All eyes on Turnbull's NBN revelations

Attacking Labor's NBN and NBN Co's rollout woes was the easy part for the Coalition. But with its own policy set to see the light of day, things are going to get interesting.

The NBN faithful are about to get their wish this week, with the opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull set to release the Coalition's NBN policy.

The eagerly awaited plans, landing just a little over four years since the inception of NBN, should add fresh impetus to the current NBN debate. However, just what impact it has on the Coalition’s electoral prospects remains to be seen.

Turnbull has consistently maintained that the Coalition’s NBN policy won’t hold any surprises – his assertion being that the opposition’s views on the Labor’s profligacy, NBN Co’s inept management of the rollout and the efficacy of the Fibre to the Node (FttN) rollout are well known.

Interestingly, that hasn’t stopped the Coalition to selectively leak information to elements in mainstream media over the last couple of weeks. There has been talk about breaking up NBN Co’s monopoly and letting Telstra compete in the cities using its hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) cable, some vacuous politicking between Turnbull and Alan Jones and the Daily Telegraph’s revelation about the real cost of Labor’s NBN project.

The Coalition’s strategy is clearly designed to ratchet up the rhetoric and talks of a $90 billion price tag for the Labor NBN is exactly the sort of scare mongering that Turnbull hopes will sway the masses to hedge their bets with the Coalition. Why waste time jousting with the so-called zealots, when there is much greater capital in preaching to the masses the virtues of FttN?

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy can holler as hard as he likes about the Coalition’s purported reliance on misleading statistics and misleading data. But the simple fact is that the general public has had a gutful of Labor’s politicking and even Conroy’s genuine pleas are unlikely to sway the mood.

Of course, NBN Co’s tribulations with the rollout have provided the perfect foil to the Coalition’s tactic. The pressure on Turnbull to provide detailed modelling and policy information would have been far more severe had the rollout remained on track. The lag time has allowed Turnbull to continue plugging the motherhood statements about the Coalition’s NBN and keep the key cards close to his chest.

And that brings us to this week’s big reveal. With the fixed wireless and satellite components of the NBN expected to remain unchanged, expect Turnbull to further expound the cost-effectiveness of the FttN model – and also just how quickly it can be rolled out.

These are important considerations, but there are equally important questions that will need to be covered to ensure that the comparisons drawn are fair and valid.

Turnbull may be intent on carrying out a cost benefit analysis (CBA) but his policy document must provide insight on the time period covered by the CBA? The supply capacity increase and traffic increase models to be used? And what technological endpoint will the CBA run to? These are critical components to the broadband future of Australia.

Picking on the Labor NBN and the rollout trials of NBN Co has been relatively easy for Turnbull, explaining the efficacy of the Coalition’s NBN and convincing the public that it’s not being sold a dud will be a lot harder once the policy is released.

In light of the Daily Telegraph report and the subsequent retort by Conroy, the argument is still firmly focused on cost, but the Coalition’s policy will need to spell out why its hybrid model will deliver the same benefits without wasting billions and whether we are destined to be locked in that model for good.

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