Coalition commits to delivering high-speed broadband faster than Labor and NBN Co

The Coalition has committed to delivering high-speed broadband, faster than Labor’s National Broadband Network (NBN) plan, to every Australian if it wins the 2013 federal election.

Opposition communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said the Coalition's focus would be to open up access on existing broadband networks, such as Optus' HFC network, and providing fibre networks to Australians who currently lacked access.

"We will be able to promise this at the election; we will say to people ... we will get you very fast broadband more quickly than the NBN will because the NBN is a vast national project, which in some areas will significantly improve broadband, but in outer areas, frankly, it won't," he said.

"If you are accessing broadband at 100mbps in Melbourne using Telstra's HFC network ... if you get switched off that HFC cable onto the NBN, frankly, you will not notice the difference.

"You will struggle to notice the difference as they are not the applications that require the very high speeds that are available over fibre into the home.

"So, our approach will be more targeted, more cost effective and in addition, we will not stamp out competition."

On 'day one' of taking power, the Coalition would immediately set the Productivity Commission to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN #8212; a process Turnbull said would take about six months to carry out.

"We would get the Productivity Commission to do it and our intention is to ask the question: What is the fastest and most cost effective way to ensure all Australians have access to very fast broadband?” he said.

"The cost-benefit analysis is something which shouldn’t a take too long ... perhaps completed whin six months, but it's pretty obvious what the conclusions will be.

"The likely approach will be a mix of technologies: Almost certainly continue with fibre-to-the-home in Greenfield sites because the incremental cost to running fibre into individual premises compared to copper ... isn't as big when compared to Brownfields."

Opposition to renegotiate Telstra, Optus NBN Co deals

The Opposition would also attempt to renegotiate the deals Labor and NBN Co had signed with Optus and Telstra to ensure existing HFC networks were not decommissioned in favour of fibre.

“Decommissioning the HFC networks #8212; disallowing them to be used for broadband #8212; is completely nuts," he said. "That is economic vandalism.

"These are networks which have many years of life in them and they are delivering fast broadband now and are capable of delivering even faster broadband in the future, and will provide the opportunity for a lot of competition."

Turnbull conceded there would be costs associated with renegotiating the contracts, however, claimed these would be small compared to the savings that could be achieved.

"The approach we have to this industry structure is one which would benefit Telstra," he said.

"The industry structure we would like to see is the customer access network of Telstra structurally separated from Telstra's business and that customer access network will be come a regulated utility, like a water or gas company.

"It would be able to charge prices with permission of the regulator allowing it to get a reasonable return on its capital.

"Insofar as it would be unable to deliver on commercial terms due to distance or a lack of density then there should be a transparent subsidy from the budget.

"I am in favour of the bush being subsidised, but it should not be at the expense of broadband in the cities."

The Opposition would also look to run fibre-to-the-home in some brownfields areas and in other instances run fibre-to-the-curb in areas where the existing copper network was old or where wet ground conditions would cause damage to copper networks.

“There are others where we would simply bring fibre further into the field, so the length of copper between the fibre and the premises was sufficiently short to enable very high speeds to be run over that shorter copper loop,” Turnbull said.

“The speeds we are talking about there are very adequate for domestic uses: 50 to 60mbps download and five to 10mbps upload #8212; that is very decent.”

Turnbull also said the NBN Co would likely be forced to change its plans to deliver fibre to every apartment block in each city, as doing so would simply be too high.

“The cost and practicality of doing it is unfeasible so [NBN Co] will have to do what the Koreans are doing and deliver fibre to a multiplex in the basement [of each apartment block] to fibre-to-the-premises,” he said.

The comments are consistent with a softening of the Oppositions stance on the NBN following the signing of definitive agreements by Optus and Telstra with the NBN Co.

Following the signing of the deal, Turnbull said the Coalition would seek to change the mix of fibre, wireless and satellite technologies NBN Co uses #8212; a far cry from the September 2010 remit from Tony Abbott to “demolish” the NBN.

“Well, I don’t think we want to unwind in the sense of go back to ground zero... There’s no question of anything being destroyed or ripped up or terminated or anything like that,” Turnbull told ABC radio in June.

“I imagine that a lot of the infrastructure that will have been built by the time of the next election, you know, will have a value but it will be a lesser value than its cost."

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @Tlohman

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