Labor urges end to TPG FTTB rollout

The government must stop TPG from poaching high value customers from the NBN, said Communications Shadow Minister Jason Clare at the CommsDay conference today in Sydney.

However, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull wagged his finger at Labor for giving TPG the chance to target the customers with fibre-to-the-basement (FTTB) in the first place.

Clare said that allowing TPG to proceed would undermine the business model of the NBN, a concern that has also been voiced by NBN Co chairman Ziggy Switkowski.

“The government needs to close the gap,” said Clare. “If you’re going to build an NBN network, then there should be one body—the NBN Co—building a universal wholesale market.”

“If they don’t do that, then it threatens the financial viability of the NBN Co.”

TPG has defended its FTTB plan as healthy competition that will provide a better outcome for end users.

“The minister has an awful dilemma here,” said Clare. “He’s been a very outspoken supporter of competition in this area. If he stops TPG from rolling out FTTB, he’ll go against almost everything he has ever said.”

“But if he doesn’t stop them, as Ziggy said a couple of weeks ago, it could chop up to 10 per cent off NBN’s future revenue.”

In earlier remarks at the conference, Turnbull acknowledged the difficult situation but cast blame on the Labor party.

“Had the previous government allowed NBN Co to deploy VDSL in apartment buildings and office buildings as the company had requested, many if not most of the buildings targeted by TPG would have already been serviced by the NBN Co.”

“This is an important lesson. Because it’s all very well to say that we’ve got the perfect technology and time doesn’t matter ... Well, the consequence of the time delay, of taking years and years and years, is that other people move into the field.”

Turnbull also used a speech at the CommsDay to defend the government’s MyBroadband website, which has been criticised for not providing an accurate picture of the speeds and quality of broadband connections around Australia.

“Line speeds vary from day to day and from hour to hour, so the purpose of the MyBroadband website is principally to get an indication of relative broadband availability and quality, because what we want to do is upgrade the least well-served areas sooner wherever we can do that.”

Turnbull added that his government is the first to ever map the actual availability and quality of broadband in Australia.

A new speed test on the website, first revealed in a Senate hearing last month, will let the government “collect more granular detail about users’ specific line speeds,” Turnbull said.

But the minister said he doesn’t expect the new data to make much difference. “Unless there is a very big response, it won’t be especially useful.”

Later, speaking about progress in the renegotiation with Telstra, Turnbull largely echoed the upbeat vibes of Telstra lead negotiator Tony Warren.

Turnbull described a "positive atmosphere" with "enormous goodwill" on both sides. He said it is still "feasible" to wrap the talks by the middle of the year, but added a disclaimer that business talks frequently drag longer than expected.

“There is a new atmosphere of collaboration … between Telstra and the NBN Co and the government,” he said. “That’s important, because for this thing to work, we’ve got to have a very good relationship with Telstra.”

Turnbull quickly added: “You know, recognising all the competition issues and so forth that we all respect, and I’m not walking away from any of those policy positions.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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