Opposition softens stance on NBN following Telstra, Optus deals

The Coalition would only seek to change the mix of fibre, wireless and satellite technologies the NBN Co uses on taking power

Shadow Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull

Shadow Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull

The Federal Opposition has dramatically softened its stance on the National Broadband Network following the signing of definitive agreements by Optus and Telstra with the NBN Co.

According to opposition communications spokesperson, Malcolm Turnbull, the Coalition would now merely seek to change the mix of fibre, wireless and satellite technologies the NBN Co uses.

“Well, I don’t think we want to unwind in the sense of go back to ground zero… There’s no question of anything being destroyed or ripped up or terminated or anything like that,” Turnbull told ABC radio.

“I imagine that a lot of the infrastructure that will have been built by the time of the next election, you know, will have a value but it will be a lesser value than its cost.

“But what we’ll endeavour to do is ensure that going forward the NBN is constructed in a way that ensures that consumers get fast broadband everywhere regardless of where they live using a mix of technologies that best suit the particular locations.”

The comments follow a period of significant softening in the Opposition’s stance on the NBN in September Turnbull was posted to the communications portfolio with the remit to “demolish the NBN.

“[Demolishing the NBN] is going to be the absolute focus of the battle over the next 18 months or so,” Abbott said in September on Turnbull’s appointment.

“The Government is going to invest $43 billion worth of hard earned money in what I believe will turn out to be a White Elephant on a massive scale and I can’t think of anyone better than Malcolm Turnbull given his experience in telecommunications and in business to hold the Government ferociously account in this area.”

Just this month Abbott said the Opposition would seek legal advice for the proposal to cancel NBN Co vendor contracts upon taking power.

“Well, we’d have to look at exactly what the contracts entailed. We’d have to take legal advice, obviously,” Abbott said in early June. “But even if that money turned out to be wasted it would be this government’s fault not ours and, as I say, you don’t throw good money after bad…”

Turnbull's latest comments were immediately ridiculed by the Federal Government and Greens with Greens communications spokesperson, Scott Ludlum, claiming that the Opposition had been "hysterically predicting doomsday scenarios for the sector" for the last year.

“Today we heard the Opposition communications spokesperson claimed that if elected, the Coalition will leave those parts of the NBN already existing intact, but that the remainder of the network would be a hodgepodge of Fibre to the Node (FTTN), wireless and Fibre to the Premises – a flawed model which was roundly rejected in the 2010 election campaign. This suggestion has nothing to do with communications reform,” he said in a statement.

Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said the government expected the Opposition to go to th enext election with a promise of "destroying the NBN".

"I anticipate the Opposition will go to the next election promising to dig the cables out of the ground," she said. "Our determination is to build the project, you can talk to Tony Abbott about destroying the project."

Telstra today, after two years of protracted negotiations with the Federal Government and the NBN Co, announced that it had definitive agreements on the structural separation of Telstra and the use of its network assets in the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Singtel (ASX: SGT) subsidiary, Optus, also announced it had reached an $800m agreement with the NBN Co for the migration of its hybrid coaxial cable (HFC) customers to the NBN.

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @Tlohman Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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