Australia’s broadband future: The Labor and Coalition plans compared

Above: Shadow communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull.

 

After months of general barbs aimed at the National Broadband Network, the federal Coalition has finally unveiled its alternative broadband vision for Australia.

 

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and shadow communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull (pictured above) said that the Coalition would provide “very fast broadband, sooner, cheaper” to the Australian public.

 

Turnbull said that the plan – which would provide 25 megabits per second, much slower than Labor’s alternative – was “consistent with the best practice around the world”.

 

However, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the Coalition plan “fails miserably” and only the NBN would provide the high-speed broadband Australian business and consumers need.

 

Despite the fact many Australian small businesses are lagging behind with their own web presence, economists have consistently pointed to the benefits of fast broadband.

 

Figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that consumers aren’t hanging around – there were 12.2 million internet subscribers in Australia at the end of December 2012, a 5% annual increase. There were a further mobile six million wireless broadband connections.

 

So how do the two plans stack up? StartupSmart explains all.

 

Labor’s plan

What is it?

 

The National Broadband Network

 

How will it work?

 

Expected to roll out over the next 10 years, the NBN aims to hook up more than 3.5 million homes and businesses by the end of 2015, with the eventual goal of 100% coverage of high-speed broadband.

 

For 93% of Australians, the current copper network is to be completely replaced with optical fibre all the way from the exchange to the premises, a configuration called fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP).

 

The next 4% get fixed wireless connections, and the most remote 3% get satellite links. All this is being run by NBN Co, a wholly government-owned company, which will be sold after completion.

 

Last month, NBN Co admitted it was running three months behind schedule.

 

How fast will it be?

 

Up to 100 Mbps download and 40 Mbps upload.

 

What will it cost?

 

The government says $44 billion. The Coalition says more than $90 billion. Conroy says the Coalition figure is a “false claim”.

 

What they say about it

 

Nick Ross, ABC Technology: “Based on all the existing evidence, the Coalition’s claims regarding the technology simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. If for some reason it turns out they do, then they need to explain why just about every expert on the matter has got it so wrong.”

 

Conroy: “The only way NBN Co won’t make a return is if the Coalition is elected.”

 

Turnbull: “The NBN will continue to roll out but we will do so in a cost-effective manner, in particular in built-up areas.”

 

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The Coalition’s plan

What is it?

 

Essentially, it is the same as the National Broadband Network, with a few significant tweaks.

 

How will it work?

 

The NBN rollout will essentially continue, but for most Australians, it will mean fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) – fibre from the exchange to kerbside cabinets no more than about 800 metres from customer premises, and using the existing copper for the last segment. Telstra’s copper network will be purchased for this purpose.

 

The Coalition policy document states: “Suburbs, regions, towns and business districts with the poorest services and greatest need for upgrades will receive first priority.”

 

How fast will it be?

 

Slower than the NBN. There will be a download data rate of between 25 and 100 megabits per second by late 2016 and between 50 and 100 megabits per second by 2019.

 

What will it cost?

 

The Coalition has the plan costed at $29 billion including $20 billion of capital expenditure.

 

What they say about it

 

Stilgherrian, technology writer: “The Coalition’s core point is that while FTTP can certainly deliver faster broadband, and is the technology for the long-term, they can deliver a clear improvement for more Australians sooner and cheaper by being more flexible.”

 

Turnbull: “[25 megabits per second] will enable anybody in residential situations to do everything they want to do or need to do in terms of applications and services, and is six times faster than the average speed people are getting right now.”

 

Conroy: “If you understand broadband, if you understand that it is being used for more applications that require more bandwidth every single day, then you know that Malcolm Turnbull’s network is a fail.

 

“Malcolm Turnbull is going to build a one-lane Sydney Harbour Bridge because he says he can do it cheaper and faster.”

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