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Gloves off on Australia's NBN: Turnbull articulates policy

Clarity at last, we think

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Telecommunications policy-watchers in Australia have a clear articulation of the federal opposition’s position and plans, after communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull addressed a Sydney conference on Wednesday.

While part of the policy – to "demolish" the government's National Broadband Network (NBN), or at very least to oppose it at every step – has been evident, Turnbull has long fielded complaints that he offered no alternatives. Addressing the CommsDay Summit, Turnbull put those alternatives on the table.

In his speech, Turnbull broadened the opposition’s call for a cost-benefit analysis. Instead of merely briefing a cost-benefit analysis into the NBN, as has long been the call, the opposition would get the Productivity Commission to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to: “identify what is the most cost-effective way, given the facts on the ground or in the ground, to delivering fast broadband to all Australians.”

The Liberal Party would support the wholesale-retail separation of Telstra, which Turnbull said should have been “done years ago,” and would encourage facilities-based competition.

"If someone wants to roll out a fibre ring to service a densely settled residential area ... why would you prevent that from occurring?" he said. That also stretches to the Telstra-Optus metro cable broadband duopoly: "Insofar as it is possible, we would endeavour to liberate the HFC networks so they were able to compete," he said.*

Turnbull said the structure of the NBN legislation will make reversing the NBN very difficult. He described the legislation, and the industry structure it creates, as a Gordian knot of contract and regulation and legislation "that will be very hard to unpick". ®

Bootnote

* This, perhaps, needs explanation to non-Australians: Telstra and Optus both operate HFC networks, and both offer broadband services on them, but negotiations are in hand for those customers to migrate to the NBN fibre, after which time the carriers would not offer broadband on their HFC networks. It should also be noted that HFC competition is very limited, since third-party ISPs have no access to those networks.

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