Two weeks out from the Australian federal government election on July 2, the Labor Party has released its policy documents for its plan for the National Broadband Network. Labor’s NBN plan, it says, will build fibre to the premises (FTTP) NBN to “up to two million more” Australian homes and businesses, double the number covered under the current Liberal rollout plan. The party says that there will be no additional impact to the country’s budget and the NBN’s financial cap.
In a press release titled “Labor’s plan to fix Malcolm Turnbull’s mess”, the socially progressive Labor Party says that a Labor government led by current Opposition leader Bill Shorten would roll out fibre to the premises connections to up two million additional premises — double the two million currently covered in the Liberal government’s currently-proceeding rollout.
Crucially, the Labor policy document does not contribute any additional public funding for the network above the current government equity cap of $29.5 billion. It does raise the total funding cap by 1.8 per cent from its current $56 billion cap to $57 billion, but that additional funding would come from private sector investment — something that the National Broadband Network company is struggling to attract.
The party’s media release says that while the outlay from the public will be the same, the Labor NBN plan will see more Australians connected to FTTP: “Labor will spend exactly the same amount of public funding on the NBN as the Liberals. There will be no impact on the budget. The public equity contribution will be the same regardless of who wins the election. The difference is that up to two million more Australians will get a fibre-to-the-premises NBN under Labor.”
The Shorten government would stop any further development of the nation’s fibre-to-the-node network segment, and would cease any construction after the current pipeline of work — the 32 per cent of the population currently slated to receive it — is completed. That point, Labor’s plan says, would cross over with a time where design of new fibre-to-the-premises additions to the network are phased back in.
Labor’s plan does allow for the significant proportion — approximately 30 per cent — of hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) cable network to be maintained and built upon. Both governments have said that they will increase the potential speed of HFC with DOCSIS 3.1, with compatible hardware starting to become available later this year. Satellite and fixed 4G wireless networks will continue as they always have under both governments.
New greenfields areas, the plan says, will be delivered as fibre to the premises under a Labor government. The current Liberal plan calls for developers to choose from competing private service providers to build out networks in their developments, but the National Broadband Network be a provider of last resort, resulting in some 1800km of copper being purchased and some being installed in greenfields estates rather than the more future-proofed fibre optics of other new NBN build-out segments.
Fibre to the distribution point (FTTDP) is not included in any concrete rollout plan covered in the Labor Party’s NBN plan, but it is name-checked as a potential candidate to bridge the gap between FTTN and FTTP: “Fibre-to-the-premises is a proven technology. An emerging technology – known as fibre to the distribution point or “fibre-to-the-driveway” – has the potential to deliver fast and reliable broadband while reducing customer connection costs. This is a new technology which has not yet been rolled out at scale. Labor will further explore the potential of this technology in government.”
Internet Australia, the local not-for-profit chapter of Internet.org that lobbies for faster and more equitable access to broadband, is strongly behind Labor’s return to focus on a fibre to the premises NBN. IA CEO Laurie Patton said in a statement that looking to the future, a fibre-based NBN is the only rational choice: “Fibre is the only sensible way to connect the Internet to people’s homes and businesses.
“We have consistently argued that the use of ageing copper wires will deliver an inferior service and which will not be fit-for-purpose even before the rollout has been completed. There is a limit to how much faster we can make the copper go, whereas those with fibre connections will experience significant speeds gains in coming years”.