IAN HENSCHKE: Steve Harrison is the Director of Economic Development for the City of Prospect … and speaking from an operational point of view…on the policy of the Coalition in terms of the NBN [National Broadband Network]….is there a particular thing that you favour?
STEVE HARRISON: Yeah, oh, look, for sure, we have had a four-year Strategic Plan based around fibre to the home, and we brought that strategy out prior to the Federal Government…we were getting feedback from our residents that our copper wire network was so degraded and so slow and so unreliable….I have actually stood over a pit with a Telstra contractor replacing copper wire in one of our streets where he said to me that most of our residents are lucky to be getting telephone calls, let alone trying to run broadband services over an ageing copper wire network, so we’re pretty pleased to read in the Coalition’s plans that they’re actually saying that they will replace ageing unserviceable copper. We just need to be clear, I guess, about what does that mean and how we’re going to determine what copper wire does need to be replaced and they have put in their plan that they will honour contracts that have been appropriately entered into, because we’re at a stage two rollout site and that’s all been planned and the fibre’s actually going down the road as we speak…we do need to clarify what does the Coalition mean by commitments to appropriately entered-into contracts, because we’ve certainly created an expectation over the last two years since Prospect was named as a stage two rollout site for the fibre….I’ve been quite surprised by the degree of planning that has had to go into actually looking at how the network could be rolled out….because we’re a bit of a pilot test case….they’ve got to work out how to connect those fibres to heritage-listed homes and how do you go down streets with beautiful tree-lined streets without upsetting the timberwork and, at the same time, how do you actually light it up and do it in a co-ordinated way across the whole city, so NBN Co have been working really closely with us … they’ve just started actually rolling out the fibre out now, pretty excited about it.
IAN HENSCHKE: Let’s have a listen to what Malcolm Turnbull said this morning regarding copper and your concerns over the copper network.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, it’s simply not true. I mean, there are some sections of the copper that are in bad shape and they can either be replaced or remediated but it is not a question of saying ‘copper is all bad or rotting’. There will be copper in our networks probably forever. The issue is: how do you cost-effectively deliver people very fast broadband?
IAN HENSCHKE: Simon Birmingham would have probably heard that this morning. He’s the Liberal Senator for South Australia. Simon Birmingham, a lot of discussion this morning about the ‘pros and cons’ of copper… can you reassure people that things will still be bright and shiny under a Coalition policy?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely, Ian, and good morning to you and your listeners. Firstly, to reassure residents in Prospect, when we say we’re not going to tear up existing contracts, that’s about protecting the taxpayer from having to end up paying out big contracts and not getting anything, so we would rather see the fibre built under those contracts than simply be paying big termination payments, so where work has started in Prospect, and although it is running well behind schedule and people should have seen it finished by now, we’ll nonetheless see it finished and, indeed, any communities where the copper is degraded to a point of concern about service delivery, there are provisions in the policy to make sure that fibre could potentially be rolled out in those communities or, as Malcolm said, the issues with the copper will be addressed but they are isolated examples. In the main, the copper network serves people well at present. We want to upgrade it and we want to do so in a way that actually gets people services, so look at suburbs like Tennyson down along the coastline or Underdale – areas where there are very poor broadband services at present. They are not being prioritised under Labor’s NBN. We will give those areas priority and we will make sure that, within the next three years if elected, they actually get faster broadband speeds. It’s no point at present talking about what really is a pipe dream under the Labor policy of getting to 100 megabits a second if, in fact, you’re never going to get people there and, on current speed and current delays and current cost blowouts, they won’t get there. We’re saying ‘let’s actually achieve something that can be delivered and can be delivered within the next three years.
IAN HENSCHKE: We’re talking to Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia, also Steve Harrison, Director of Economic Development for City of Prospect here on 891 Mornings with me, Ian Henschke. Uli of Aldgate’s got a query about copper. Good morning, Uli.
CALLER, ULI: Good morning. Look, for the last three weeks we’ve got a situation currently in Aldgate where all our ADSL [asymmetric digital subscriber line] has sort of slowed down to crawling speed, just a little bit better than dial-up, and so we complained to the ADSL company that sent a technician out who was from a… contract technician who checked out whether the problem was within our premises and he services all areas but he said ‘look, it’s a problem with the [unclear] with the exchange [unclear]’ and he said ‘I’m getting four callouts a day with exactly that same problem – node subjects into the exchange boxes and these impedance [unclear] on the contacts and it’s just the whole system is completely deteriorating’. That’s what he said, so…
IAN HENSCHKE: Okay, well…
CALLER, ULI: I can’t even get my… I can’t do any phone calls at the moment, nothing, because this… I can’t even get the speed that goes up to the exchange now so how are we going to go with wire to the node, with fibre to the node, if it goes through the same wire and this is a symptomatic problem according to that technician, not isolated.
IAN HENSCHKE: Okay, thank you for your call, Uli of Aldgate. Another Hills resident contacted us and said they’re having a similar problem. Russell says he works for a telco and the deterioration in copper wire doesn’t matter if it’s two kilometres in length. Simon Birmingham, if copper is a problem, and it clearly is up in the Hills, maybe it’s a problem across the system?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s not the advice that we have, Ian, and Malcolm Turnbull has consulted extensively with industry. If you look at the reaction to yesterday’s policy launch, the major telecommunications companies all accept that this is a pretty achievable and sensible policy and a step in the right direction rather than the very radical proposal that Labor is trying to enact but failing miserably to deliver on at present. Obviously there’s been some criticism from people who simply think that faster speeds and the fastest possible speeds are the be-all and end-all. Well, it’s nice to think that you want to have the absolute gold-plated version of everything. What we believe you should do is deliver fast broadband – broadband that meets the needs of basically anything that any household in Australia is currently doing or in the foreseeable future is likely to be doing . We’re not talking about short-changing people on broadband speeds. We’re talking about delivering them faster speeds but doing it sooner, and more affordably, than Labor’s policy does.
IAN HENSCHKE: Alright. One quick ‘yes/no’ answer – a listener would love to know and I think you’ve already outlined this: ‘will the Coalition honour all NBN contracts signed by residents before they get into government if they do?’
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Yes. Look, particularly… if residents have signed it, that means that a service has been built and we’re not about to, unlike Labor, start tearing up things that have already been built. They’re the ones who want to disconnect fibre that’s already in place so they can build new fibre over the top of it.
IAN HENSCHKE: Alright, thank you very much for your time this morning, Simon Birmingham and, before that, Steve Harrison, Director of Economic Development for the City of Prospect.