of its capacity.”

Broad also expressed the view, common to the Federal Opposition, that demand for higher broadband speeds was coming from users of mobile, rather fixed devices. Despite this, Broad said he had not backed the Opposition’s broadband policy.

“I’m intrigued [by the Independent’s focus on broadband]. I would have thought maybe fixing the environment was a bigger issue… or that there’s no point in e-health if you haven’t got a bed to put the patient in.”

While broadband was a major consideration for the independent MPs when casting their votes, Broad said broadband was not a decisive factor for him.

“To be honest I haven’t looked closely at the Opposition proposal at all. I have just stood back, and the collective we, the [other members of the AAB] have come together and from an industry perspective, have just gone with what we think is the right answer,” he said.

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