Conroy's NBN lecture lacks "intellectual rigour": Turnbull

Opposition communications minister has mounted a rebuttal against the communications minister's extensive defence of the NBN yesterday.

Opposition communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has argued against communications minister Stephen Conroy’s attack on the Coalition’s broadband policy as lacking “intellectual rigour or consistency”.

In a blog post responding to Conroy’s address at the National Press Club yesterday, Turnbull argued that Conroy’s sustained attack on the Opposition’s position on broadband lacked hard evidence and ignored the use of wireless usage in major developed economies around the world.

“The lack of intellectual rigour or consistency in Senator Conroy’s approach to policy is underlined by the way in which he dismisses any alternative to his fibre to the home (FTTH) network as being utterly inadequate – even though telecommunications companies around the world are building and using upgraded broadband networks with a mix of technologies,” Turnbull wrote in his blog post.

Turnbull added that while both ministers agreed smartphone usage was driving up wireless broadband usage, and the need for investment network backbones, they both differed on the need for an FTTH network.

“The policy dispute over the NBN from a technology point of view is simply whether, in order to upgrade Australians’ broadband services, it is necessary to overbuild and decommission the entire existing fixed line customer access networks (both copper and HFC) and replace them with a vastly expensive new FTTH network,” Turnbull wrote.

Turnbull also argued that a fibre to the node (FTTN) network was a viable alternative to Conroy’s FTTH network. “The proposition that it won’t work in Australia is an assertion made not only without evidence, but in defiance of the evidence,” Turnbull wrote.

“The speeds that are available on FTTN do indeed depend on the length of the copper loop between the end of the fibre and the customer’s premises. Costs differ from place to place but as a general rule, FTTH costs between three and four times as much as FTTN.”

According to Conroy, Turnbull’s ongoing argument for FTTN was “misleading or ill-informed” and that suggested download speeds of 60 or 80 Mbps were not feasible due to the way in which Australia’s copper network was designed.

“To achieve the speeds Mr Turnbull speaks of over FTTN requires bonded copper pair – which means using at least two copper lines per connection,” Conroy said in his Press Club speech. “Australia’s network has not been designed or built with two copper lines available to every premise.

“We simply do not have the copper availability and quality to deliver the speeds and performance Mr Turnbull describes.” Conroy further argued that upload speeds were severely limited and Turnbull’s argument that an FTTN network could be built as an interim step in a future update to FFTH was a “wasted investment.”

“A cost-effective rollout of FTTN does not provide an efficient upgrade path to fibre to the home,” he said. “It is not a simple matter of building fibre part of the way to the home, and then building the rest later.”

Conroy added that the use of Optus’ HFC network to deliver broadband was also a “dead-end solution” due to the technology being a shared medium and thus resulting in lower quality services the more people used it.

Addressing long-term Opposition claims that the network was too expensive, Conroy said Turnbull continued to misrepresent the project’s true cost.

“First he confused operating expenses (OPEX) with capital expenses (CAPEX) by including lease payments to Telstra in the capital cost,” he said.

“More recently, he has tried to add CAPEX for replacement and upgrades after the network is built to the construction cost.”

Giving an update on the state of the NBN, Conroy said more than 18,000 premises have been passed by fibre, and more than 3000 customers are now connected to the NBN. Construction contracts had also been agreed for the rollout in each state and territory.

Despite this, independent MP and Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network chair, Rob Oakeshott, sounded an early warning last month that the NBN appears to be succumbing to delay.

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @Tlohman

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