Government announces $3.5b NBN upgrade

By Shannon Jenkins

September 23, 2020


A major upgrade to Australia’s National Broadband Network will see 75% of all fixed-line premises in Australia receive ultra-fast broadband speeds by 2023.

Under the package to be announced by communications minister Paul Fletcher at the National Press Club on Wednesday, the government will borrow $3.5 billion from private debt markets to fund a number of updates to the NBN.

The plan includes expanding the fibre-to-the-node system, as well as upgrades to the hybrid fibre coaxial network and the fibre-to-the-curb network, allowing an additional six million households to access broadband speeds of up to one gigabit per second.

However, the new fibre-to-the-home connections will only be built if a customer asks for it, according to Fletcher.

“This is totally consistent with the approach we’ve followed for seven years, which is being responsive to demand and tailoring the rollout to demand,” he says.

Finance minister Mathias Cormann says the infrastructure investment will create 25,000 jobs in the next two years. Fletcher notes more than 8000 jobs will be created in the digital economy.

The announcement comes as The Age reports NBN Co will pay its executives millions in bonuses despite planned staff cuts and the public sector pay freeze.

Read more: Opinion: the NBN is a debacle. Where art thou, minister?

The Coalition controversially scrapped Labor’s fibre-to-the-premises model in 2013, and instead chose a mix of technologies including optical fibre, copper wires, fixed wireless and satellite, and hybrid fibre coaxial.

Under Labor’s plan, the network was scheduled to reach 93% of homes by June 2021, at an estimated cost of $51 billion.

Fletcher has defended the Coalition’s decision, arguing it’s “committing to more fibre when it makes economic sense to do so”.

“The 2013 decision by the Coalition to roll out the NBN quickly, then phase upgrades around emerging demand, has served Australia well,” he says.

“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.”

Communications shadow minister Michelle Rowland says the government has wasted seven years only to realise that “fibre is what Australian businesses needed all along”.

“Labor welcomes this step and surely people are wondering — what on earth was the point of spending $51 billion of taxpayers’ dollars on the Liberals’ second-rate copper network to begin with?” she says.

“Their decision to attack and dump fibre was never about cost, but always about the politics. This has meant Australian taxpayers have paid more for a network that does less, and more money is now required to play catch up.”

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