The government will upgrade half of Australia’s fibre-to-the-node NBN network to full fibre as part of a $3 billion plan to make faster internet more widely available, in what former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd labelled a “mega backflip”.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher announced the new plan on Wednesday, which is a significant shift from the Coalition’s emphasis on a mixed-technology approach to the NBN.
The Opposition was quick to pounce, claiming vindication for its original fibre plan for the NBN and slamming government for “blatant mistruths” over the last seven years.
The overall $4.5 billion package to increase the availability of “ultra-fast broadband” will be funded through NBN Co borrowing from private debt markets, and according to the government will create up to 25,000 jobs.
The plan will give eight million Australian homes access to broadband speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. The high-speed option will be available to premises “on-demand”, and will be in place in up to 75 percent of homes and businesses by 2023.
“The 2013 decision by the Coalition to roll out the NBN quickly, then phase upgrades around emerging demand, has served Australia well. It meant the NBN was available to almost all Australians when COVID-19 hit, giving us high speed home connectivity when we needed it most,” Mr Fletcher said.
“And it means NBN Co is now well placed to invest in Australia’s broadband infrastructure to meet Australians’ growing appetite for faster speeds.”
Fibre lead-ins to households will be deployed on-demand to house lands requiring quicker internet, a similar approach to that adopted in New Zealand.
Three billion dollars of the funding package will be going towards these constructions and infrastructure efforts, while $700 million will make business-grade fibre services “more affordable and accessible to more businesses”, and $300 million of co-investment funding for NBN Co to partner with governments and councils to improve the network in regional Australia.
“This is the right time for this network upgrade. There is a long term trend of broadband demand growth – with a very significant spike this year as COVID-19 has changed the way we use the internet,” Mr Fletcher
“This is a major infrastructure investment which will bring immediate demand stimulation, with some 25,000 new jobs over the next two years.”
The announcement “vindicates that not only was Labor’s original fibre plan better – but it was cheaper too”, shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland said.
“Australian households and businesses will have to endure a second NBN migration, and taxpayers will unnecessarily cop billions for duplicating the cost and time of the rollout,” Ms Rowland said.
“The course has finally been corrected and that is welcome, but these unnecessary costs and disruptions would have been avoided under Labor’s original plan. For Minister Fletcher to claim these upgrades are possible because of the financial performance of the NBN is nothing short of an insult to the intelligence of the Australian public.”
On Twitter, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd labelled the move a “mega backflip”.
“For seven years they’ve botched my government’s 2009 plan for fibre to the premises, instead wasting billions with fibre to the mythical ‘node’, giving us the worst speeds in the world. Now this! What total policy frauds,” Mr Rudd said.