The Coalition's NBN a hard sell

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With only four and a half months to go until the election it appears that only a miracle will save the government from electoral oblivion.

The Coalition’s National Broadband Network (NBN) plan will not provide the miracle that Labor needs, but it should benefit the Greens and independents running for Senate seats.

Failure to gain control of the Senate will mean that the Coalition will be relying on votes from a minor party or independents to get the legislative changes needed for the Coalition’s NBN plan to commence.

The Greens leader Christine Milne has described the Coalition NBN plan as a “farce” so does this mean the Coalition’s NBN plan is already dead in the water?

Poor reception 

The Coalition’s NBN plan was poorly received from the outset and a Twitter hashtag #fraudband appeared almost as soon as the Coalition leader Tony Abbott and Coalition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull completed the launch. The hashtag #fraudband is still going strong in the twittersphere.

Recent polls run by Technology Spectator have shown an overwhelming vote against the Coalition NBN plan. A poll on whether the government should hold a plebiscite at the September election on what the electorate wants from the NBN has now had 895 votes with 776 (87 per cent) voting against the option that closely matches the Coalition NBN plan. This poll will be open for votes up to the election so you can have your vote here.

On April 16, readers were asked three questions about the Coalition NBN plan. So far there have been 241 responses to the three questions asked.

In response to the question “Do you believe that the Coalition can deliver download speeds of between 25 and 100 megabits per second by the end of 2016?” 25.8 per cent of the respondents agreed. Meanwhile, 29.6 per cent of the respondents said that they expect the  Coalition to deliver download speeds of between 50 and 100 megabits per second by 2019.

Voters unconvinced 

Turnbull went to great lengths at the NBN policy launch to stress that the Coalition’s past financial management achievements should give the electorate faith in the Coalition’s promise to deliver their NBN for under $30 billion.

But this promise did not sway the 77 per cent of respondents in our survey, who do not belive that the Coalition’s NBN will be delivered within budget. It's a trend that is visible across the board.

A quick review of informal online news polls (ABC, Fairfax, Haymarket, News Limited, Whirlpool) shows that at least 75 per cent of those  surveyed are against the Coalition's NBN plan.

Support for the Labor NBN plan has been uniform nationally, ranging from 60-70 per cent in all states and territories. A Fairfax/Nielsen national poll of 1400 Australians, conducted over a three-day period since the launch of the Coalition’s NBN, has identified the NBN as one of the few shining lights for the beleaguered Gillard government.

So what does this all mean for the Coalition?

Turnbull’s advisors must have noticed the widespread negative response to the Coalition NBN plan. But do they have the collective nous to see the lemon on their desks? 

There is no doubt that Turnbull has worked hard to shift the Coalition’s stance from dismantling the NBN to recognising the need for a policy. However, the shadow communications minister still has plenty to do. Turnbull has four and a half months to use the current NBN polling to convince his colleagues that the Coalition’s NBN plan needs substantial alteration.

But don’t get your hopes up too soon.

Life after the NBN reviews

The Coalition’s NBN plan has been received by a small number of companies and commentators as a positive step. Will the ripple of support from those with vested interests be enough to calm members of the Coalition party room?

Turnbull is unlikely to announce changes to the Coalition’s NBN plan before the election, so the next opportunity will come after the three proposed NBN reviews report in mid-November 2013. It’s vital for Turnbull to ensure that the review panels include a broad spectrum of experts – including those that have spoken against the Coalition’s NBN plan.

There are faults with Labor’s NBN plan and the Coalition should focus on fixing the faults. For example, the biggest fault with Labor’s NBN was the decision to exclude NBN wholesale connections to anything that moves – trains, buses, cars, planes, boats, caravans and so on.

The three mobile network operators (Telstra, Optus and Vodafone) have happily accepted the biggest gift in Australia’s history after the worst telecommunications related decision made by an Australian government since the failure to split Telstra retail and wholesale in the 1990s.

Connections to vehicles of all types and sizes will be a significant growth market over the next decade. The mobile network operators will enjoy revenues from the NBN exclusion of about $10 billion annually by 2021. The lack of competition and price gouging in this sector will continue and so will the urban focus which means that regional and rural Australia will continue to suffer.

If Turnbull wants to introduce competition then removing this NBN exclusion would be a good start.

Can Turnbull turn the situation around? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below. 

Mark Gregory is a Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University.