Incoming Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has responded to an online petition asking the new Coalition Government to ditch its plans to switch the national broadband network from a fibre-to-the-home model to fibre-to-the-node.
The petition, launched earlier this week by a Queensland university student, has garnered over 217,000 signatures.
It implored the Coalition to re-think its policy to change the current predominantly fibre-to-the-home rollout to a ‘inferior’ fibre-to-the-node solution.
It cited an ageing copper network, bandwidth capabilities and an associated increasing demand for data, upload and download speeds, last-mile copper connection costs, upgrade costs, and potential creation for new jobs as reasons the Coalition needed to “reconsider” its plan for the “superior” FTTH NBN.
“As your policy currently stands it is merely patch-work; a short term solution to a long term problem,” the petition states.
Turnbull last night responded to the growing petition, arguing Australia had voted for the Coalition in the federal election and therefore also its various suite of policies.
“Last Saturday there was a general election at which the NBN was one of the most prominent issues. The Coalition's NBN Policy .. had been published in April - five months ahead of the election. The Coalition won the election,” he said.
“The promoters of this petition apparently believe that we should ignore the lengthy public debate on the NBN that preceded the election and also ignore the election result. We should within days of the election walk away from one of our most well debated, well understood and prominent policies. Democracy? I don't think so.”
Turnbull said the Coalition had approached the NBN as technologically-agnostic and with the goal of offering Australians very fast broadband “as cheaply and affordably as possible”.
He said the Labor Government had not been honest with the public about the cost and NBN Co’s ability to meet its targets, and as such the Coalition would “open the books of the NBN” and conduct a strategic review within 60 days to show “how long it will take and how much it will cost to complete the NBN on the current specifications".
“We will also set out what our options are to complete the project sooner and more cost effectively and again what that means in terms of affordability and of course in service levels. Many of the FTTP supporters on twitter and elsewhere say that they don't care what it costs or how long it takes - they want fibre to the home regardless,” Turnbull said in a statement.
“That point of view is reckless in the extreme. Every public infrastructure project has to be carefully and honestly analysed so that governments, and citizens, can weigh up the costs and benefits.”
The Coalition has costed its policy at $20.4 billion until completion in 2019, compared to Labor’s costed $37.4 billion for a completed NBN in 2021, but said its policy is detailed enough to escape independent costing.
Turnbull has previously indicated he would consider rolling out more FTTP is the price was right.
Any change to the structure of the NBN would involve a renegotiation with Telstra over the $11 billion agreement it signed with the former Labor Government.
The Coalition said it won’t pay extra for Telstra’s copper and expects the telco to hand over access or ownership of its last-mile copper for no additional cost.
The Coalition's NBN policy received a mixed response from the technology industry upon its launch. Internode chief Simon Hackett blasted the strategy as being 'faster and cheaper for less of a network', while AAPT and iiNet said they were looking forward to making more money quicker from the Coalition's NBN due to its shorter rollout timeframe.