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Coalition Broadband Policy Coming Today, Here's A Sneak Peek

Today is the day. The long-awaited Coalition alternative to the incumbent Labor government’s National Broadband Network will be detailed today in a new policy from Shadow Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Here’s a sneak peek of what you’ll see in the plan.

We already know that Turnbull and the Coaltion want a cheaper alternative to the NBN, especially seeing as how their maths seem to conclude that the NBN will blow out to $90 billion to deliver and arrive years behind schedule.

For that reason, the Coalition supports a fibre-to-the-node model, something that the party has long backed. Fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) sees fibre run to boxes or nodes around a neighbourhood so that customers can start hooking their copper lines to the service, increasing the down and uplink speeds. It differs to the government’s NBN strategy which instead opts for fibre-to-the-home (FTTH). That’s a more expensive option and requires fibre-optic cable to pass every home and business in Australia, of which the government predicts is about 12.1 million premises.

As of June, the National Broadband Network Company plans to have 190,000 to 220,000 homes passed by the fibre network — a target that was arrived at >after being revised down due to construction delays and contractor dramas.

The government plans on passing those 12.1 million total premises by 2021 at a capital cost of $37.4 billion. The Coalition plans to roll out its alternative, which will use a mix of technologies including fibre, wireless and satellite services to deliver a network that costs only $29 billion to build and aims to be completed by 2019.

Turnbull tells the Telegraph — his publication of choice this week — that the Coalition’s high-speed broadband network would deliver speeds of between 25Mbps and 50Mbps by 2016, increasing to 50Mbps and 100Mbps by the completion date in 2019.

The Coalition also promises that Australians will pay less for their broadband. It’s predicting that we’ll pay $66 per month by 2021, rather than the $90 predicted by the government.

The catch with the Coalition’s strategy is in what’s known as the last mile: the cable that connects the node to the home. Labor’s NBN strategy sees fibre delivered directly to your house, so speeds of 100Mbps are no big thing. In fact, Mike Quigley, head of NBN Co, has said that the network will be capable of 1000Mbps in due course thanks to the ongoing upgradability of the fibre relays.

The Coalition’s plan is predicated on the fact that the last mile will be delivered using the nation’s existing copper network, rather than a shiny fibre alternative currently being installed by the government.

On the one hand, that is much cheaper. On the other hand, the copper network is old and almost everyone you meet has had or does have a problem with their internet because of a cabling issue. But there are four words that govern the Coalition’s thinking behind the copper last mile you need to understand: “let the market decide”. You can have fibre run through to your home direct from the local node if you want to, but you better believe you’ll be paying for it under the Coalition’s plan.

The Telegraph quotes Turnbull, who says that the party doesn’t want “pensioners to subsidise the internet services of the rich”, adding that those who want a fibre links can pay for it under a “fibre on demand” option. Quoth Turnbull:

The idea that a government-owned monopoly investing in a gold-plated network will lead to lower prices is fanciful and could only have been thought up by Stephen Conroy.

The document release today will represent the outing of the Coalition’s first election policy in the lead-up to poll day in September.


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