Fri, 30 Aug - 07:37
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Op-Ed: We have a plan to deliver NBN, and it’s working

NBN’s Corporate Plan for the next four years, released today, contains a very significant commitment: the rollout of the national broadband network will complete next year.

In 2013, when our Liberal National Government came to power, such a goal seemed impossibly far away.  Labor had promised the NBN in the 2007 election - yet after six years they had managed to connect barely 50,000 premises to the fixed line NBN.

Today, more than 10.1 million premises around Australia are ready to connect to the network; the number of premises connected exceeds 5.8 million.

The scale of this project is immense: 280,000 kilometres of fibre-optic cable; existing HFC and copper networks re-purposed and upgraded; 2,200 fixed wireless towers built; two satellites launched.

We are investing $49 billion of taxpayers’ capital to fundamentally transform the way Australians get fixed broadband.

In the last four years the pace of the rollout has really picked up. In just the last 12 months close to 3 million premises have been made ready to connect.

Of course there is more to do - but with the latest NBN Corporate Plan being released, it is timely to reflect on where we have come to.

Until quite recently the NBN was a theoretical possibility for most Australians. Today it is a large-scale operational network used by millions and adding customers at the rate of 125,000 a month.

This only happened because our Liberal National Government came up with a practical plan - and executed consistently on that plan.

If we had stuck with the fundamentally unworkable concept we inherited in 2013, it would have meant a continuation of the abysmal rollout performance seen until then.

Just this week we have been reminded of the disconnect from reality that pervaded the NBN under Labor - with a claim from NBN’s first CEO that Labor’s plan would have delivered a faster network and spent less taxpayers’ capital. 

The fact is that Labor never understood the massive scale and the execution challenges of what they promised. 

This is perfectly obvious from looking at the Corporate Plans NBN Co issued in the Labor years. They were not realistic - and they were never delivered on.  Every rollout target they set was missed - often by huge margins.

Reverting to Labor’s network design would have cost an additional $30bn and taken years longer to complete.

That is why we changed the network design to use a mix of fibre technologies including fibre to the premises, fibre to the curb, fibre to the node and hybrid fibre coax.

Using this mix of technologies is very much in line with the approach being used in many countries around the world including the UK, much of Europe and the US.

It has let us roll out broadband all across this massive country as quickly as possible - while keeping prices considerably affordable than if an additional $30 billion of taxpayers’ capital had to be recovered through prices charged to users. 

The latest Corporate Plan is the next iteration of our practical, delivery-focussed approach to the NBN.

With satellite and fixed wireless we are delivering fast broadband to regional and remote Australia, offering a range of peak speeds, up to 50 megabit per second (Mbps) on Fixed Wireless and up to 25 Mbps on Satellite.

That means wherever you are across the 7.7 million square kilometres of our continent-sized country, you can get high speed broadband.

The benefits for distance education, for health, for doing business and for staying connected - no matter how remote your location - are immense.

Yet as well as being a huge country we are also a highly urbanised country - which is why the NBN is designed to connect over 10 million Australian premises to fixed line broadband.

On the fixed line network 90 per cent of premises will be able to receive at least 50 Mbps; and after the rollout is completed around half will be served by technology capable of 1,000 Mpbs or more.

And the Corporate Plan signals some important directions for the future - such as the upgrade paths for key technologies in the network so that if broadband usage continues to rise as we expect, the NBN can respond.

In 2013, we inherited a mess with the NBN.  There are some design decisions which should never have been taken - and which we have been unable to reverse.

But through methodical planning and disciplined execution, we are steadily turning the NBN into a critical national asset which is making a difference in the lives of millions of Australians - and in turn delivering growing economic and social benefits.

NBN’s latest Corporate Plan is the next milestone on this journey.

 

Paul Fletcher is Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts in the Morrison Government.

Originally published in the Daily Telegraph, August 30 2019