Can Turnbull deliver his NBN? Have your say

The Coalition's NBN plan has been poorly received in many quarters. But the real test will be whether it can actually be delivered on time and under budget.

Have a view on The Coalition's NBN plan? Have your say in our questionare below. 

The Coalition’s National Broadband Network (NBN) plan has been poorly received in many quarters and the subsequent NBN-related polls indicate that Labor’s NBN is a clear winner. 

Business will be affected by any decision to wind back the current NBN rollout and the extent of this concern will become evident as more becomes known about the Coalition NBN plan. Some of the members of the Australian Information Industry Association have cautiously supported elements of the plan and provided guidance of key concerns, including the need for the Coalition to ensure that Telstra is structurally separated and for NBN Co to be prevented from competing with internet service providers.

Just how NBN Co would remain solvent under the Coalition’s plan to bolster competition in the access market has not been explained by the Coalition.

As things stand, companies with existing access networks will be able to expand their networks and cherry pick customers in major urban areas without being required to commit to providing wholesale access for competitors or committing to products and price restrictions imposed on NBN Co.

This is just one of many issues that the shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull will need to address.

While the release of the Coalition’s long-awaited NBN policy provides a modicum of certainty for businesses and consumers, there are substantial execution and regulatory hurdles that could pose headaches for Turnbull. 

Trusting Turnbull’s timetable

In March this year, I proposed a plebiscite on the NBN which could serve as Labor’s last chance to secure its NBN vision and provide a significant positive legacy for future Australians. One aspect of this exercise which has proven to be remarkably prescient is the wide gulf between the Coalition and Labor when it comes to their vision for Australia’s digital economy.

A poll of readers, run between March 4 and 15, received 877 votes and 760 (87 per cent) selected the Labor NBN plan as the preferred option. The proposed plebiscite question was:

With the knowledge that in 2011 Australia commenced building a wholesale National Broadband Network that includes an optical fibre replacement for the ageing copper network and utilises wireless and satellite to provide enhanced network connection in regional and remote Australia, electors may indicate their preferences as to which approach should be used to complete the National Broadband Network.

1.     Australian premises connected to the wholesale NBN before 2020 at a cost not exceeding $60 billion using a combination of fibre to the premise with connection speeds not less than 1 Gbps download and 300 Mbps upload (93 per cent), wireless with connection speeds not less than 100 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload (4 per cent), and satellite with connection speeds not less than 100 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload (3 per cent). Australian vehicles (planes, trains, motor vehicles, and boats) connected to the NBN with connection speeds not less than 100 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload (100 per cent).

2.     Australian premises connected to the wholesale NBN before 2020 at a cost not exceeding $30 billion using a combination of fibre to the premise, fibre to the node, wireless, hybrid fibre coax, and satellite with connection speeds for all technologies used to be not less than 20 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

A Fairfax/Nielsen national poll of 1400 Australians reports that of the people polled that had heard of the Labor NBN 63 per cent supported it, while only 41 per cent of people polled who had heard about the Coalition NBN plan supported it.

Support for the Labor NBN plan was uniform nationally, ranging from 60-70 per cent in all states and territories. The poll, conducted over a three-day period since the launch of the Coalition’s NBN, has identified that the NBN plan has been one of the few shining lights for the beleagured Gillard government.

The latest poll results reflect the trend seen in our plebiscite poll and would indicate that not all Coalition voters are sold on Turnbull’s plan.

To his credit, Turnbull has managed to shift the Coalition’s position before the 2010 election as the anti-NBN party to its new position as believers in competition in the access network and the need to upgrade the existing ADSL access network with a national fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) access network.

However, the real danger for the Coalition is the execution risk and a policy paralysis that stymies its efforts for swift delivery of the network.

Telstra’s past history of negotiating carefully and slowly to ensure that it obtains excellent outcomes from contract negotiations would appear to be at odds with Turnbull’s statements that he believes an agreement with Telstra can be achieved quickly. So this begs the question “What commitments has Turnbull given to Telstra?”

Have your say 

Today we ask readers to indicate if they believe the key time and cost targets outlined in the Coalition NBN plan are achievable. Turnbull believes that the Coalition can secure agreements with Telstra and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and rollout a national FTTN network before the end of 2016 – that means 39 months for the entire nation.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

The impact of the NBN on Australian businesses is central to the debate about the cost benefit value of the ambitious endeavour. Given that the Labor NBN will provide Australian business with an opportunity to be a part of the digital economy and compete successfully then is the headline cost difference of $17 billion between the Labor and Coalition plans insurmountable?

Tell us what you think. 

Mark Gregory is a Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University.