Federal Labor to boost NBN fibre, retain public ownership

James Riley
Editorial Director

Federal Labor will tip an additional $2.4 billion to expand full-fibre NBN access to an extra 1.5 million homes across Australia if it wins government and has committed to keeping the NBNCo in public ownership.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese is expected to release details of the opposition broadband election plan with shadow communications spokesperson Michelle Rowland on Wednesday.

The opposition says a key element of its central Future Made in Australia policy is a reliable, high speed National Broadband Network that will enable and underpin digital-industrial opportunities for the nation.

Connectivity: Outer suburbs and and regions will benefit

With the reliance on reliable, fast connections for school and work being underlined by the impact of the pandemic, it was in the public interest to retain ownership of the NBNCo.

“For now, there is a repair job that needs to be done and keeping the NBN in public ownership provides NBNCo with the certainty it needs to pursue that job,” the Labor position paper says.

“Fundamentally, this is about powering our digital future, improving quality of life and making connectivity a competitive advantage for Australians.”

“Mindlessly privatising the NBN would pose risks to consumers, regional Australia, and indeed to taxpayers. This is the Liberal plan – not the Labor plan.”

Mr Albanese will say that under Labor, 90 per cent of Australians in the fixed-line footprint – more than 10 million premises – would have access to gigabit speeds by 2025. The $2.4 billion additional investment to make this happen would be consistent with the accounting treatment of NBNCo, and funded through a combination of commonwealth loans, free cash flows and equity if determined appropriate.

Labor says its plan would run fibre into the street and give people who currently rely on copper wire connections the choice of getting fibre connected into their home if they need faster speeds than NBN copper can’t deliver.

The people and properties most affected by the copper issues are generally in outer metropolitan and regional areas. Labor says that 660,000 premises in the regions would benefit from the plan, and 840,000 in the suburbs.

Industry consultant Paul Budde says “the opposition has bitten the bullet” and clearly articulated that retaining public ownership of the NBNCo was a matter of public interest.

“The NBN is a national utility and the current pandemic is showing how important the digital economy and services such e-health and tele-education are for our society. They will keep the NBN in public hands for as long as it is in the public interest,” Mr Budde said.

But the Labor is not revolutionary, he said, and is instead a continuation of the “muddling on process,” not dramatically different from the increased NBN investment that the government has been making since it “backflipped and started to upgrade FttN connections to full fibre.”

“The $2.4 billion that [Labor] are putting on the table for it is in line with the sort of ongoing extra investments the government had to make over the last decade – amounting to $28 billion – so the extra $2.4 billion is not outside the ordinary,” Mr Budde said.

Labor said its plan would create 12,000 jobs for construction workers, engineers and project managers, in our regions and in our suburbs.

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