Turnbull pressed on Coalition’s NBN upload speeds

Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband Malcolm Turnbull and Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy in March. In an online debate on Monday Turnbull called Conroy a “grub”. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Broadband row: Stephen Conroy. Photo: Andrew Meares
Nanjing Night Net

An online debate between Malcolm Turnbull and Stephen Conroy on broadband policy has descended into sledging and personal attacks.

The Coalition’s communications spokesman, Mr Turnbull, mocked Senator Conroy’s deal-making, saying the Communications Minister had bungled his $12 billion negotiations to decommission Telstra’s copper telephone lines.

Senator Conroy replied by asking Mr Turnbull what advice he gave to former HIH Insurance boss Ray Williams, who was jailed after overseeing what was Australia’s biggest corporate collapse. Mr Turnbull was named in a $500 million damages claim brought by the liquidator of HIH (which was ultimately settled in his favour in 2003).

“You are so desperate that all you can do is smear,” Mr Turnbull said in the debate, hosted by technology news website ZDNet.

“You poor fellow… Such a grub, Stephen.”

Most of the NBN debate so far has focused on how quickly people can download movies under the different versions of the network but the question of how quickly Australians will be able to upload content using the Coalition’s network remained unanswered.

“Malcolm doesn’t want to talk about upload speeds because it’s like a wooden stake to a vampire,” Senator Conroy said.

Mr Turnbull’s network relies on Telstra’s ageing copper telephone lines, which offer only a fraction of the upload speeds possible under Labor’s more expensive network, which runs fibre optic cables all the way to homes.

Labor’s $37 billion NBN plan promises that 93 per cent of Australians will get fibre to the premises, which will offer download speeds of as fast as 1 gigabit per second and upload speeds of 400 megabits per second by 2021. The remaining 7 per cent of Australians living in rural and regional areas will get a mix of wireless and satellite technologies.

The Coalition’s $20 billion NBN runs fibre to cabinets or ”nodes” on street corners and would then piggyback on Telstra’s copper telephone lines to take the data over the last mile to the house. The Coalition’s NBN would be completed sooner, by 2019, but with slower minimum download speeds of 25 megabits per second and no guarantee of upload speeds.

Faced with repeated questioning, Mr Turnbull would not commit to a minimum upload speed but said there was “no technical barrier to having very high upload speeds”.

“The idea that you’ve got to have everyone on fibre to the premises to have a strong digital economy is nonsense,” Mr Turnbull said.

If the Coalition wins government, Mr Turnbull would instruct NBN Co to guarantee a 25 megabit per second download speed for every Australian household, and if necessary the company would build an extra series of “mini nodes” closer to houses to achieve the speeds, he said.

The debate turned briefly at one point towards media policy.

Mr Turnbull baited Senator Conroy about Labor’s recent failed attempt to regulate the media. Senator Conroy responded by asking Mr Turnbull whether he would commit to protecting the funding of the public broadcasters, ABC and SBS.

“I can’t give an undertaking in a budgetary context that’s been left in a mess,” Mr Turnbull replied.

“There’s certainly not any policy to cut from the ABC or SBS. But if there’s a broader austerity… all departments might have to do the same.”

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