Speaking at the National Press Club address today, Senator Conroy said the specifications of the NBN plan were put together without consideration of nascent technologies that allow optical transmissions to be boosted from a street-side node to distances of some 60 kilometres.
"If you would allow me to put my geek hat on, using splitters - rather than nodes - with this new technology you can put on the side of the road can punch you 60 kilometres and still deliver 100 Mbps," he told the Canberra audience.
Conroy said such advancements suggest the fibre to the premise (FTTP) component of the NBN will "ultimately reach farther" than the 90 per cent of population target.
"I know it might surprise you, but I tend to talk about the minimums you can reach. I am usually trying to talk about the minimums rather than the maximums we can deliver. We can reach the 90 per cent comfortably with 100mbps fibre, and with the new splitters, further."
Conroy also refuted claims by the Opposition that the Government is letting down regional users by scaling back the terrestrial component of the network from 98 per cent (in the original tender) to 90 per cent.
The wireless and satellite component of the new NBN proposal, he said, "exceeds our election commitment" by providing a minimum of 12mbps to all Australians "no matter where they choose to live or work."
Conroy also used the address to dispute Concept Economics figures which estimate retail services on the NBN costing in excess of $200 per month.
"The NBN will be Australia's first truly national wholesale network," Conroy said. "The discipline of genuine competition will put pressure on the market to drive lower prices. Operators will have to fight hard to win and retain your business or you will switch operators."
Conroy highlighted that Adelaide-based ISP Internode offers 100mbps FTTH for $100 a month in Greenfield sites, while Telstra offers 20mbps for $130-$150 - neglecting to qualify the comparison of a relatively cheap Greenfield site to the building of a national network.
National fibre networks being built overseas have resulted in lower prices, he said, than on copper and cable. He cited prices falling by $15 a month in fibre-connected Singapore, and one FTTP operator in France which offers a 100Mbps triple-play of voice, data and pay TV for the equivalent of AU$60 per month.
The bulk of Conroy's speech, however, was devoted to the potential of the NBN to foster the development of new applications - spruiking the productivity benefits of smart grids (internet-enabled electricity grids), digital tracking of goods (e.g. RFID), new broadcasting opportunities, remote health diagnosis and patient monitoring, real-time freight management, video conferencing, telecommuting and advanced science and research applications.
The opposition, he said by contrast, thinks an NBN is just a "faster network for downloading movies."
"That's the Internet to Malcolm Turnbull, downloading movies," he said.
On regulation and Telstra
Conroy said the first legislation to enable the NBN will be put forward in the winter sitting of parliament. A new bill will require builders of Greenfield (new) housing or commercial developments to include FTTP connections, plus a requirement for information about those connections to be forwarded to the Government to aid the rollout of the NBN.
He also said the regulatory discussion paper released with the NBN "does not necessarily require or advocate structural separation" of Telstra, and lists "further functional separation" and other new measures as additional options.
Since the NBN announcement, he said, Telstra "have been very positive, willing to be engaged in a constructive dialogue."
Conroy would not be drawn on calls by Future Fund chairman chairman David Murray to sack Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie.
"The Future Fund has its own guardians, makes its own decisions," Conroy said. "It's a legitimate shareholder of Telstra. I've neither met nor spoken with David Murray since his appointment. [The Future Fund] is engaged in a discussion, it's a matter for the board and the shareholder.
McGauchie's future, he said, was "a matter for [Telstra] shareholders."
"It is not for the Government to say who the chairman of Telstra should be," he said.
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