Tasmanian premier 'scaremongering' over NBN: Turnbull

A war of words has erupted between communications minister Malcolm Turnbull and Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings over the state of the NBN in Tasmania.

Giddings said that the federal government under the Coalition had stalled on its NBN commitment to Tasmania. The Tasmanian premier said she had voiced concerns in a letter to Turnbull in November last year, but he had been unhelpful in a reply last week.

“It has taken two months, and Mr Turnbull has still failed to give me or Tasmanians any guarantee about fibre-to-the-premise NBN rollout,” Giddings said in a statement today.

Giddings said the lack of certainty around the NBN was hurting businesses in Tasmania. She gave the example of an allied health practice, Revive Motional Health, which has had difficulty recruiting physiotherapists from interstate without the NBN to entice them.

“The Liberals have conned the Tasmanian public. For all their rhetoric about honouring a fibre-to-the-premise rollout, they have crawled away from their promise,” Giddings said.

Turnbull expressed disbelief in a statement responding to Giddings. “This is a rather pathetic attempt at scaremongering by Premier Giddings,” he said.

“Just before Christmas, NBN Co and the prime contractor in Tasmania, VisionStream, agreed to get the rollout going again after many months of stoppages and slow delivery that were the norm under Labor. The Coalition has put the rollout back on track.”

In Turnbull’s letter to Giddings dated 13 January, the communications minister said that the government “is committed to completing the construction of the NBN and in doing so will ensure all Australians have access to very fast broadband as soon, cost-effectively and affordably as possible.”

He also thanked Giddings for a proposal she made to make greater use of aerial fibre in Tasmania through the state-owned electricity company, Aurora Energy. Turnbull said the plan is under consideration by NBN Co chairman, Ziggy Switkowski.

But Giddings said that wasn’t enough. “His letter did not even refer to the current status of Tasmania’s rollout, and failed to even acknowledge the Liberals’ pre-election promise.”

“Before the election they said they would honour the contracts for fibre-to-the-premise, now they are talking about mixed technologies and barely acknowledging that a Tasmanian rollout is still underway.”

The NBN Co outlined the mixed technology approach in a strategic review released last month. NBN Co said that implementation of the plan would bring broadband speeds of about 50 Mbps to 90 per cent of Australians by year-end 2019.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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