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The Coalition's Vague Plan For A New National Broadband Network

Over the Australia Day long weekend, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott released a plan for the nation called “Real Solutions”. It’s a 27-page document that outlines a whole mess of stuff, including what the Coalition plans to do for the nation’s broadband infrastructure. Rather than real solutions, however, the document just looks like hollow talk from here.

The document clocks in at just over 17,000 words that address everything from the bold plan for a first year budget surplus, right through to a new strategy for industry that will lessen the country’s reliance on the mining and resources boom.

In 17,000 words, less than 200 are said about broadband, with the first mention buried on page 15 of the document. Not exactly high up on the priorities list, it seems.

Here’s what the Coalition promises for the future of digital infrastructure in Australia, from page 17 of the document:

Delivering more affordable broadband — rolling it out faster

• The Coalition will deliver high speed broadband that is both affordable for families and businesses and cost effective for taxpayers

• We will for the first time do a fully transparent cost-benefit analysis of the National Broadband Network, to find out the quickest and most cost-efficient way to upgrade broadband to all areas where services are now unavailable or sub- standard. This is the cost-benefit analysis Labor didn’t do before committing to spend tens of billions of dollars on the NBN.

• We will roll out super-fast broadband using whichever is the most effective and cost efficient technology and we will use existing infrastructure where we can.

• We will roll it out faster to high priority areas.

• We will end billions of dollars of wasteful spending on the NBN and deliver more of the modern infrastructure we urgently need while encouraging competition wherever possible to put downward pressure on prices.

Basically, the “plan” doesn’t actually exist yet. All the Coalition is willing to do is conduct a cost-benefit analysis (drink!) into several different options and go with the one that has the best bang for buck. Depending on what it picks, the Coalition will likely redraw the deployment lines based on their “priority areas”.

Interestingly, the broadband “plan” makes no mention of specific technologies that are under consideration. “We will use existing infrastructure where we can,” sounds like a plan to roll-out fibre to the node (FTTN) with the area between the nodes and the houses set to be the old copper cables we all know and loathe. The Coalition loves that idea.

On the other side of the coin, the plan promises to scrap the wasteful fibre to the home plan for “more modern infrastructure we urgently need”. What could be more modern than fibre, I wonder? Could the Coalition arrive at the conclusion that ripping up and restarting the fibre broadband plan is just too expensive?

Maybe.

After all, as Angus over at Lifehacker points out, NBN Co is already predicting 101,700 connected premises by June 2013 (54,000 fibre, 47,700 satellite).

Policy documents are meant to include details about how a party plans to achieve its lofty goals. Instead, this document is a manifesto of ideas with a big stamp on it that reads “fully costed”. We’ll have to take your word on that one, Mr Abbott.

Here’s the plan in full if you want to have a read:

Our Plan: Real Solutions for all Australians. by