Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, conservatives elected by conservative electorates, have supported the Labor Government from the first. The principled stand has lost them many friends and – almost certainly – their seats at the next election.
Both men gave the NBN as one of the main reasons they supported a Labor Government, and both have been unwavering in their support of it. Now Tony Windsor says the Coalition NBN policy means that people living in regional Australia will be relegated to second class citizens when it comes to accessing 21st century telecommunications.
“My agreement to form government included rolling out the NBN in regional Australia as a priority over the more profitable metropolitan areas already well serviced. It also includes a pricing cross subsidy that sees country people paying the same wholesale price for access to the NBN as people pay in the city.
”These two benefits alone have levelled the playing field considerably. But now it looks like they will go, with a Coalition Government walking away from the cross subsidisation. Once again the city-country divide will be opened up.
“A cost benefit analysis can only feed in known variables or parameters. With the looming baby boomer bubble coming through the aged care system, the capacity for FTTP has enormous potential savings. If for 5% of the aged care population were able to stay in their homes for an extra year, over $4 billion a year could be saved in daily bed costs, as well as up to $20 billion in capital costs for new aged care centres. Over ten years that's a saving of $60 billion. Hence the need for fibre to the home — that's just one example.”
Windsor is also concerned about the decline in the quality of the service to be provided by the Coalition’s NBN policy. “The Coalition policy is FTTN, not FTTP and will still have to use the old fast deteriorating copper wire network. Even Malcolm Turnbull admitted that nobody knows how long the copper network will last.”
“It is therefore a second rate system that will need further maintenance and upgrading with its completion date of only two years sooner than the current NBN rollout. Now that we have something to compare the Government's NBN with the Coalition's policy, the catchcry coined by Armidale's Regional Communications Advocate Alun Davies of 'do it right, do it once, do it with fibre' has never been more appropriate,” Windsor said. (That phrase is often attributed to Windsor himself).
Malcolm Turnbull was quick to counter Windsor’s argument. “The biggest barrier to Internet access is not technology, it’s lack of income,” he told the CommsDay conference in Sydney. “People in the lowest income decile are much less likely to be accessing the Internet than people in more affluent demographic groups, simply because of affordability.
“One of the problems with Labor’s plan is that it sees Internet access prices rise. A broadband plan that makes the Internet more expensive is clearly going to penalise regional Australia more than the more affluent cities. Our plan will make internet access much cheaper than Labor’s.
“A town with less than a thousand premises is a pretty small place, but there are plenty of towns in country Australia with less than a thousand premises that do not regard themselves as an isolated hamlet. Think of all the small towns up in the New England you think Tony Windsor might be more concerned about.
“FTTN is ideal for those smaller towns because in some cases the node is in the exchange, because the fibre is pulled though into the exchange. It may be that with VDSL and vectoring you can reach the bulk of that community without even putting in any cabinets.
“Under our approach you can extend fixed line wire-line broadband to more premises in the bush than you would under Labor’s fibre to the premises rollout. That obviously is better, because the speeds available under that are considerably higher than the 25 Mbps which has been offered as the only product under the fixed wireless broadband service.”