The Coalition’s botched rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) has come at a staggering cost to taxpayers and the nation, leading telecommunications experts have warned before Saturday’s federal poll.
The problem-plagued mixed-technology network is yet to be completed, and is running over budget at $51 billion.
The Coalition scuttled Labor’s original plan for a network with 93 per cent fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) coverage, instead rolling out an assortment of technologies of varying quality.
Earlier this month, explosive new research revealed about half of all homes in Australia’s three biggest cities will be connected to the NBN via the oldest and most controversial of the hotchpotch of technologies available – hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC).
- Read more: ‘We have been cheated’: Australia’s biggest cities dudded with inferior NBN, research shows
“For people in these residences, access to the so-called ‘fibre network’ remains only a fairytale,” the researchers said.
The nation has been “betrayed,” said University of Sydney urban infrastructure expert Tooran Alizadeh, the study’s lead author.
“For me the NBN has always been a nation-building platform, a national infrastructure project that we can not afford to miss,” Dr Alizadeh said.
“We don’t have the option of putting it in the too-hard basket, and that’s what happening now.”
RMIT University telecommunications expert Mark Gregory savaged the Coalition government for its failure to address the ongoing issues with the NBN.
“The NBN is obsolete. On simple evidence it’s not able to meet the demands of Australians today, let alone in 10, 20 and 30 years, and we’ve spent $51 billion on it,” he said.
The patchwork network has taken longer, and cost $5 billion more than the $46 billion majority FTTP network originally proposed by Labor, Dr Gregory said.
The NBN is the perfect example of a national infrastructure disaster,” he said.
“When you look at the amount of money that’s been put into it and what it has provided, it couldn’t get much worse.”
Returning the NBN to a majority FTTP network would cost between $12 billion to $16 billion, he said.
Where the major parties stand on the NBN
The Coalition has continued to defend the quality of the NBN, despite questions around its mixed-technology model.
The party “seems to be in denial” about the state of the network, Dr Alizadeh said.
Dr Gregory was equally scathing.
“They don’t have a policy. They haven’t acknowledged the issues that are occurring and they said the NBN would be finished originally this year, then next year, then 2022,” he said.
“They’ve had six years [in government], so you would expect some sort of guidance or plan to be made available, and there isn’t anything.”
Labor has proposed a five-step plan to “improve the NBN”.
The plan includes a review of the economics and technological mix of the network, “targeted” upgrades of fibre “in the medium term”, connecting more low-income and elderly households, improving speeds and reliability for FTTN, and better protections for consumers and small businesses against “excessive downtime”.
“At least there is a plan,” Dr Gregory said.
“If you look at what they’ve proposed, the first four immediate actions are quite reasonable in that they’re targeting very negative aspects of the NBN.
“The last one is looking at the underlying business model that’s been detrimentally affected by the interruption of the multi-technology mix, and whether there is a way to provide a better outcome.”
Dr Alizadeh said she hopes Labor, if elected, will conduct a thorough review of the network and release a more detailed plain for its future.
“But let’s be honest, based on what they have announced it sounds like the review will address some of the issues with the NBN, not all of it,” she said.
Both Dr Alizadeh and Dr Gregory called for greater transparency around the NBN’s “footprint” – exactly how many homes and businesses are connected using which type of technology and where.