Malcolm Turnbull unveils his NBN plan – warts and all
Yesterday the Federal Opposition released its policy on the National Broadband Network (NBN), replacing an earlier promise to scrap it entirely with a commitment to spending $30 billion on a boiled down version, which retains much of the old copper wire technology. The Opposition’s NBN solution involves a mix of technology, using ‘neighbourhood nodes’ which will then link to individual premises via the copper wire currently owned by Telstra. The $30 billion price tag for this scheme is close to the $37 billion claimed by the Gillard Government to be the real cost of its own NBN, which is currently being rolled out around the nation. But, argues the Federal Opposition, the Government’s claim of $37 billion is unrealistic, and the final cost will be $94 Billion.
“Based on what?” challenges Labor Minister, Stephen Conroy, who claims the Opposition spokesperson on Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, has called ‘a lie a fact’ with his prediction of this cost blowout. No substantial evidence of such a blowout has been forthcoming.
There does appear to be some consensus, however, with the general agreement by commentators that the Opposition’s scheme will be cheaper and achieve a faster rollout – but the connection speeds, via copper wire, will be much slower – about half the speed of the NBN which is currently being installed. The Coalition believes that the speeds offered by its scheme will be adequate for most households and if you want something faster, then you should be prepared to pay for it.
Remember the old game where your friends ran off while you counted to 10 and then shouted “I’m coming ready or not” and took off after them? Well the NBN argument feels a bit like this, perhaps best understood as ‘Pick a number and shout it out loud’. Or, ‘make any silly statement you wish, you’re unlikely to be challenged’. The claim by the Opposition that the NBN will cost $94 billion instead of $37 billion is simply a number, shouted out loud.
There has been a clamour, from the business sector in particular, for more investment in infrastructure. When compared with other OECD nations, Australia has fallen behind in productivity and captains of industry have declared that we need to invest in vital infrastructure to simply catch up, let alone streak ahead.
So here is a government that has recognised internet connection as vital infrastructure and done something about it. Sure, it hasn’t got the implementation underway with 100 per cent success. Yes, it is taking longer than planned. But given the fact that about 90 per cent of the nation now depends upon the internet to go about its daily business, it wasn’t a bad call to upgrade the network. Initially Tony Abbott denied the need for a more sophisticated national connection, declaring that Australia didn’t ‘need’ a NBN and that the money spent would be better invested in “our roads, our rail and our ports”. (It is ) “a white elephant on a massive scale … school halls on steroids”.
So now we have about-face Numero Uno. Apparently the NBN is ‘too far gone’ to simply reverse and so the Coalition will almost match Labor’s investment, by pledging $30 billion to upgrade the nation’s internet connections. If this is sounding like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, it is and it isn’t. We do have recognition of the need for some form of NBN from both parties. But the technological solutions offered are different. Labor supports the newer fibre optic cables and the Coalition has gone for a mix of technologies depending upon the location and infrastructure already in place.
Malcolm Turnbull appeared on ABC TV’s 7.30 Report last night. Now most of us just wish this guy was heading up the Coalition as we wouldn’t have to think twice about who would be a good Prime Minister; the Abbott turnoff factor simply cannot be under-estimated. But even Malcolm-in-the-middle was squirming in his chair when questioned about the maths of his alternative NBN proposal. Asked repeatedly by 7.30 Report anchor, Leigh Sales, about the cost of maintenance of an old copper network, he was forced to say, “I haven’t got the actuals”. Asked what it would cost to lease the Telstra copper wire, he suggested that it would cost ‘nothing’ as this would be negotiated with Telstra. Good luck with that one, pal.
It got worse. Asked about dodgy connections and when the copper network would need to be replaced, Mr. Turnbull stated that ‘sensible decisions’ would need to be taken. Visions of Liberal electorates where ‘sensible decisions’ resulted in the upgrade of each and every stately home and Labor electorates where ‘sensible decisions’ were made to keep the old technology firmly in place, swam before my eyes like a bad dream.
But the worst was yet to come. Apparently ‘households’ would be adequately served by the slower speeds and those who wanted something faster would simply have to pay for it. This beggars belief on two levels.
Firstly, many ‘households’ are also small businesses. To assume that households need lower speeds than other premises is to misunderstand or willfully ignore the thousands of home-based businesses. But more importantly, to assume that there is an equal (economic) playing field, where those who want faster internet speeds are simply able to choose to pay for this privilege, displays a horribly antiquated silver spoon mentality where we are all ‘consumers’ who choose to opt in or out. There is also the argument that faster speeds simply aren’t possible with the current system, so even if you wish to pay, the service can’t be delivered
Get with the program, Malcolm. On the single Age Pension you are more than two grand behind the eightball before you start. You can barely afford your rent and energy bills, let alone a few extra thousand dollars to have sufficient access to the internet, just to allow you to trawl endlessly around the Centrelink site, searching in vain for the section on supplements.
What do you think? Is the Collation policy on an NBN better than that of the Gillard Government? Or is it a hybrid solution which is bound to fail?
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