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Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

ABC AM with Michael Brissenden

16 October 2015

Subjects: nbn three year rollout plan; media reform

BRISSENDEN:

The National Broadband Network is this morning releasing an ambitious three year construction plan to either start work on or have connected more than nine million homes and businesses to high-speed internet by September 2016. The schedule includes detail on which technology each area will get and a timeframe for the rollout so most Australians can see when construction work will reach their neighbourhood. The bulk of the work will be carried out in New South Wales and Victoria. Communications Minister Senator Mitch Fifield is with us now in our Canberra studio, Mitch Fifield good morning.

FIFIELD:

Good morning Michael.

BRISSENDEN:

You've admitted the schedule is ambitious. Australians are used to worker shortages blowing out construction work. Is it achievable?

FIFIELD:

It is achievable. The nbn management and board are confident that the rollout timetable of 2020 for the nbn can be reached and they're also confident that over the next three years they can build to ensure that 7.5 million premises have the access to the nbn which will be in addition to the 1.3 million who currently do, and the 700,000 that are currently under construction.

BRISSENDEN:

So Australians can hold you to these timelines because the bulk of the work of course is due after the next election. A political fix to get you re-elected?

FIFIELD:

Certainly not. What you're seeing with this rollout schedule is the benefits of the approach that Malcolm Turnbull put in place, and the nbn board. That is a multi-technology mix approach. We are not focussed, we are not fixated with a single technology type. The instructions to the nbn are to rollout the nbn as fast as fast as possible and as affordably as possible. The multi-technology mix enables that and one of the key reasons why we can really ramp up the nbn is because we're including HFC TV cables. And this three year rollout program for the first time details when and where the HFC network will be upgraded so that people can access nbn faster. And I've got to say, under our approach compared to Stephen

Conroy's, Australians will access nbn six to eight years sooner than they would have under his plan, and at 20 to 30 billion dollars less cost.

BRISSENDEN:

Ok but some of the technologies you've been talking about are pretty old, for example, copper cables. Have you factored in the likely condition of the copper cables you are relying on for these timeframes? Because Labor claims in some areas copper has needed to be fixed or replaced and this has slowed down the work.

FIFIELD:

All of the relevant technological considerations are factored into nbn's three year rollout plan. If we had followed what Stephen Conroy wanted to do, people would be waiting and waiting and waiting to get the nbn. We have an achievable plan…

BRISSENDEN:

…would they have been waiting for a better service?

FIFIELD:

Well what we're doing is providing technology that will be appropriate, that can get to people sooner, and what we're talking about are still very fast broadband speeds.

BRISSENDEN:

But not as fast presumably as full fibre optic cable?

FIFIELD:

Well, HFC, you're talking 50 to 100 megabits per second – these are fast speeds.

BRISSENDEN:

The Shadow Minister for Communications, Jason Clare, has indicated Labor will increase the number of homes connected using the fibre optic cable if they win the next election. So they'll effectively go back to what they were doing, saying fibre to the node will be gone. Does this announcement, and once you get this thing rolling underway, does this effectively lock them into sticking with your plan regardless?

FIFIELD:

Jason Clare's announcement the day before yesterday was very interesting. He told us everything you need to know about Labor's plan other than: when they're going to do it, how they're going to do it, and how they're going to pay for it. Other than that, it's a perfect plan. Look, I pose this simple question, would you have more confidence in a program that was auspiced under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull as Minister, or would you have more confidence in a plan which is really being driven by Stephen Conroy? Jason Clare, good guy, we all like him, but everyone knows that Stephen Conroy's really the person driving Labor's nbn policy.

BRISSENDEN:

I guess the argument about this has always been about the quality of the infrastructure we're putting in and how it's going to meet our demands in the longer term. Now, clearly there are some countries with fibre optic cabling everywhere and their capacity is going to be much better than ours in the future.

FIFIELD:

Well, there are many first world countries, European countries, who are also doing exactly what we're doing – using that which is there. Using the infrastructure which is available. Using the infrastructure which is fit for purpose, things like HFC. So what we're doing is not unusual or unique and it will provide the speeds that people need.

BRISSENDEN:

Can I just turn to another area of your portfolio which is media and media reform. Now you've conceded that media laws are outdated, I think everyone accepts that. You've met with some of the media bosses this week, are you inclined to remove the reach rule? It's the rule, for people who don't know, that stops the networks merging with regional broadcasters.

FIFIELD:

This is a fascinating area. You're interested in it. I'm interested in it. There's about half a dozen other people in the nation who are interested in it and who understand it. But it's still an important area and clearly technology is outstripping our media laws and what will ultimately determine the shape of our media landscape is technology and the way that consumers want to use technology. The way that consumers want to access their media. So in the end, our media laws will be redundant.

BRISSENDEN:

But it's a big decision for you isn't it, whichever way you go now?

FIFIELD:

They do need to be changed and what I'm putting a premium on is talking to the main players, also talking to my Parliamentary colleagues and I'll be getting round the crossbench as well, to see if we can reach a consensus. There may not be unanimity throughout the media sector but I think…

BRISSENDEN:

…I think we can guarantee that there won't be.

FIFIELD:

…that's right. But I think we're capable of achieving broad consensus. There will need to be change.

BRISSENDEN:

And is the reach rule one of those things that will change?

FIFIELD:

That's one of the things which is in discussion.

BRISSENDEN:

Ok, Senator Mitch Fifield, thanks very much for joining us.

FIFIELD:

Thanks Michael.

Media contact:

Evan Mulholland | 0405 140 780 | Evan.mulholland@communications.gov.au

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