The Coalition has significantly boosted its commitment to a national broadband network, promising to spend nearly $30 billion to build a scheme within the next seven years.
It represents a stark difference from the Opposition’s policy at the 2010 election, which vowed to scrap the Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) and instead spend $6 billion relying on the private sector to expand internet services.
At the time, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott came under fire for saying he was “no tech-head” when asked to explain the policy on ABC1’s 7.30 Report.
But on Tuesday Mr Abbott said he was “very proud” of the Coalition’s new broadband plan, which he launched as the Opposition’s first major policy foray into the 2013 campaign.
“We believe in a national broadband network,” he told journalists in Sydney.
“We will deliver a better national broadband network faster and more affordably than this Government possibly can.
“Our modern lives are absolutely unimaginable without access to broadband technology.”
The Opposition Leader was flanked by his communications spokesman, Malcolm Turnbull.
“I’m confident in the years to come, Malcolm is going to be Mr Broadband, and an incoming Coalition government can finally bring Australia into the broadband world, into the digital world,” Mr Abbott said.
The Coalition policy will cost $29.5 billion, with a goal of giving all Australians access to internet speeds of at least 25 megabits per second by the end of 2016.
But it will not roll out the fibre cables to most premises as the NBN aims to – just to so-called nodes that will then rely on copper wire to connect homes and businesses.
The policy document states the “Coalition’s NBN” would deliver fibre directly to 22 per cent of premises but 71 per cent of homes and businesses would have fibre to the node.
Four per cent of premises will have to rely on fixed wireless and 3 per cent on satellite.
The Government’s NBN will deliver fibre to 93 per cent of premises.
Mr Turnbull said the Coalition was taking a “much smarter approach”.
“We’ll be taking fibre out into the field but not all the way into the customers’ premises, and that saves about three quarters at least of the cost,” he said.
“What this will deliver is speeds that are more than capable of delivering all of the services and all of the applications households need.”
But in the policy document, the Opposition acknowledges that “some users may want higher speeds” before the broader market, but should be “prepared to pay for it”.
It also admits that “needs will evolve over time, and eventually may require further upgrade of the network”.
In a broad swipe at the Government’s NBN, Mr Turnbull said the Coalition’s plan would be rolled out faster, with less cost forÂ taxpayers, and lower prices for consumers.
He said the NBN was a “failing project”.
But Communications Minister Stephen Conroy rubbished the Coalition policy, saying it “fails miserably” and would deprive millions of Australians from having high-speed internet connections.
Senator Conroy said Mr Turnbull had displayed “ignorance” of the broadband needs of the future.
“Customers using the NBN are also connecting more devices to the NBN and this is where Malcolm Turnbull and their version of a broadband network fails miserably,” he said.
“If you understand broadband, if you understand that it is being used for more applications that require more bandwidth every single day, then you know that Malcolm Turnbull’s network is a fail.
“Malcolm Turnbull is going to build a one-lane Sydney Harbour Bridge because he says he can do it cheaper and faster.”
Senator Conroy said the plan’s reliance on Telstra’s ageing copper network was a key fault.
“I’ve got to say, I can’t find a dumber piece of public policy than buying the copper from Telstra – I mean come on down Alan Bond,” he said.
“Kerry Packer would be laughing all the way to the bank if he found a mug willing to buy Telstra’s copper network.”
He rejected Coalition claims reported in the Daily Telegraph that the NBN costs could double.
The finance industry modelling is included in the Coalition’s broadband policy and warns the NBN could take four years longer to build and cost more than $90 billion.
“Claims about cost blowouts have not been substantiated,” Senator Conroy said.
“These are false and fanciful figures; they’re concocted figures.
“Malcolm Turnbull is becoming the king of telling a lie using a fact.”
Regional Development Minister Anthony Albanese said the Coalition’s plan was a “policy disaster for regional Australia”.
He said it abandoned the NBN’s commitment to provide equal access across the country which would make “an enormous difference to people’s lives”.
“This policy announcement today gets rid of the consistent wholesale price,” he said.
“What that ensures is whether you live in a regional town or whether you live in the capital city CBD, you have access to the same services at the same fundamental price – that’s a foundation of (NBN) policy.
“The great difficulty in a nation such as ours has been a relatively sparse population spread across a very vast land; the National Broadband Network is the transport mode of the 21st century.”
In an apparent endorsement of earlier details carried in the Daily Telegraph, the Opposition Leader’s office had distributed copies of the story to Press Gallery journalists, though it had refused to release any official information prior to the launch. Read story