The Australian Government’s plan to extend fibre optic broadband availability to 93% if the population has suffered multiple setbacks since its beginning in June 2010, and now the opposition is accusing the Labor led Government of hiding the business plan from the public. During a debate on the ABC’s Lateline show, Communications Minister Anthony Albanese had to defend himself from claims that the latest version of the business plan was, “sitting on your desk” from his shadow counterpart, Malcolm Turnbell. He strenuously denied this, stating that no final plan had been produced, leading to Turnbell to speculate that, “Labor keeps the draft stamped on it so you don’t have to give it out before the election”.
The controversy surrounding the National Broadband Network is essentially one of cost, with the Labor government committing to a network which extends fibre connections to the very premise of the end user. The Liberal Party criticises this, maintaining the view that this is both unnecessary and expensive. They favour a system where the fibre connection is made to nodes in each neighbourhood, with interested residents having to pay the several thousand dollar shortfall required to connect their homes to the network.
Mr Turnbell, the current shadow Minister for Communications, argues that speeds of 100mbps (Megabytes per second) could be reached through tradition copper connections to a fibre connected node. The higher goal of 1gbps (Gigabyte per second) will, according to Turnbell, result in the Government spending almost 100 billion dollars on the scheme, whereas his own party could reduce this to 29 billion by only installing fibre connections to local nodes. He argues that speeds of 1gbps were of little use to most Australians, with high definition video, one of the most bandwidth heavy applications of broadband in common usage, requiring only 6mbps of data.
Mr Albanese has responded to claims of overspending with the argument that, “This is like building a two lane Harbour Bridge. It is always more expensive to retrofit”. He also accused Turnbell of pulling his figures from “a Coco Pops packet”. He did admit that the service would not be “free” after installation, despite an ambiguous advert which claimed the service would be without charge.
With the Australian federal election set to occur in September of this year, the success or failure of the NBN will no doubt be a hot topic for political discussion. If Labor fails to convince the population that the money they are investing is well spent, they could see themselves losing key seats in what is looking to be a very close election. However, if the Liberal party engage with their upgrade programme, they may find themselves having to foot the bill for an expensive upgrade further down the line, when copper connections to homes are limiting the progress of technology.
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