Thursday, 11 July 2019 09:15

New comms minister Fletcher says MTM right model for NBN Featured

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Paul Fletcher: "As part of setting up NBN there was a legal requirement imposed that NBN could not be owned by a business that also provides retail telecommunication services." Paul Fletcher: "As part of setting up NBN there was a legal requirement imposed that NBN could not be owned by a business that also provides retail telecommunication services." Courtesy YouTube

The Coalition Government made the right choice back in 2013 to adopt a multi-technology mix for rolling out the national broadband network, ditching a Labor plan to have fibre to 93% of homes and service the rest through fixed wireless and satellite, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher says.

Fletcher told ABC Radio Sydney on Wednesday afternoon that the priorities in building a broadband network were to get it built as soon as possible, have the highest available speeds and to do it as cost-effectively as possible.

Responding to a query as to whether he thought the country had the broadband it needed now and for the future, Fletcher told interviewer James Valentine: "So the strategy that we've adopted with a multi-technology mix has been, in my judgment, the right way to do that.

"More importantly, in the judgment of the NBN board and management team and my predecessor ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Mitch Fifield and we worked through this very carefully when we came into government in 2013 and we stayed on a consistent path since then to get the network delivered.

"We now have over 60% of people on the network taking 50Mbps or more. So we're seeing a steady increase in the speeds that people are taking and we're coming close to the point of having the network rollout completed, meaning that we have ubiquitous broadband and for 90% of people in the fixed line footprint, that means 50Mbps or more. So, of course there's always more that we can do but his is a very significant achievement."

Valentine pointed Fletcher to remarks made by RMIT professor Mark Gregory in an earlier interview in which he said: "...the government’s come to the realisation, and be big enough to admit that they've made a mistake. Now, that in itself is going to be difficult for any politician to do.

"But in Australia's national interest, they need to do this. The next thing they need to do is they need to free up the management team of NBN Co to do what they need to do to take that business forward, and that would mean that they need to provide them with the flexibility to reorganise and to start upgrading to fibre, and to improve connectivity across the fixed wireless."

Asked whether, as per the comments, Australia was not getting the NBN it needed for 2020, Fletcher responded: "Well, just in the last year, the number of premises able to connect has increased by 2.8 million. There are now almost 10 million premises around the country able to connect and we're on track to complete the network rollout next year.

"Now, when we came to government, we adopted the multi-technology mix – a mix of fibre to the premises, fibre to the node, fibre to curb, HFC and so on. We did that because it meant the rollout could be completed for $30 billion less and five to eight years more quickly than the original plan.

"Back in 2013, barely 50,000 premises were connected. So, if you've got a plan to deliver a whole lot of broadband but most people aren't getting it, it's not really having an impact. We're now at the point where 5.5 million premises are connected and the average amount of data that people on the NBN are downloading each month is 240GB. Back in 2010, that number across the fixed network was 11GB. So we are all changing our behaviour as a result of improved broadband connectivity."

Fletcher reiterated comments he had made on Wednesday morning to one of the Nine newspapers, saying that Telstra could not bid for the NBN in the event that it was put up for sale because it was forbidden by doing so by law.

"That’s been the law since 2009 or ‘10 or ‘11," he said. "In other words, as part of setting up NBN there was a legal requirement imposed that NBN could not be owned by a business that also provides retail telecommunication services.

"It was set up to be wholesale only and the reason for that is to maximise competition so that retailers — Optus, Telstra, Vocus, TPG, a whole range of others — are able to then go and use that network to deliver services to customers, make their own choices about what prices they offer, terms of service, and so on."

Valentine pointed out that Gregory had also said that the management of NBN Co needed to be given a free hand to "do what they want to do, do what they might need to do, in order to increase the delivery, increase the speed, increase the value of the NBN network."

To this Fletcher responded, "Look, it’s very important that NBN Co board and management get on and do their job and that is what they’re doing. For example, I talked about the fact that over 60% of customers are now taking 50Mbps or more. That reflects some major changes that NBN Co board and management made a couple of years ago which are working their way through the offerings that are available and how customers have responded to that.

"Indeed right now, NBN management has a consultation paper out with its customers — the retail service providers — proposing further options to change the pricing structure. So they’re very much focused on how do we get the network rolled out as quickly as possible and how do we get people using it and using it at higher speeds."

Fletcher said as the network rollout continued, and more and more premises were connected, the speeds would get higher. "Ultimately, what we want to make sure is that we, having invested $51 billion of taxpayers’ money in this network – that’s the amount of equity and debt that the Commonwealth has put into NBN Co – it’s very important that this asset is being used to achieve the social and economic objectives it’s designed to achieve."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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