Who wants a poor man's NBN?

The horror expressed by many who missed out on the first NBN rollout stage shows how important the network is, and how much selling the Opposition has to do.

Let me start my Easter commentary with a strange message – Hobart and Launceston could be set to be boom cities. A lot of people, including me, may have lost value in their house this week, but few recognised it.

This is the backdrop to an intense house-to-house political debate, which is looming in the next 20 months or so leading up to the next election, as the NBN takes on the nature of an entitlement for important segments of the community.

In Australia we are actually going to have two community-wide debates before the next election. Both will play a big role in shaping the nation. The second debate will be about carbon, which I discussed yesterday (The carbon revolt, April 4).

I will return to the reaction to my carbon commentary later.

To date the NBN debate has been about the cost; whether it was necessary and issues related to Telstra. Telstra is settled but the first two issues are still live. This week’s KGB interview with NBN Co chief Mike Quigley shows that now he is actually rolling out the broadband network, Quigley is going to be a formidable advocate of the project.

The internet has enabled people like me to avoid the drudgery of commuting to a city each morning. The NBN will extend that privilege to a much wider group of people because it enables video telephone as a matter of routine and can transfer much more data more quickly than current connections.

Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull have rightly questioned the cost. They are proposing what they believe to be a lower cost alternative – what the ALP will say is a "poor man’s" NBN.

The horror expressed by the Liberals in Victoria when they discovered that large areas of Melbourne would not get the real NBN because they missed out on the first rollout stage shows just how important the NBN is for capital cities. Abbott and Turnbull will have a lot of selling to do.

If the opinion polls are right and the Coalition is headed for a huge win then those areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane that missed out will have to settle for the Abbott-Turnbull "poor man’s NBN”.

Maybe it will be good enough. Quigley explains that about 10 to 15 per cent of the three-year expenditure is about the base infrastructure, and will be spent before the election.

By the time the election comes around the really efficient part of the process – connecting thousands of houses a day and seeing the revenue flow – will be in full swing. The NBN may also still have to pay Telstra if it is forced to go down the "poor man’s” route.

But Quigley shows that the cost differential will also be narrowed by the cost of nodes in the "poor man’s” NBN plan.

The residents of Tasmania will get the NBN and have the chance to become the centre for remote working and global connections in Australia if most of the rest of Australia misses out.

The Liberals will disagree but in my view the ALP has a real chance of winning this debate in the community.

But the stench of the carbon tax will probably limit the ground that can be made up. My point yesterday was that the extent of the power cost rises is so great that it is triggering a renewed community debate over carbon. In the conversation after the commentary readers on both sides were fired up. I was really delighted to see come contributors take on Ian Plimer, pointing out that when carbon in the atmosphere was at levels much greater than now there were no humans. By contrast, some of my friends who are passionate about global warming can’t get their head around the fact that the huge rise in power costs has triggered renewed debate.

If they keep shooting messengers rather than joining the debate the Plimer view of climate change will dominate – particularly as it may be backed by the Rinehart fortune. The intelligence shown in the conversation indicates that Plimer and his supporters will almost certainly lose in a full debate. But every time someone stops Plimer or other carbon doubters from speaking the cause of carbon in climate change is weakened.

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