So, let's take a closer look at the Coalition's Fairy Story about Broadband, otherwise known as its 'Broadband and Telecommunications Policy
Yes, I know, there will be those among you that support the Coalition who will say that I am being unfair to the Coalition and its policy from the outset by calling it a 'Fairy Tale'. Not so. I merely want to let their the policy speak for itself. Let's go to this statement: “The Coalition's plan will deliver a uniform national broadband network.”
A fine motherhood statement with which no one could disagree. Except, if you think about it, and then think about the mish-mash of modalities that the Coalition states it wants to employ to achieve this 'uniform national broadband network', being HFC, DSL and Fixed Wireless, well, good luck with achieving that uniformity, I say.
The policy then quickly moves on to this aspirational goal: “...under which 97% of premises are able to be served by high speed networks capable of delivering from 100mbps down (my bold) to a minimum of 12 Mbps peak speed, using a combination of technologies...”
Now, hold on a minute there. This is where the Coalition's policy and Labor's becomes widely and wildly divergent, and it's only the second paragraph of its policy doc!
Firstly, the aspiration is for a maximum peak speed of only 100Mbps, compared to the ALP's 1Gigabit per second! Secondly, it's all downhill from there for the Coalition's aspirations for your broadband experience. All the way down to 12Mbps. Not only that but the advocacy of Copper line-powered HFC and Pair Gain technology by Malcolm Turnbull is a crock, and means that your downloads might come in at that speed, but your uploads will never travel that fast. As this ZDNet article eloquently explains
So, no e-Health for you, Mrs Kafoops, in Outer Anywhere, Australia. Which, by the way, is just one of the potential uses for fast uploads of data.
“Let's turn it upside down. Let's add it up.” Malcolm Turnbull, November, 2010.
So, let's do that for the Coalition's Broadband policy.
Firstly, based upon the assumption, as demonstrated by the Opposition in Question Time, that the Coalition does not like unsightly cables being strung from ‘telegraph pole to telegraph pole’; also, considering this in concert with its Energy policy, which advocates for all Power Lines in Australia to be 'Undergrounded', we can draw the simple conclusion that the budget for the Coalition's Broadband and Telecommunications policy, which would by necessity be incorporated with and added to the budget for its Energy policy, would without a shadow of a doubt smash the estimates for the cost of the NBN.
The estimate mentioned 14 years ago for power undergrounding, in a paper prepared for the Parliamentary Library of Australia
for John Howard, was a 'conservative' figure of $50 billion!
Thus, I think you could safely say that that figure would now be closer to $75 billion. Also, the party of Private Enterprise and the individual-level Contractor and Sub-Contractor, would no doubt have to subsidise the concomitant roll-out of underground power and cable (that is, if they wish to remain true to written down, therefore 'gospel' official Liberal Party policies). Which would be going to areas that don't already have good enough broadband coverage, or, indeed, underground power (which, as you can see from the ZDNet article is quite a large swathe of Australia), so as to achieve the stated aim of broadband service to 97% of Australia. This subsidy would have to occur because Private Contractors are not charities, and would not want to put in the infrastructure to areas they consider incapable of providing a sufficient return on their investment: areas which begin in the Regions beyond the Capital Cities and go from there into the Rural and Outback areas of Australia.
I can see this method of having to pay for the bulk of the broadband roll out from the national Budget, as the eventual outcome. The only other alternative is for the Internet infrastructure suppliers/retailers to incorporate their costs into the charges they ultimately impose on their customers, and also use their limited shareholder funds to supply the service, on behalf of the Coalition – which is what the Coalition proposes. However, I can't see how these costs would not end up being considerable, and beyond the private sector's means, for those areas/customers outside of the most profitable markets.
The Coalition's policy document speaks about imposing a 'price cap' for internet services. Which leads me to ask myself: 'Where is the money going to come from then to cover the ISP's costs to supply services to unprofitable areas, which are above the putative Coalition government-imposed 'price cap'?' I suppose at least this part of the policy acknowledges the fact that the 'real' cost of the service would end up being politically 'toxic' for the Coalition if they allowed it to flow through to the consumer. So a hit to the national purse, with cutbacks imposed in other areas, in order to cover up uncomfortable realities, would instead be favoured and is usually favoured by weak-kneed neo-liberal political parties unwilling to make their stated ideology a manifest reality, especially when it concerns a direct hit to the hip-pocket nerve of the electorate.
