Coalition Broadband Plan To Timeout On 30 Percent Of Australians?

In appearance on ABC TV’s Lateline program last night, shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared to suggest that under his alternative national broadband plan, 30 percent of Australians may not actually receive any kind of broadband upgrade as part of his plan.

“Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed that metropolitan areas of Australia in the HFC cable footprint of Telstra and Optus would not immediately receive the Coalition’s planned fibre to the node upgrade if it wins Government and did not commit to deploying FTTN infrastructure in those areas in the long-term.”

HFC cable has been deployed by Telstra and Optus in areas covering about 30 percent of the Australian population, providing coverage in cherry-picked areas in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.

In many cases, Telstra built their HFC network in particular streets and neighbourhoods, for no other reason than because Optus had already covered those same locations, and it wanted to flex its monopolistic muscle to squeeze Optus.

If Optus hadn’t have built theirs, chances are Telstra wouldn’t have done so either.

There have been other HFC rollouts in Australia – notably TransACT in the ACT, and Neighbourhood Cable – (which was later purchased by TransACT) – in Geelong, Ballarat, and Mildura in Victoria. The combined TransACT/Neighbourhood Cable was then subsequently purchased by iiNet.

Austar – (now owned by Foxtel) – also deployed a small HFC network in Darwin.

So now that we’re stuck potentially only having a new – (and inferior) – network rolled out to 70% of Australians, how much will it cost?

“Although Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been mum on definite costs, Citigroup Global Markets estimates that the coalition’s broadband plan would set Australian taxpayers back approximately $16.7 billion, and could be completed by the end of 2018.”

“If the Coalition wasn’t stuck with existing National Broadband Network (NBN) contracts, its network would only cost AU$15 billion, according to Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull made the comments during a debate with his government counterpart, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, on ABC1’s Lateline last night.”

Turnbull says it will cost $15 billion. Citigroup says it will cost $16.7 billion. Given Citigroup probably assumed Turnbull’s plan was to cover the same 93% of the population with FTTN that the NBN intended to cover with FTTP, lets give Turnbull the benefit of the doubt and call it $15 billion.

How would that price compare with doing the entire job?

Given $15 billion is to apparently cover 70%, 100% would cost $21.4 billion – (that’s 15,000,000,000 divided by 70 and multiplied by 100) – if the costs average out across the plan.

The current NBN plan is for $26 billion of government funding for 100% coverage, with the remainder of NBN funding to come from the debt market. If Turnbull’s plan were scaled up to 100%, it would cost around $21.4 billion.

Suddenly Rob Oakeshott’s claim that the Coalition plan might only save $5 billion sounds pretty much right on the money.

Of course, if you include the “If the Coalition wasn’t stuck with existing NBN contracts” jibe, it probably won’t be any cheaper at all.

The thing is, people have been telling Turnbull of the comparative failings of his plans for months and months, yet we know he won’t listen.

“Mr Turnbull declined to confirm or reject the Citigroup report’s findings, but used Twitter to describe it as “very ill-informed”. “Puzzled Citi would write this without speaking to us – file it in the fiction section,” he tweeted.”

“Worse, the money saved – Turnbull estimates $20 billion – can’t be spent elsewhere or used to bring down taxes, because it is capital expenditure, not operating expenditure.”

“However, there is currently no publicly available evidence that Turnbull is correct in his statement that the Coalition’s rival NBN policy would save the Federal Government billions of dollars in investment when it comes to its funding of the NBN project.”

“Pearson advised that although the initial financial outlay of an FTTN would be a lower as it would be a smaller network the cost to upgrade to an FTTP network in the future would make it substantially greater. Whilst speaking to the Joint Committee in Sydney on the NBN he advised “It is an important policy consideration that you really need to take into account if you are going to build a fibre-to-the-node network.””

So in a nutshell, basically nobody believes his plan will be cheaper, and now we find out 30% of the population might not get any kind of upgrade for the money anyway, whatever the final amount turns out to be.

Turnbull has long promised a better and cheaper solution for all.

Well, it’s not going to be cheaper – we already know that. We also know that it is certainly not better.

Even today, his plan has been described as ‘doomed to fail’.

It now may only be cheaper because maybe not everyone gets it.

The bottom line is, Turnbull simply doesn’t get it either.

Like much of the very small amounts of Coalition policy we have seen, it is all about three-year political cycles, and getting into office – and to hell with the consequences.

Australia deserves better.