Monday, April 22, 2013

Toss-up: NBN plans

Weighing up the options: Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

Weighing up the options: Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. Photo: Wayne Taylor/Angus Mordant

Both parties intend to overhaul Australia's broadband infrastructure, but the national broadband network will be scaled back if the Coalition wins the election.

Labor's current NBN plan involves running fibre optic cable to 93 per cent of Australian homes, with the rest served by wireless and satellite. The first phase of the rollout is underway, but is behind schedule and the entire network won't be completed until at least 2021.

The Coalition wants to roll out the NBN sooner and save money by only connecting 22 per cent of homes to fibre, with most of the rest relying on their copper phone line to connect to an NBN node at the end of the street. It won't rip out existing fibre and will still deploy fibre to the home in new estates and other "high demand" areas. It promises 25 Mbps for all Australian homes by 2016, and 50 Mbps for most by 2019.

Labor's fibre to the home plan can deliver 100 Mbps speeds to all homes on the fibre, with 40 Mbps upload speeds, although customers can save money by opting for cheaper 50 or 25 Mbps plans. Speeds over the Coalition's fibre to the node will range from 25 Mbps to 100 Mbps, depending on the condition of your copper phone line and your distance from the node. The Coalition's proposal doesn't mention upload speeds, which are also at the mercy of the copper. Homes that want the extra speed and reliability of a fibre can pay several thousand dollars to run fibre optic cable all the way to their home.

The verdict

It's hard to trust either party's NBN costings, but the Coalition's fibre to the node plan seems short-sighted and will leave Australia will hotch-potch broadband speeds still at the mercy of the ageing copper network. Labor's fibre to the home plan is more expensive and ambitious, but should better serve the country's future broadband needs.

ALP - fibre to the home
$37 billion
nbnco.com.au

Coalition - fibre to the node
$29 billion
malcolmturnbull.com.au

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