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Australia's coalition reveals bits of broadband plan

Turnbull as fiscal conservatism beats Turnbull as philosopher prince

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Australia's shadow communications Malcolm Turnbull releases an alternative plan for the nation's national broadband network (NBN) today, an important moment in the network's evolution given the coalition Turnbull represents is likely to win government in September.

IT media haven't been told where or when, in what seems to be deliberate strategy to avoid technical questions.

What we know so far, based on other reports such as the Australian Financial Review's and ABC Radio AM's , is that Turnbull wants an NBN largely comprised of fibre to the node in brownfield sites, with an option of user-pays for fibre. Greenfields get fibre to the premises, as it is not much more expensive to do so than install copper. 70 per cent will get 25Mbps connections by 2016, which sounds an awful like lot ADSL2+. Satellite and fixed wireless stay. And the NBN will focus on broadband blackspots, ensuring that by 2016 just about everyone can get 25Mbps. Telstra and Optus' hybrid fibre coax (HFC) networks will be counted in the footprint of those with 25Mbps access, a big change as current NBN plans call for NBN Co to acquire and decommission those netowkrs.

Turnbull's costs suggest the total cost of the coalition NBN will therefore be $AUD29.4bn, rather less than the government's $44.1bn. Turnbull thinks he can finish the job by 2019, compared to 2021 for the government.

We'll bring you details of the plan once officially announced.

Your correspondent's first reaction to the plan is that it signals a triumph of pragmatism over optimism.

Turnbull comes across as something of a philosopher prince. He often seems to be the best-read, best-informed, shadow minister imaginable. His credentials as shadow communications minister derive, in part, from the philosopher prince's act of being an early investor in OzEmail, an act he often mentions to re-enforce his understanding of the communications industry. That investment can also be seen as the act of an adventurous optimist, an attitude that, I believe, explains much of Turnbull's popularity.

But Turnbull is also adept at playing low politics. His performance at an NBN committee hearing in Sydney last year, at which he used a scare attack about the legal niceties of satellite orbits and then verballed NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley's response is one example of Turnbull in uncompromising attack mode. Yesterday's “Australia is one of the OECD's most expensive companies for telephony” was another, as Australia is 17th on the OECD's price lists.

The “third Turnbull” we often see is that of the fiscal conservative, appalled by NBN Co largesse and concerned for the fate of every last cent of government spending.

Turnbull the fiscal conservative seems to have won out in the design of his NBN plan. That's no bad thing, as some aspects of the current NBN plan – notably the acquisition and dumping of HFC networks and an implementation plan that strands areas currently ill-served by broadband – clearly deserve revision.

But with Turnbull the philosopher prince is nowhere to be seen, it's hard not to wonder if the backer of OzEmail has regrets at what the nation may miss by deciding not to make a big, bold, bet. ®

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