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Luke Grant on 2GB Interview

E & OE

Subjects: NBN

GRANT:

Well, the NBN is being put under the spotlight again today after a leaked internal progress report revealed significant delays and massive budget blowouts. The document reveals NBN Co has met less than a third of its internal rollout target. Now of course in 2013, the now Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, as Communications Minister or Shadow at that point, directed NBN Co to switch from Fibre to the Premises technology to the copper technology otherwise known as FTTN, fibre to the node. So the new technology will deliver great speeds to the node and the existing infrastructure would then take it to the house. And we've since seen a major rise in cost we're told from $29.5 billion to $56 billion. There's a lot of frustration we're also hearing today, particularly from people in rural areas around the time it's taking to roll out the NBN and no doubt this report is only going to anger people further. It's front page of the Sydney Morning Herald and I notice through the morning the Shadow Minister Jason Clare has been cashing in on this saying that the Prime Minister was a failed Communications Minister and that nothing's changed, makes him a failed Prime Minister. I'm not sure that the Senator who is the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield would agree with that. He joins me on the line, Minister good to talk to you.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Luke.

GRANT:

So just in relation to these targets and in fact this leaked report, to put it all in context. Is it a fair representation of where things are now or have the Herald got it wrong here? And therefore Jason Clare's got it wrong here?

FIFIELD:

Well the Herald Luke didn't make contact with me or anyone in the Government to get our perspective. They have relied on a document, and I don't want to speak specifically to the document, whether it's leaked or otherwise, I don't want to give credibility to people who pedal documents. But the good news is that the NBN is on track. We have about 1.8 million premises who can avail themselves of the NBN at the moment. There are about 820,000 people who are subscribers to the network. We are on track to have, this financial year, a total of 2.6 million homes ready for service. And we're on track, this financial year, to have about one million people who will be accessing the service. So that is the good news. But I've got to tell you, something that is frustrating me no end is the view the Labor Party is putting that the NBN under them was somehow the National Nirvana Network. That everything was fantastic. The truth is that under Labor there was only 51,000 subscribers to the NBN. We've got that now up to 820,000 subscribers. And we're going to deliver the NBN six to eight years sooner than Labor would have and at $30 billion less cost. And I think that's a good story.

GRANT:

Well that is, but the allegation or the suggestion that the price has gone from $29.5 billion to $56 billion. Is that true?

FIFIELD:

In the corporate plan of the NBN, the latest peak funding figure is $49 billion. That's what NBN as an organisation expect will be the peak funding. Important to point out that the federal government equity is limited, it's capped, to $29.5 billion. Which is something that you don't often hear Jason Clare say. NBN have done what's called a counter-factual where they look at what would be the cost of delivering the NBN going full fibre. The way that the Labor Party want to. And what that exercise has shown is that if they went full fibre, the way Labor wants, it would cost $30 billion more and take six to eight years longer to deliver. We want to get the NBN to Australians as fast as possible, and at lowest cost. So our objective is to have the NBN completed by 2020.

GRANT:

How significant, and again the Shadow Minister makes the claim that the cost of fixing the old copper network to make it work has blown out by 1000%. I think many of us thought when we understood what Malcolm Turnbull then took to the people that using fibre to the node, and then copper, was cheaper and would make it happen quicker. But is that true? Or are we finding as we install this that the cost of that old copper network and repairing it has blown out by 1000% It sounds like an awful lot of money.

FIFIELD:

It's just not true. All of the variables have been taken into account in the NBN's latest corporate plan. So there's nothing that's been discovered that hasn't been taken account of in the corporate plan. Something interesting I think for your listeners Luke, that the former government did, was they paid Telstra $9 billion and Optus $800 million to get them to shut down their networks. To get them to actually shut down their networks. Without paying an extra dollar, we have the option of using their networks, and I'm particularly speaking of the HFC, what people know as Pay TV cables. That allows us to use the technology that's already there to get the NBN out to people sooner. Now Labor are forever saying "oh gee we paid $9 billion to Telstra for lousy HFC and $800 million to Optus". No we didn't pay that money. They did. They wanted to pay that money for nothing. Without paying an extra dollar, we have access to that. And access to the HFC network is one of the reasons why we'll be able to roll out the NBN a lot faster than Labor would.

GRANT:

So in simple terms, and this is what is important I think to people listening: how much earlier will they have fast broadband, how much sooner will they have fast broadband than would they if the Labor Party were still in power and it was still fibre to the premises.

FIFIELD:

Six to eight years sooner, people will have the NBN, as a result of the Malcolm Turnbull plan compared to the Stephen Conroy plan. A question I sometimes like to pose is "what program would you have more confidence in: one that'd been conceived of by Stephen Conroy, or one that had been conceived of by Malcolm Turnbull?" Most people – this won't surprise you – say they have more confidence in the one Malcolm Turnbull devised. And that's what we've done. We've essentially said look, we're technology agnostic. Whatever the technology is that will get the NBN out to people sooner, well that's what should happen. Sooner and at less cost. Stephen Conroy took a theological approach rather than a technological approach. Malcolm Turnbull did some fantastic work in unthinking that, and bringing some order to bear in the NBN.

GRANT:

The other thing too, I think was done, organised, or at least planned on the back of an envelope we hear in an airplane. At the end of the day the other thing here, before I let you go, is the changing technologies, and what has always had me question the suitability of the Labor Plan is as we move forward we learn almost each week of a new way of doing things, so to have that massive bill requiring all that extra infrastructure knowing that technology is likely to get better, truly we would've been spending a lot on what might've ended up being redundant pretty quickly. And is that happening as you build the NBN? Are there new technologies that perhaps Malcolm Turnbull didn't even think about that you're now contemplating using?

FIFIELD:

Well you learn as you go in a build like this. You don't want to start a build like this thinking you know all the technology will ever be. And there are certainly new applications of technology that are being discovered. There are new applications which can actually help the different rollout modes improve – whether it be fixed wireless, whether it be HFC or Fibre to the Node. So we're learning. And if there's a way of doing things better. Then that's what the NBN is going to do.

GRANT:

Alright, good to talk Mitch, take care.

FIFIELD:

Terrific, thanks Luke.

Media contact: Justine Sywak | 0448 448 487 | Justine.Sywak [at] communications.gov.au