Communications minister Stephen Conroy has slammed a coalition proposal to disband the National Broadband Network builder and form a new partially funded wholesaler out of Telstra's infrastructure arm, branding the plan "economic vandalism".
The proposal was presented by shadow communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull in an address to the National Press Club today that met Senator Conroy's demands for a coherent and costed alternative policy to the NBN.
Turnbull has previously indicated extensive use of the hybrid-fibre coaxial networks operated by Telstra and Optus in the Coalition's plan.
Today he proposed extending them as fibre-to-the-node networks, with a view to further upgrading them to fibre-to-the-home technology - like that used in the NBN - in areas where it made economic sense.
The FTTN rollout would cost in the order of $10 billion, according to Turnbull, and would be complemented by fixed wireless and satellite technologies for 1.5 million Australians in regional and rural areas.
The coalition plan would still require Telstra to structurally separate, however. Turnbull proposed Telstra's customer-facing assets - including exchanges, the copper access network and the incumbent telco's existing hybrid-fibre coaxial network - be moved into a new broadband wholesaler, dubbed Network Co.
Network Co, Turnbull said, would be a regulated common carrier which would not offer retail services and would not discriminate between access seekers.
It would be required to ensure, "as far as is practicable", that Australians within the designated areas had access to at least 12 Mbps as soon as possible and would have access to 24 Mbps within two years of coalition power.
Network Co would also take on any infrastructure assets left by NBN Co, which would be disbanded should the coalition gain power in the 2013 Federal election.
At an industry lunch today Senator Conroy argued Turnbull had conducted a "sleight of hand" in some of his claims.
"[The coalition's] network is the equivalent of building the Sydney Harbour Bridge with one lane - one lane that is ultimately not about future proofing," Conroy said.
Conroy also refuted Turnbull's comparisons to the New Zealand broadband plan in which the country's incumbent Telecom NZ had rolled out FTTN to 85 percent or 1.4 million New Zealand premises for $500 million at speeds substantially faster than 5 Mbps.
Turnbull said a similar proposal here would be borne by Network Co, but Conroy argued negotiations with Telstra and Optus to allow open access to their respective HFC networks would ultimately stall the opposition's plan.
"If Malcolm can convince them to open it up so everybody can provide on HFC you might get some retail competition," he said. "He's welcome to entertain that negotiation."
Turnbull remained confident he would reach an agreement with Telstra and that, despite refreshed plans to structurally separate the telco, the coalition's revised plan would provide greater value to the incumbent.
Turnbull acknowledged Telstra would be best placed to tender for a FTTN proposal.
Not enough details
Senator Conroy maintained Turnbull had not revealed enough details in his latest policy revision.
"What he's got to to explain is what prices will be charged to individuals across the network and how he's going to keep prices down on his fabled fibre-to-the-node network," Conroy said.
"It's not just a question of ripping out the cables and the fibre, it's a question of what pricing.
"Will he promise those 500,000 users there'll be no increase in price because of his economic vandalism?"