Costs which don't even factor in extra charges to the consumer to provide the Internet into premises at the speeds promised, as the Coalition policy does not advocate for Fibre To The Home (FTTH), but Fibre To The Node (FTTN). I think it gets around this contradiction between the publically enunciated policy of FTTN by stating on page 15 of the policy document an aspiration to eventually have FTTH, as and when private suppliers and their shareholders decide that the time is right to allow it for their customers! Just don't hold your breath waiting for that day! On page 16 it says it wants this done by 30 June, 2014. I think that sounds ambitious, especially if you are relying on private sector companies and their shareholders to OK funds for the massive undertakings that would be necessary to satisfy the Coalition's 97% aspirational broadband coverage goal.
However I think I have found the nigger in the woodpile that would be the Coalition's 'get out clause': “We believe the right way forward to high speed broadband is through the operation of the market, stimulated by the initiatives set out in this policy document. Government's role should be that of addressing instances where private investment fails to deliver, not to replace the private sector with public monopolies. To ensure it does address those failures, government should use taxpayers' money wisely and in a carefully-targeted way – not put it recklessly at risk.”
In other words, the Coalition plans to make a show of private sector construction of its broadband network, but the bulk of the funding will also come from government, if it's to be brought in within the stated time frame, not subject to the whims of shareholder and board approval and the time lines. So, you could say that what the Coalition policy boils down to is public funding of the private sector, in the main. Hmm. So, fine sounding words in the public domain, but in their quieter moments, in the policy documents, the Coalition spells out the truth. That is, a Coalition government would provide a substantial amount of the necessary funds, just like the ALP government is now. The only difference is the Coalition would carve out a slice for the private sector to fund its works, using already existing private infrastructure, in order to save some money while the broadband network is being constructed, but ending up with a second-rate network, as opposed to the ALP completely funding it, then selling it to the private sector after a state-of-the-art network has been constructed. The motto of the story being: 'You get what you pay for.'
I'd also like to take this opportunity to look at a technical aspect of co-locating power lines and fibre-optic or copper broadband cables underground, if that truly is the intention of the Coalition. Otherwise there would just have to be more 'unsightly' cables strung between telegraph poles, would there not? And that would make the Coalition hypocrites, would it not, for complaining about the ALP's NBN cable roll out on those same power poles?
Thus, “A major issue is safety. Traditionally telephone cables are sunk at relatively shallow depths, and high voltage power lines are sunk much deeper. Currently different cables are also buried on different alignments in a street, and the organisations which dig up streets and footpaths from time to time (Oh no! What about the 'Nature Strips'!?!) are familiar with these conventions. If high and low voltage cables were encased in a common conduit or tunnel, the risks of fatal accident would be much greater.
“A second and less alarming objection is of a technical nature: that arcing and other problems could occur between the two types of cable. Particularly strong sheathing might offset some of these difficulties, but only at considerably increased cost.”
That excerpt, except for my mid-paragraph intervention, was from the Australian Parliamentary Library document linked to above, and just goes to show, yet again, the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of the Coalition's argument about the ALP's Broadband policy cost and its modality of construction. That is, the Coalition policy would cost more, be just as disruptive to people's nature strips, and probably end up being strung from telegraph pole to telegraph pole too, as to put it under the ground with the underground power would be prohibitively expensive and technically tricky and also expensive to find a satisfactory way out of. Now, as the Coalition seem to be allergic to the concept of Public Debt to fund national infrastructure, unless it can be paid for out of a Surplus Budget, then I can't see its utopian policy ideal ever becoming reality, either within its stated time frame, or ever, really, because of how much it would cost. The Private sector would also have trouble raising money in the current global economic climate. In other words, the Coalition's Telecommunications and Broadband policy just doesn't survive scrutiny when, “You turn it upside down. When you add it up”
, it's a Fairy Story to be retailed to the gullible 'mob'.
What do you think?