There have been many claims and counter-claims flying around in the current NBN squabble (it is not worthy of the term ‘debate’). Upload, download, node, premise, copper, fibre, cost.
Cost – that’s the big one. The nut of the argument is the final cost of Labor’s NBN versus the final cost of the Coalition version. Each side has widely divergent views on this, with the Coalition saying Labor’s NBN will cost over $90 billion, with NBN Co’s updated Corporate Plan saying it will cost less than half that.
The Government has latched on to one key number – that connecting to fibre will cost ‘up to $5000’ under the Coalition. This is based on numbers from the UK, where BT is running fibre to the node and charging people who want fibre to the premises an extra £200 to £3,500 to get it.
“Openreach [a BT company] estimates more than half of premises (55%) will incur a distance based charge of between £200 and £1000. Virtually all other premises will face a charge of between £1,400 and £3,500. It will be up to communications providers to decide whether to pass on those charges to businesses and consumers,” says BT.
The high end (£3,500) is currently about A$5,400. The Aussie dollar has dropped a little recently – it was about $5,000 when the number started to circulate. So that’s where the number comes from. Note that BT’s Openreach says this amount will be paid by much less than half of all FTTP customers.
But the Prime Minister made no such qualification. In one of its first exposes since coming to this country, fact checking website PolitiFact (www.politifact.com.au) exposed her comments as “Mostly False”, which is its third worse category of political porky in its ‘Truth-O-Meter’. Worse is ‘False”, worst is ‘Pants on Fire’.
“Gillard said the Coalition's broadband plan will "cost households $5000 to get connected". That is just not accurate. While others in Government qualified the statement by saying the price might be ‘up to $5000’, Gillard left out the qualifier, making it sound like every family in Australia would have to pay that much.
“And saying the cost to ‘get connected’ was $5,000 could imply that those who did not pay would be left unconnected. Under the Coalition plan, most households would be connected by the existing copper system.”
PolitiFact Australia set up only last week, joining similar sites in the US (where it began in response to increasingly outrageous statements by politicians), Sweden, Norway, France and Egypt. The US site is run by Florida newspaper the Tampa Bay Times.
But unlike the other international sites, the Australian site is directly affiliated with the US company. It is headed by Peter Fray, former editor-in-chief and publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald and Ben Ashton, a former publishing executive who has managed several digital ventures. Fray has also been editor of The Canberra Times and The Sunday Age.
Other political statements checked by Politifact Australia since it started last week are:
- Tony Abbot: “The public sector payroll has grown by 20,000 since 2007”. (‘Mostly True’, but only if defence personnel, including reservists, are counted).
- Tony Abbott: "The carbon tax is adding $400 to the cost of every car manufactured in Australia." (‘Mostly False’, as it ignores carbon tax assistance to the car industry).
- Lee Rhiannon: ""Of the 29 advanced economies Australia is ranked 25th for public investment in universities." (‘Mostly True’ but “Australia ranks better if you look to the percentage of total public expenditure or spending per student.)”
- ALP advertising: “Labor’s overtime and penalty rates protections "can’t be stripped away". (‘False’ – “What Parliament gives it can take away.)”
In a message to prospective PolitiFact Australia reporters, Fray summarised the new organisation's commitment to our unique form of accountability journalism: "Fact-checking is not for the faint hearted, lazy or sloppy," he said. "It is certainly not for reporters who fret about burning sources or who can’t take the heat. It is for those who sign up to a mission and have the courage, skills and stamina to see it through."
Both sides are playing loose with numbers in the NBN debate. Gillard’s numbers are nonsense, but so are many of those from the Coalition. Never the twain shall meet. If only they told the truth, we might at least get somewhere.