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With less than two weeks until the 2013 Federal Election, there's still a lot of confusion among the general public regarding the National Broadband Network (NBN), one of the biggest election issues. ACCAN has compared both parties' NBN policies, including what the Greens think, as we want all consumers to have a clearer idea of what the competing NBN policies will offer them.

The Government's policy

The Labor Government is currently rolling out its National Broadband Network (NBN), which will see 93% of the country connected by Fibre to the Home (FTTH). This means that fibre-optic cable is delivered directly to your property, replacing the current copper infrastructure. The remaining 7% of the population will be served by fixed wireless or satellite. The Government's NBN is set to be complete by 2021.

What speed will I get?
People are being offered NBN services starting at 12Mbps download speed, with those in the 93% fibre area planned to be able to pay more to get download speeds of up to 1,000Mbps and 400Mbps upload. Currently on ADSL2+ the maximum download speed is around 24Mbps with uploads of up to 1.4Mbps, however many Australians (often dependant on where they live) cannot get an ADSL service. Note: quoted speeds are always the theoretical maximum; real-world speeds can often be less due to numerous factors.

How much will I pay?
NBN Co, which is government owned, charges telcos the same wholesale price across Australia. This means that consumers in regional and rural areas will pay a similar price to those in the cities. The Government says that the NBN will stimulate more retail competition, meaning lower prices for you.

When will I be connected?
In choosing who gets the rollout when, NBN Co has been instructed to prioritise regional areas. You can also search NBN Co's coverage map to find out when your area is set to be connected.

The Coalition's policy

The Coalition pledges to complete its NBN by 2019, two years sooner than the current Government plan. One of the major differences in policies is that the Coalition will connect the majority of premises (71%) using fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), which means that fibre-optic cable gets rolled out to a cabinet in the street, and the existing copper network is used from that cabinet to your property. The Coalition will deliver FTTH to 22% of premises (new developments and wherever the copper needs to be replaced or costs too much to repair), compared with the Government's plan to cover 93% of the population with FTTH. The Coalition, like the Government, will serve the remaining 7% of premises in regional and remote areas with fixed wireless or satellite technologies.

What speed will I get?
The Coalition pledges that all Australians will have download speeds of 25mbps to 100mbps by the end of 2016. The minimum speed will rise to 50mbps by the end of 2019 for 90% of those living in the areas served by FTTN and FTTH. Note: quoted speeds are always the theoretical maximum; real-world speeds can often be less due to numerous factors.

How much will I pay?
The Coalition promises to cap NBN Co's wholesale prices and also allow NBN Co and any other networks like Telstra's HFC to charge less than the cap. The Coalition say they are doing this to ensure retail prices come down over time. For those not in the Coalition's FTTH footprint, there is the option for people to get FTTH if they are willing to pay for it themselves. Nobody can be exactly sure how much it would cost, but it's likely it would be thousands of dollars per premise. Businesses or local councils can co-fund FTTH rollouts in particular areas.

When will I be connected?
The Coalition says that within 90 days of coming into office, it will identify the areas most in need of the NBN, so the rollout can be prioritised.

Other key points of the Coalition's alternative NBN policy include:

  • The Coalition want to keep Optus and Telstra's existing cable network (HFC cable) in place, which is currently being shut down under the Government's policy. The Coalition say that by keeping the HFC cable, it will result in cheaper prices for consumers as it will allow for competition on multiple infrastructures.

  • The Coalition promises to use the NBN fibre and wireless rollouts to address mobile coverage black spots and extend highway mobile coverage.

What do the Greens think?

The Greens have been strong supporters of the Labor Government's NBN policy, seeing it as an investment in essential infrastructure that should be available to all Australians. The key point of difference is that the Greens are adamantly opposed to privatising NBN Co, which is currently scheduled to take place after the rollout is complete.

What are some key points for consumers?

  • Both plans promise cheaper prices by enabling more retail competition on the NBN.

  • The Labor Government says the NBN will provide a financially sustainable way of providing affordable broadband to people no matter where they live. The Coalition says the Government's NBN plan is an overly expensive build and that it is taking too long.

  • The Labor Government's NBN would put everyone on one network that covers every premise, meaning the NBN could be used for utility services of the future like e-health, smart grids, tele-working and e-learning. The Coalition says there are no applications of value to regular consumers today which would require the very high speeds available on FTTH. The Coalition says that if applications do develop that make it valuable, then a commercial incentive will emerge for network upgrades to be done.

If there was one way to summarise all this, it would be to say that the Labor Government is looking at its policy as a 'future-proofed' way to deliver faster broadband internet and as a platform for possible future services that are separate from the internet. The Coalition is looking at its policy as a way to deliver cheaper, faster broadband internet in the quickest timeframe and lowest cost to taxpayers, prioritising those areas most in need.